It Gets Better? Sex/Gender Differences in Social Camouflaging in Autistic and Non-Autistic Adults
Social Camouflaging (i.e., behaviours performed by autistic individuals to compensate for and/or mask their autism during social interactions) has increasingly become the focus of research attention as it may contribute to risk and resilience across an individual’s lifespan. However, almost all work to date on this topic has been qualitative, reflecting the lack of validated measures of camouflaging. This exploratory work has suggested that that autistic women and girls camouflage to a greater extent than men and boys, and that camouflaging may be associated with reduced wellbeing; but these ideas have yet to be formally tested. Further, no research to date has compared camouflaging behaviours in autistic and non-autistic people, or looked at whether camouflaging behaviours remain constant across the lifespan. To address these gaps in knowledge, the newly validated Social Camouflaging in Autism Questionnaire (SCAQ) has been developed as the first measure of self-reported camouflaging behaviours.
This study aimed to assess camouflaging behaviours using the SCAQ in men and women with and without a diagnosis of an autism spectrum condition. The study also aimed to identify the relationship between autistic traits, number of years since diagnosis, and camouflaging in autistic men and women.
284 autistic adults (104 men, 180 women) and 448 non-autistic adults (193 men, 255 women) completed an online survey including the SCAQ and a standardised measure of autistic traits, amongst other measures.
In this sample the SCAQ had high reliability (α = 0.94) and demonstrable convergent and discriminant validity. A significant interaction between gender and diagnostic status was found for total camouflaging behaviours. Autistic women camouflage at significantly higher levels than autistic men (p < .001, d = 0.60); non-autistic men camouflage at moderately higher levels than non-autistic women (p = .03, d = 0.25). For autistic women, autistic traits predicted greater camouflaging behaviours (B = .65, p < .001), while years since diagnosis (controlling for age) predicted fewer camouflaging behaviours (B = -0.86, p = .001). For autistic men, autistic traits predicted greater camouflaging behaviours (B = 0.47, p < .001), whereas years since diagnosis (controlling for age) did not significantly predict camouflaging behaviours (B = 0.40, p = .19). Age did not significantly predict camouflaging for either gender.
The newly developed Social Camouflaging in Autism Questionnaire is a reliable and valid method to measure self-reported camouflaging behaviours amongst autistic adults. Autistic adults of both genders camouflage at significantly higher levels than non-autistic adults, and autistic women camouflage to a greater extent than autistic men. The more time since an autistic woman was diagnosed, the less likely she is to camouflage, perhaps suggesting greater acceptance of autistic behaviours by herself or others around her. In contrast, this effect was not observed in males.
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