It is More Anxiousness than Role-playing: Social Camouflaging Conceptualization Among Adults on the Autism Spectrum Compared to Persons with Social Anxiety Disorder

Introduction

 

Imagine walking into a crowded room. For many autistic adults, this scenario can be filled with challenges. Social cues might be confusing, sensory overload can be overwhelming, and navigating conversations can feel like an intricate dance with unfamiliar steps.

One strategy some autistic adults use to manage social situations is social camouflaging. This involves masking autistic traits or mimicking social skills to appear more neurotypical (typical neurological development). It’s like wearing a social mask to fit in.

A recent study published in June 2024 by Anna Pyszkowska in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders sheds light on the motivations behind social camouflaging and how it differs between autistic adults and those with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). This research can help us understand the hidden struggles of autistic adults and inform better support strategies.

Beyond the Mask: The Emotional Cost of Camouflaging

 

The title of the research, “It is More Anxiousness than Role-playing,” reveals a core finding. The study suggests that social camouflaging for autistic adults stems more from anxiety and a negative self-perception than a conscious effort to play a part. This constant masking can be emotionally draining, like wearing a costume that’s too heavy and restrictive. The study found that social camouflaging can lead to autistic burnout, a state of emotional and physical depletion caused by chronic stress.

Unpacking the Differences: Autism vs. Social Anxiety

 

The research involved two comparison groups alongside autistic adults: individuals with SAD and those with both diagnoses (SAD + ASD). Interestingly, the study found no significant difference in the overall level of camouflaging across the groups. This suggests that the tendency to camouflage might be more broadly linked to social anxiety and negative self-perception rather than being specific to autism itself.

However, the reasons behind camouflaging appeared to differ between the groups. For autistic adults, social anxiety symptoms and autistic burnout were more directly linked to the use of camouflaging strategies. This suggests that social anxiety plays a significant role in why autistic adults choose to camouflage, and the effort to mask their autistic traits can further exacerbate feelings of burnout.

Rethinking Social Camouflage: Towards a More Supportive Approach

 

This study highlights the importance of understanding the motivations behind social camouflaging. It’s not just about fitting in; it’s about managing social anxiety and navigating a world that can be overwhelming for autistic individuals.

These findings can inform support strategies for autistic adults. By recognizing the emotional toll of camouflaging, therapists and caregivers can help individuals develop healthier coping mechanisms for social situations. This might involve teaching social skills in a way that feels authentic and empowering, or focusing on strategies for managing anxiety in social settings.

The research also underscores the need to address social anxiety as a factor that can contribute to challenges faced by autistic adults, regardless of a comorbid diagnosis of SAD. Effective treatment for social anxiety can be a valuable tool for autistic adults, helping them to feel more comfortable and confident in social situations.

Source:

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10803-024-06416-0

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