“You Must Become a Chameleon to Survive”: Adolescent Experiences of Camouflaging

Abstract

Camouflaging includes strategies used by individuals to mask or hide autistic traits. Research has shown that both autistic and neurotypical individuals engage in camouflaging and that there may be sex differences in the reasons for camouflaging in autistic adults. The purpose of this qualitative study was to extend previous research on the lived experience of camouflaging through exploring camouflaging motivations and consequences in autistic and neurotypical adolescents through both questionnaires (n = 132) and semi-structured interviews (n = 19). Results revealed trends in camouflaging motivations and consequences by diagnosis and sex, as well as by sex within the autistic group. These findings further inform our understanding of camouflaging and why it may be reported as particularly detrimental for autistic females.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The term sex is used throughout this paper to mean biological sex. The authors acknowledge the constraint of attending to only sex and not gender and address this in the Limitations section of this paper.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to all of the families in SPARK, the SPARK clinical sites and SPARK staff. Special thanks to the participants without whom this study would not be possible. This study was supported in part by a grant through the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) of the U.S. Department of Education (H325D110012). The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education. No official endorsement by the U.S. Department of Education of any product, commodity, or enterprise mentioned in this document is intended or should be inferred. Author Contributions CB participated in the study conception, design, and data collection and coding, conducted data analyses, and drafted the manuscript. TJ participated in the study conception and design. EM participated in data coding and analyses. SK participated in the study conception and design. All authors contributed to manuscript preparation and read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Courtney J. Bernardin.

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Bernardin, C.J., Mason, E., Lewis, T. et al. “You Must Become a Chameleon to Survive”: Adolescent Experiences of Camouflaging. J Autism Dev Disord (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-021-04912-1

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Keywords

  • Autism
  • Camouflaging
  • Sex
  • Gender