Mirroring, in the context of behaviour, it describes the act of attempting to mimic the actions and gestures of others around us – including those on screen and on social media. This can be in tone of voice, facial expression, body language, even picking up a regional accent. Often this is a completely unconscious act, thought to encourage social bonds, though sometimes it is done consciously to put the other person at ease*, in a therapeutic relationship, for instance.

The reason that this is relevant to autistic people is because we, most of us, really do struggle to understand the intricacies of social behaviour. What are the rules? How do we blend in? How do we seem ‘like them’ when we feel so out of our depth? From a very young age, we (particularly girls) find ourselves trying to adopt the gestures of others around us, who seem to have this social interaction thing down perfectly. Whereas neurotypical children are thought to find mimicry quite a straightforward, natural process, it’s thought that our divergent neurology means that even copying others is 1) exhausting and 2) often doesn’t come across as a very successful imitation anyway!

As ever, however, we plough on. Mirroring, masking, mimicry – all describe our attempts to integrate and pass as neurotypical, just to get by.  They don’t help us feel better on the inside, far from it, but because a lot of neurotypical interactions are just SO mystifying, the sensible solution to us (remember it’s unconscious though) is to just do what they do. How can we possibly go wrong then?

*As I’ve already mentioned, we, like every neurotype, may also use mirroring when we we may be feeling quite comfortable but we realise that someone else isn’t – our upset children, for instance,  a disgruntled friend. Mirroring is thought to calm a situation down and create a feeling of empathy. This can be used less altruistically as a sales technique!

Ending on a positive note, I often point out to my closest friends that we have adopted the same stance – maybe, hand on hip, legs crossed the same way, or curled up the same way on opposite sofas – and neither of us knows who did it first! That’s generally a sign of being really comfortable around each other. So, it’s not all bad.