Spotting the problems with ‘camouflaging’ in autism research
Autistic people may feel pressure to fit in at work or at school, or they may pick up mannerisms to help them get by in a society that is not set up to accommodate them. Scientists and autistic people describe such thoughts and behaviors as ‘camouflaging.’
Over the past few years, research on camouflaging has expanded rapidly. Some autistic women, for example, have reported that they camouflage their autismso well that they did not receive a diagnosis until adulthood. And studies show these women have brain activity in regions associated with social interactions that more closely resembles that of their typical peers than that of other autistic women. Researchers have sought to quantify camouflaging as the mismatch between an autistic person’s self-reported autism traits and their traits as measured by the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). They have also suggested that more women camouflage than men do.
But some of this work is misguided, argues Eric Fombonne, director of autism research at the Institute on Development and Disability at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. In an editorial last month in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, he laid out the problems he sees with this burgeoning field of study1.