Neurodivergent masking, often simply referred to as “masking,” is a complex psychological and behavioral process where individuals with neurodivergent conditions—such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or other cognitive divergences—consciously or unconsciously suppress their natural behaviors and mannerisms. This suppression is typically in an effort to conform to societal norms or to avoid negative social reactions from others.

Masking can involve a range of strategies, including mimicking social cues, modulating one’s tone of voice, controlling physical movements, or engaging in socially acceptable behaviors that might not come naturally. For example, an autistic person might force eye contact during conversations, even if it feels uncomfortable or unnatural, or they might rehearse jokes or smiles to appear more socially adept.

While masking can help individuals avoid immediate social friction or exclusion, it often comes at a significant personal cost. Prolonged masking can lead to increased stress, exhaustion, and a diminished sense of self-identity. It can also contribute to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, particularly when the effort to mask one’s true self is sustained over a long period.

Understanding neurodivergent masking is crucial for fostering more inclusive and supportive environments, both in personal relationships and in broader societal contexts. Recognizing and appreciating neurodivergent behaviors can help reduce the pressure to mask, thereby supporting the mental health and well-being of neurodivergent individuals.