Overview and Implications
Camouflaging in people with autism has recently garnered wide interest in the autism research community, possibly explaining the observed male-preponderance in autism prevalence. Previous literature has indicated that women with autism are more likely to mask neurodivergent social behaviors than their male counterparts, leading to a possible underdiagnosis of autism in females (Lai et al., 2015).
As such, the present study aimed to compare camouflaging between men and women with autism while also identifying possible neurocognitive correlates, such as depression, verbal ability, and signal detection. Using pre-existing data from 60 men and women with autism without intellectual disabilities, the study found that the women had higher camouflaging scores than the men, which supported previous research. Furthermore, camouflaging also positively correlated with depressive symptoms in men and signal-detecting ability in women with autism but was not associated with age or IQ. As hypothesized, camouflaging was found to be largely gender-dependent, but the specific biological and sociocultural reasons behind these differences remain unknown.
Although the findings were not particularly novel, this is the first study to attempt to operationalize and quantify camouflaging in autism. Thus, it provides a strong starting point for future research that may want to further explore the mechanisms of camouflaging and its impact on men and women with autism.
The study is multifaceted in that it analyzed correlations between multiple neurocognitive traits, rather than only examining one specific area. The fact that the authors explored all these aspects of people with autism makes the paper to be a more interesting read in my opinion. Furthermore, they do an excellent job of making the reader consider autism and camouflaging through different lenses. On a biological level, the researchers looked into the correlation between camouflaging and brain volume in addition to exploring the possible neurocognitive bases for camouflaging in females. In contrast, the paper then provides a sociocultural perspective by also suggesting that gender socialization and stereotypes play a major role in how autism presents itself between men and women.
However, the paper could have provided more background on autism and its symptoms, specifically the difference between “external” social behavior and “internal” dispositional traits. Some readers may have had limited exposure to people with autism, leading them to only understand the disorder on a surface level in the context of social situations. As such, when the authors discuss people with autism who can consistently have “normal” social interactions, the audience may be confused on what specifically classifies these people on the autism spectrum. Although inhibited social communication is a common symptom of autism, other major signs include restricted or repetitive behaviors and sensory processing difficulties. Therefore, even if a person with autism may camouflage neurodivergent social cognitive capabilities by maintaining eye contact and following social scripts, they can still exhibit other symptoms of the condition (Lai and Baron-Cohen, 2015).
Although this study delved into the neurocognitive correlates of camouflaging, the results were slightly ambiguous and did not reveal the causes of camouflaging behavior. Future research could look into the psychology of camouflaging by examining the internal (personality and cognitive traits) and external (gender stereotypes) influences on people with autism. Moreover, men and women have been shown to often meet clinical criteria for autism is different ways, reflecting higher camouflaging in females (Hiller et al., 2014). It may also be worthwhile to look into the reasons why autism manifests differently between genders.
Hiller, R. M., Young, R. L., Weber, N. (2014). Sex differences in autism spectrum disorder based on DSM-5 criteria: evidence from clinician and teacher reporting. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, vol. 42(8), pp. 1381–1393.
Lai, M. C., Baron-Cohen, S. (2015). Identifying the lost generation of adults with autism spectrum conditions. Lancet Psychiatry, vol. 2(11), pp. 1013–1027.
Lai, M. C., Lombardo, M. V., Auyeung, B. (2015). Sex/gender differences and autism: setting the scene for future research. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, vol. 54(1), pp. 11–24.