'It's like a disguise': experiences of peer relationships and social camouflaging of autistic adolescent boys: an IPA analysis

Samoilis, Georgios (2021) 'It's like a disguise': experiences of peer relationships and social camouflaging of autistic adolescent boys: an IPA analysis. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


Social camouflaging has recently attracted much attention as a coping strategy in autistic individuals and has been associated with mental health difficulties. In an attempt to appear socially competent and to prevent others from noticing their social challenges, autistic individuals may hide their ASD traits (Hull et al., 2017).

Traditionally, camouflaging has been found to occur more frequently in females and it has been researched more widely in adults, younger children and in the female presentation (Hull et al., 2017; Lai et al., 2011; Lai et al., 2016; Dean et al., 2017; Tierney et al., 2016; Bargiela et al., 2016) despite emerging research evidence suggesting that autistic young males also do camouflage their ASD traits during social interactions (Carrington & Graham, 2001; Carrington et al., 2003; Humphrey & Lewis 2008; Huws & Jones, 2015). As there is limited research on males and specifically adolescents, this study focuses on the autistic young male presentation. Eight autistic male adolescents have been interviewed via semi-structured interviews and the results were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). All participants were recruited from a Children and Adolescents Mental Health Neurodevelopmental Service (CAMHS NDS). The themes emerged included experiences of friendships and socialisation, common interests, strategies when making friends and socialising, ASD diagnosis and experiences of socialisation and experiences of camouflaging.

This study adds to existing knowledge by offering novel descriptions of autistic young males employing camouflaging strategies during peers’ interactions, alongside their motivations, functions, and the impact on their self-identity. Overall, most of the boys camouflaged their ASD associated traits in order to fit in, pass as normal and blend in with peers; however, they were aware of the toll this might take on their self-identity.

This study proposes important clinical implications. Further investigation of this phenomenon across the spectrum and all genders is necessary to inform clinical and educational practices for the younger autistic population.

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