The struggles of women who mask their autism
Boys with autism tend to obsess about things such as taxis, maps, or U.S. presidents, but girls on the spectrum are often drawn to animals, dolls, or celebrities—interests that closely resemble those of their typical peers and so fly under the radar. “We may need to rethink our measures,” Ratto says, “and perhaps use them in combination with other measures.”
Before scientists can create better screening tools, they need to characterise camouflaging more precisely. A study last year established a working definition for the purpose of research: Camouflaging is the difference between how people seem in social contexts and what’s happening to them on the inside. If, for example, someone has intense autism traits but tends not to show it in her behavior, the disparity means she is camouflaging, says Meng-Chuan Lai, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto in Canada, who worked on the study.
The definition is necessarily broad, allowing for any effort to mask an autism feature, from suppressing repetitive behaviors known as stimming or talking about obsessive interests to pretending to follow a conversation or imitating neurotypical behavior.