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Unveiling the Mask: Girls with Autism and the Hidden Struggle

Updated: Apr 26






As someone who's deep in the world of neurodiversity coaching, I've seen first-hand how girls with autism navigate a tricky path, often hidden in plain sight. Let's dive into a fascinating concept called masking.

 

Picture this: A girl with autism in a classroom, blending in seamlessly with her peers. She's like a social chameleon, mimicking behaviors, and expressions to fit in. But beneath that smooth surface, there's a whole world of struggle that often goes unnoticed.

 

Here are some examples I've come across:

 

1. Social Chameleons: These girls are masters at imitating social cues, making it hard to spot their difficulties with social interaction. They're like undercover agents, blending into their surroundings to avoid standing out.

 

2. Hyper-Focus on "Acceptable" Interests: Instead of diving into stereotypical interests like trains or dinosaurs, girls with autism might choose passions that are more socially acceptable, like animals or Harry Potter or Taylor Swift (although they might be in good company). It's like they're curating their interests to fit in with the crowd.

 

3. Exhausting Efforts to Conform: Masking takes a toll. These girls push themselves to conform to societal norms, often at the expense of their mental well-being. It's like running a marathon every day, leaving them drained and struggling with anxiety and self-esteem. This often shows up for parents as the child who gets fantastic reports from school, but at home is grumpy and short-tempered and combative.

 

4. Masking in Social Situations: In social settings, you might see girls with autism using coping strategies like scripting or mirroring behaviors to navigate conversations. It's like they're following a script, trying to blend in and avoid drawing attention to their differences. While we all rehearse sometimes, the pressure to "say the right thing" is overwhelming and going off script can seem too risky.

 

How can we support these girls to embrace who they are? Everyone needs to feel like they fit in.

 

  • Foster Acceptance: Create a safe space where being neurodiverse is celebrated. Ditch the stereotypes and celebrate the uniqueness of every individual.

 

  • Validate Their Experiences: Listen without judgment. Let them know that their struggles are valid and that they're not alone in this journey. A big bonus of belonging to a neuro-affirming group is being able to connect with other kids who "get it".

 

  • Promote Self-Advocacy: Empower these girls to speak up for themselves. Teach them how to assert their needs and preferences confidently.

 

For me, understanding and supporting girls with autism means looking beyond stereotypes and embracing their authentic selves. Everyone needs a place to belong and be accepted!

 

References:

 

1. Hull, L., Mandy, W., & Petrides, K. (2017). Behavioral and cognitive sex/gender differences in autism spectrum condition and typically developing males and females. Autism Research, 10(5), 940-947.

 

2. Dean, M., Harwood, R., & Kasari, C. (2017). The art of camouflage: Gender differences in the social behaviors of girls and boys with autism spectrum disorder. Autism, 21(6), 678-689.

 

3. Bargiela, S., Steward, R., & Mandy, W. (2016). The experiences of late-diagnosed women with autism spectrum conditions: An investigation of the female autism phenotype. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46(10), 3281-3294.

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