Cognitive Predictors of Autistic Teenagers’ Social Camouflaging

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 2, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
L. Hull1, K. V. Petrides2 and W. Mandy1, (1)University College London, London, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, (2)London Psychometric Laboratory, London, United Kingdom

In recent years there has been increasing interest in social camouflaging of autism; the use of conscious or unconscious strategies to mask or compensate for autistic characteristics during social interactions. Although camouflaging may be motivated by desires to fit in and form relationships with others, it has been associated with poor mental health and suicide amongst adults.

Currently there has been limited research into the cognitive abilities which may drive social camouflaging, although it has been suggested that executive function, theory of mind abilities, and social motivation may play a role. Most previous research has also focused on camouflaging in autistic adults, therefore little is currently known about whether and how autistic teenagers camouflage their autism.


This study aimed to identify cognitive characteristics associated with self-reported and parent-reported camouflaging in autistic teenagers, controlling for age and IQ.


22 teenagers with a diagnosis of autism (10 female, 12 male; mean age 14.23 years; mean IQ = 106.64) completed a self-report measure of camouflaging (CAT-Q; Hull et al., 2018) and measures of theory of mind (Strange Stories; Happé 1994), and social motivation (Friendship Questionnaire; Baron-Cohen & Wheelwright, 2003). Parents of all teenagers completed the parent-report CAT-Q and measures of social difficulties (SRS; Constantino & Gruber, 2007) and executive function difficulties (BRIEF2; Gioia, Isquith, Guy & Kenworth, 2000). Data collection is ongoing and we expect the sample to have at least doubled in size by the time of presentation.

Two multiple regressions were run, the first with age, IQ, theory of mind, social motivation, social abilities and executive function predicting self-reported CAT-Q score. The second repeated this analysis with parent-reported CAT-Q score as the outcome.


The self-report CAT-Q and parent-report CAT-Q were moderately positively correlated (r = 0.45, p = .03). Executive function difficulties were a significant predictor of self-reported camouflaging (β = -0.65, p = .02) and parent-reported camouflaging (β = -0.56, p = .04). In preliminary analyses, no other variables significantly predicted camouflaging as reported by either parent or child.


Parents’ perceptions of their child’s camouflaging behaviours differ somewhat from their child’s reported behaviours. This may reflect camouflaging behaviours performed by the child which the parent is not aware of; alternatively it may be that some autistic young people have limited insight into their own camouflaging behaviours.

Executive function plays an important role in both parent and child-reported social camouflaging behaviours in autistic teenagers. Young people with more executive function difficulties report camouflaging their autism less, and their parents also report lower levels of camouflaging by their child. This suggests that executive function difficulties may limit a teenager’s ability to camouflage, as well as their ability to identify their own camouflaging behaviours.