Institute of Art Design + Technology
Dún Laoghaire

Orla Reynolds 

BSc [Hons] Applied Psychology

I am a fourth year student in Applied Psychology, currently completing the practice path of the degree. Over the course of my studies I have cultivated a particular interest in Developmental and Lifespan Psychology; fostered through my volunteer work at the National Rehabilitation Hospital and the research for my dissertation. Next year I hope to diversify the skills and experience I have accumulated in my undergraduate through pursuing a Master’s degree in Digital Marketing.

Project Description

Clinical diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have been demonstrated to be of high and rising prevalence across surveyed populations such as the United States. However recent research simultaneously captures notable gender differences in diagnosis rates; the number of diagnosed males significantly higher than that of females. Social camouflaging refers to a broad range of behaviours commonly employed by autistic individuals to cope with, or adapt, to predominantly neurotypical societies. Although such behaviours are common to both genders, empirical studies suggest it is more frequent among autistic women; potentially accounting for greater incidences of missed or late diagnoses in female populations. The present study explored Autistic females’ lived experience of both engaging in and reducing social camouflaging; extending upon current research by applying identity-based theories to conceptualise the phenomenon. Data provided by participants featuring as speakers in YouTube videos was analysed and discussed in relation to previous literature.

Project Objectives

The present study aimed to explore the lived experience of both engaging in and reducing social camouflaging in a sample of Autistic females; using Social Identity Theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979) and the Minority Stress Model (Meyer, 2003) as theoretical frameworks. The study sample consisted of 18 female speakers featuring in publicly accessible YouTube videos, each presenting with a clinical diagnosis of ASD. The ages of participants ranged from 19 to 56, with the mean age at 29 years. Video audio was transcribed to form a data corpus which was subsequently analysed through employing Braun and Clarke’s (2006) six phases of Thematic Analysis. Both latent and semantic codes, derived from the data set, were generated to inform the development of major themes and sub-themes.

Project Outcomes

Six main themes, each accompanied with a varied number of sub-themes, were developed by employing a Reflexive Thematic Analysis methodology. Such themes included Internalised Stigma Driving campaigns for Neurotypical Acceptance, Maintaining Functionality with Significant Personal Costs, Gender Introducing Additional Stressors, Camouflage Reduction: A Rewarding Pursuit Shaped by Significant Challenges, Identifying Safe Environments for Self-Expression and Self-Acceptance Supported by Alignment with Autistic Identity. The results particularly emphasised the role of social-identity alignment and internalised stigma in both engagement and reduction of social camouflaging; demonstrating the applicability of identity-based theories in conceptualising the phenomenon. Regarding practical implications, the research findings indicated the potential benefits of females accessing community-based supports post-diagnosis. For instance, attending peer support groups, facilitated through organisations such as As I Am, may assist autistic females in accepting their identity; consequently reducing engagement in social camouflaging behaviour.

Thesis Title

The Lived Experience of Social Camouflaging in Autistic Females: An Identity-Based Perspective