We have all been there. We have all been in a situation where we are uncomfortable, not sure how to act, and nervous about how those around us will respond. And so, to cope, we mimic the social cues of others. We do this without even realizing it! Only when we finally feel comfortable, and no longer threatened, do we finally slip back into ourselves.  This phenomenon is often called Social Masking or sometimes Camouflaging. For those with hidden disabilities, this process is quite a bit different and often much more damaging to the psyche. Hiding who we are is , quite plainly, an emotionally and physically exhausting experience.  For many neurodivergent people, this is a daily battle.

Social survival strategies vary greatly from person to person, in general. But Social Masking is far more complicated than simple changes to feel comfortable. It involves combining anything from imitating smiles or even pre-scripting conversations. While any one of these alone sound like something everyone has done at one point or another, continually disregarding natural personal behaviors is  extremely damaging and can lead to serious health consequences.
So how can we learn to recognize social masking and how can we learn to help others to feel more comfortable and avoid this.  While recognizing our own bias is a great step in the right direction, education is key to understanding how to best to support others. And how can we avoid it ourselves?
Most people often feel the need to go along with the crowd. The pressure to conform is often stronger than people realize. Neurodivergent people often feel misunderstood, due to their behaviors often seeming more noticeable. They can feel under-supported and misunderstood in many social situations.  In these cases, pressure to conform may not just to avoid feeling singled out, but may even feel like a survival tactic.

There are stages to masking that can help us to discover if masking is an issue and where support may be needed.


Motivation: Masking is usually done to blend in for a variety of reasons. This could be a new friendship or relationship of any type, to avoid mistreatment, to get a new job or further current employment, to attract a partner, or simply any situation in which one feels they must hide their differences for safety.


Masking: A combination of compensation and masking techniques are employed in order to blend in. A few examples are disguising stimming behaviors, faking or forcing eye contact, or imitating facial expressions. Mimicking gestures is common and even hiding whole interests and feigning excitement over hobbies or topics you are not truly interested in. Every person is unique in what will help them to feel comfortable in hiding their true expressions.


Consequences: Going against your sensory needs can cause meltdowns once you are in a safe space. But continually practicing masking can trigger depression, anxiety, exhaustion, loss of identity, delayed identification of abilities, extreme risk of burnout, and increased risk of suicidal ideation.

The truth is, masking is difficult to detect. The whole point of it is so that you can “fit in”. But. when you are spending time masking your true behaviors and identity, you are not investing time developing who you are truly meant to be.  Efforts contrary to natural tendencies end up triggering social overload anyways! While there are many situations in which those without neurotypical tendencies are not made to feel comfortable, a lot of this is due to others simply not knowing how to support them. The sooner we can all learn more about ourselves, the sooner we can have the knowledge and empathy to help others. Below are a few tips that can help others feel more comfortable showing their true selves.

  • Allow stimming behavior.
  • Encourage engaging in special interests unique to each individual.
  • Encourage clothing that feels comfortable, rather than what is a fashion statement
  • Support self-advocating for sensory needs
  • Be okay with things like headphones and fidget objects.
  • Accept personal boundaries and realize that physical touch is not always for everyone.
  • Use language that doesn’t increase stigma, but promotes a positive sense of ones self!

If you have any questions about how to support those in our community most at risk for social masking, please contact us at,relate%20to%20masking%20as%20well.