Trying to more effectively characterize the autistic population by observing the strategies they use to fit into society

Overview: By delving deeper into the phenomenon of social camouflage, research into autism spectrum disorders can be improved.

Source: University of the Basque Country

In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about camouflage in autism. However, research on camouflage is still relatively recent, its nature has hardly been studied and there are many open questions.

This work therefore aims to present an integral view of camouflage. It can be characterized as the set of strategies adopted by the autistic population to fit into the social world.

“Our goal is to better understand this phenomenon and analyze in depth how camouflage develops so that some suggestions can be made on how to step up research on it,” said Valentina Petrolini, a researcher in the Lindy Lab group of the UPV/ EHU and one of the study’s authors.

Normally, people camouflage themselves for two purposes: to hide their diagnosis and to fit in socially.

“We would say that people camouflage themselves when they rehearse conversations they are going to have, when they imitate other people’s gestures and expressions and, in general, when they try hard to hide their autistic traits,” explains Valentina Petrolini .

“Many studies link these individuals’ attempt to pretend to be who they are not with high levels of anxiety and long-term mental distress,” the UPV/EHU researcher added.

How is camouflage detected in the autistic population? Tools, such as tests and questionnaires, currently exist, but they are overlooked by a large proportion of people on the spectrum, such as people who camouflage themselves unconsciously, people with intellectual and/or linguistic disabilities, etc.

In this work, “we propose to triangulate information by using existing evidence, collecting information from the environment, observing one’s behavior in different contexts, and talking to people in different contexts… in other words, through the phenomenon of observing camouflage without directly asking the person concerned,” said Valentina Petrolini.

Expanding the study of camouflage to currently overlooked groups also has significant implications in terms of impact. Therefore, this study extends the discussion of camouflage to currently understudied groups on the autism spectrum, ie children and adults with language and/or intellectual disabilities.

This shows multicolored playing pieces in the shape of people
Normally, people camouflage themselves for two purposes: to hide their diagnosis and to fit in socially. The image is in the public domain

“We argue that camouflaging in these groups may differ from what the current literature describes as typical instances of camouflaging,” said Valentina Petrolini.

“One of the points that emerge from our research,” Petrolini continues, “is that camouflaging can look different and have a different impact depending on the people doing it.”

This purely theoretical work concludes that “the basis of much of the research conducted to date is limited to the characterization and representativeness of the participants, suggesting that the findings cannot be applied to the autistic community as a whole,” said Valentina Petrolini.

The work also highlights the need to explore the phenomenon of autism more deeply and to develop measurement tools that are more accurate and inclusive than current ones.

“We could even say it’s a call to action so that no blanket conclusions are drawn without having an accurate picture of the situation,” said the UPV/EHU’s Lindy Lab research group.

About this social neuroscience and autism research news

Writer: Macxalen Sotillo
Source: University of the Basque Country
Contact: Matxalen Sotillo – University of the Basque Country
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original research: Open access.
“Autistic camouflaging across the spectrum” by Valentina Petrolini et al. New ideas in psychology

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Abstract

Autistic camouflage across the spectrum

Camouflaging can be characterized as a series of actions and strategies that some autistic people use more or less consciously to navigate the neurotypical social world. Despite the increased interest this phenomenon has generated, its nature remains elusive and needs conceptual clarification.

In this article, we aim to bring forward a comprehensive view of camouflage that does justice to its complexity while also reflecting the heterogeneity of autism as a disorder.

First we offer an overview of the main features of camouflage. This overview shows that the current characterizations do not paint a coherent picture and that different descriptions emphasize different aspects of the phenomenon.

Second, we examine the analogy between camouflaging and passing, which we consider illuminating in describing some forms of camouflaging, while likely obscuring the study of others.

Third, we extend the discussion of camouflage to currently underserved groups on the autistic spectrum – ie, children and adults with language and/or intellectual disabilities.

We argue that camouflaging in such groups may differ from what the current literature describes as typical instances of camouflaging.

We conclude by reconsidering the nature of camouflaging in light of such underserved groups, and we make some suggestions for advancing research.

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