Understanding the Reasons, Contexts, and Costs of Camouflaging for Autistic Adults

Understanding the Reasons, Contexts, and Costs of Camouflaging for Autistic Adults. Cage, E., & Troxell-Whiteman, Z. (2019)


When an autistic individual engages in camouflaging, he/she actively attempts to hide symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) when around other people. It is possible that camouflaging can take a toll on psychological health, including increasing anxiety and emotional and mental fatigue. That being said, camouflaging in ASD has not yet been well researched.

Who was involved?

Autistic adults, above the age of 18, took an online survey. During the survey, participants indicated whether they camouflaged, why they engaged in camouflaging, and how often they did so across various situations. The survey also asked the adults about their experiences of stress, anxiety, and depression during the week prior to when they took the survey. 

What was the outcome?

Results indicated that participants engaged in camouflaging across many settings, including formal (e.g., with superiors at school, landlords, service professionals) and interpersonal (e.g., with friends, roommates, romantic partners). More widespread camouflaging (i.e., across more settings) and intermittent camouflaging between settings was related to more anxiety and stress. The reasons given for camouflaging fell into two broad categories: conventional and relational. Conventional reasons were related to school or work; for example, in order to perform well at one’s job/university and to work better with colleagues/classmates. Relational reasons were related to social interactions; for example, in order to make friends or to attract a potential romantic partner. The most common reasons given for camouflaging were related to “fitting in” in a neurotypical world and avoiding retaliation or bullying.  

What are the strengths and limitations of the study?

Strengths: This study was able to summarize perspectives from a large group of autistic adults about their views of their diagnosis and social stigma associated with the presence of symptoms that contributes to the perception of need for camouflaging.

Limitations: The sample was not very diverse (i.e., 86% White and 54% undergraduate degree or higher); thus, findings may not be generalizable to the experiences of all autistic individuals. It remains unclear whether camouflaging causes stress/anxiety or if individuals utilize camouflaging to manage their stress/anxiety in social situations.  

What are the implications?

This study helps to draw attention to the effects of social stigma with regard to ASD by highlighting that autistic individuals attempt to hide symptoms for functional and relationship-based reasons to be included in society. While it remains unclear what direction the relationship between stress/anxiety and camouflaging may be, this research highlights the need to consider co-occurring mental health needs in autistic individuals that may not meet the threshold for a diagnosed comorbid psychological disorder.