The Masking Theory of Flat Affect on the Autism Spectrum

One of my theories of flat affect on the autism spectrum is our attempts at masking our autistic traits through emotional suppression.

Flat affect includes an expressionless face, a flat tone of voice, and a lack of body language and gestures.

I remember that when I was walking to take the bus seven years ago, I showed that I was happy and a lady asked me whether I was okay.

This is one example of why autistic people feel the need to hide what they’re feeling. If it causes flat affect, it’s like making a poker face.

Even if we learn how neurotypicals react and copy them, we could still come across as robotic or scripted as people pick up subtle social cues, so unmasking autistic traits could be a solution to this issue.

Some of the ways we stand out when expressing autistic traits include:

  • Producing atypical facial expressions. Alexithymia could be one explanation. For example, confusing a smile of victory with a friendly smile.
  • Stimming when expressing emotions such as happy hands flapping and rocking while others tap their feet or dance while enjoying music.
  • Having special interests, which look more like an obsession than a hobby. When we share special interests, we naturally have improvements in eye contact and flat affect

Masking can cause flat affect

Because autistic people often feel the need to fit in, masking may contribute to flat affect.

What are your thoughts about this theory? Please share by commenting below!