Seek to better characterize the autistic population by observing the strategies they use to integrate into society

Summary: Investigating the phenomenon of social camouflage could help improve research on autism spectrum disorders.

Source: University of the Basque Country

In recent years, much has been said about camouflage in autism. However, research on camouflage is still relatively new, its nature has been little studied and there are many open questions.

This work therefore aims to present an integrative vision 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 to analyze in depth the evolution of camouflage, in order to make suggestions to accelerate research on this phenomenon,” said Valentina Petrolini, researcher in the Lindy Lab group of the ‘UPV/EHU and one of the authors of the study.

People normally camouflage themselves with two goals in mind: to hide their diagnosis and to fit in socially.

“We would say that people camouflage themselves when they rehearse the conversations they are going to have, when they imitate the gestures and expressions of others and, in general, when they make an effort to hide their autistic traits,” explains Valentina Petrolini.

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

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

In this book, “we propose to triangulate information by using existing evidence, gathering information about the environment, observing a person’s behavior in different contexts, and talking to people in different contexts… in other words, by observing the camouflage phenomenon without directly asking the person involved,” said Valentina Petrolini.

Extending the study of camouflage to currently neglected groups also has important impact implications. Therefore, this study extends the discussion of camouflaging to currently understudied groups on the autism spectrum, i.e., children and adults with language and/or intellectual disabilities.

This shows multicolored game pieces in the shape of people
People normally camouflage themselves with two goals in mind: to hide their diagnosis and to fit in socially. Image is in public domain

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

“One of the points that emerges from our study, continues Petrolini, is that camouflage can emerge differently, and have a different impact, depending on the people who do it”.

This purely theoretical work concludes that “the basis of much of the research conducted so far is limited to the characterization and representativeness of the participants, suggesting that the results 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 in greater depth and to develop more precise and inclusive measurement tools than the current ones.

“You could even go so far as to say that this is a call to action not to draw generalized conclusions without having an accurate picture of the situation,” said the Lindy Lab research group of l ‘UPV/EHU.

About this social neuroscience and autism research news

Author: Macxalen Sotillo
Source: University of the Basque Country
Contact: Matxalen Sotillo – University of the Basque Country
Picture: Image is in public domain

Original research: Free access.
“Autistic Camouflaging Across the Spectrum” by Valentina Petrolini et al. New ideas in psychology

See also

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Autism camouflage across the spectrum

Camouflage can be characterized as a set of actions and strategies more or less consciously adopted by some autistic people to navigate the neurotypical social world. Despite the increased interest in this phenomenon, its nature remains elusive and requires conceptual clarification.

In this article, we aim to offer an inclusive view of camouflaging that does justice to its complexity while reflecting the heterogeneity of autism as a condition.

First, we provide an overview of the main characterizations of camouflage. This overview shows that current characterizations fail to paint a coherent picture and that different accounts emphasize different aspects of the phenomenon.

Second, we explore the analogy between camouflage and overcoming, which we consider illuminating for describing some forms of camouflage, while likely obscuring the study of others.

Third, we extend the discussion of camouflaging to currently understudied groups across the autism spectrum – that is, children and adults with language and/or intellectual disabilities.

We argue that camouflage in such groups may differ from what current literature describes as typical examples of camouflage.

We conclude by re-examining the nature of camouflage in light of these understudied groups, and offer some suggestions on how to move the research forward.

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