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Newsletter Number 23, February 2024
Masking: Does it even exist ...? Part 1
What is masking?
Masking refers to an individual hiding or suppressing symptoms, behaviours or difficulties they are experiencing. While it can happen intentionally, it often occurs unconsciously over time as they receive negative feedback for their authentic presentation. For children and young people, most commonly masking is a feature associated within the contexts of home and school. 





























Mirroring neurotypical behaviours:

Neurodivergent young people may mirror behaviours of the neurotypical people around them, friends, peers or influential adults. This might include:

  • Developing scripts to navigate social settings and rehearsing conversations in advance.

  • Suppressing stimming such as hand-flapping or rocking even though they may be soothing.

  • Forcing eye contact, even if it feels unnatural or uncomfortable.

  • Providing stereotypical answers to questions or small talk, even if they don't share that view.







The impact of masking:

















Case study 1: Martin

A 9-year old boy in a socially deprived area is exceptionally polite at school. He works hard in lessons, follows instructions well and is popular in his class with three particularly close friends. A 30-minute observation of Martin during an ICT lesson reveals no behavioural concerns.

During a one-to-one session with Martin, he reveals that his behaviour is "really bad" at home. He doesn't listen or follow instructions, he shouts and has sworn at his parent. He has regular meltdowns on the journey back from school which can take place in the street, in a shop or attending a medical appointment.


Martin's main trigger is being restricted from using his tablet. He has a school tablet for doing his homework and his own, on which he plays Minecraft and Roblox. He is especially defiant at bedtime, leading to a "physical confrontation" over access to the tablet. As a result he sleeps badly and additional conflict takes place in the morning due to sleep deprivation and an insistence on using his tablet before leaving the house for the school run.

Martin's parent and class teacher have met to discuss his needs but are not receptive to believing such extreme behaviours in their respective settings exist, despite Martin telling each key adult what is happening on a daily basis with considerable candour and vulnerability.













Case study 2: Mary

A six-year old girl in an inner-city area lives with family members some distance from her school. At home she has a close relationship with her main carer and other children in her family. She presents as "having an old head on young shoulders" and is described as an "angel/devil" child with contrasting traits in some situations. At home she sometimes demonstrates regressive behaviour and uses vocabulary more indicative of a younger child.

Mary follows instructions on the first - or occasionally second - time of asking at home. She is well-mannered, eager to please and likes to help her carer with tasks around the home. She's not an instinctively affectionate child but will sometimes ask for a hug or give one if her carer requests it. She can be "needy" or "shuts down", but only when she is upset about something.


At school, Mary's behaviour challenges the staff and the pupils in her class. She can be defiant, confrontational, physically and verbally aggressive. She is regularly hurting other children in unprovoked incidents, standing on tables and "trashing" the office of a senior member of staff. She craves validation and enjoys praise; when asked about her behaviour she says she "can't remember" the incident or "was angry" prior to the incident taking place. During numerous observations of Mary in the classroom, there appears to be no antecedent that suggests an angry response. She is often smiling; despite knowing that this causes adults a lot of frustration.

Whilst adults at school have seen Mary's compliant behaviour and can understand that this is the way in which she behaves at home, her family are unable to fully appreciate the gravity with which she expresses her unmet needs. Mary's academic progress and social relationships are suffering due to her behaviour and the involvement of specialist services has warranted no permanent impact thus far. Recently she has made "allegations" about the actions of adults both at home and at school and has been openly giving conflicting information to adults about the same event.


In my experience, some staff members don't understand masking because they don't see it. A carer described the "Jekyll and Hyde" within the child and the staff didn't believe her. A 10-year old boy told me he wants help to let his teacher know what masking is really like. Another child has started noticing "leakage" and is worried he'll be excluded. I now run workshops about sensory processing issues to raise the awareness of educators and other professionals to help reduce the meltdowns at the end of the day. I signpost adults at home to an excellent support group that is run by the mother of two neurodivergent children and she has ADHD herself.

However problematic the issue of masking might be, with much further work in the education sector needing to take place, an acceptance of the concept of masking and how educators and parents can work collaboratively is long overdue. An open dialogue should be taking place about the young person's experiences of emotionally-based school avoidance [EBSA], social anxiety, trauma and emotional wellbeing in general. A knowledge of the facts affecting the young person can make all the difference in meeting their unmet needs.


The video below shows the parents of three neurodivergent children discussing with specialists what masking is and how it works. 

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  • Masking in educational settings specifically involves concealing neurodivergent traits in order to appear neurotypical.

  • Research shows that generally girls are more skilled at masking than boys, but there are always exceptions to the rule. Boys whose lived experience has been around others who use naturally masking behaviours can adopt this by simple copying.

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Reasons for Masking:

  • Masking may begin uncon-sciously in childhood as a desire to fit in. 

  • Young people may mask their feelings and behaviour to avoid discrimination, harassment or due to a perceived fear of being targeted if they reveal their neurodivergence. 

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Supporting neurodivergent young people:

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Neither Martin nor Mary have a clinical diagnosis though both display some neurodivergent traits. As a teacher I didn't fully appreciate how masking worked. As an advisory teacher I listened to the conflicting experiences of school staff and parents. Now as a Behaviour Strategist working in school and with families at home I SEE the full implications of masking. They're REAL. I recognise the great advantage I have in working in schools and visiting families at home - most are not in this fortunate position.

It is commonly experienced by young people who are autistic, have ADHD or both. It can occur in various ways:

If you have masking experiences that will help parents and professionals to better understand the phenomenon, please share them via the contact page on this website: Contact | Aluna Behaviour Consultancy ( or email me at: Your contributions will go into next month's newsletter, Does Masking Even Exist ...? Part 2

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