Autism and Masking
From a very early age I was ‘different’ to other children. I was an early learner, telling the time by the age of three and reading at four. I would often walk around with my head in a book and I would read at least one book a day. I was a quiet kid who enjoyed nothing more than being by himself with a good book or TV show.
As the years went by I continued to feel like the ‘odd one out’. I knew I was different but I just didn’t know why or how. I tried to constantly ‘fit in’ to a world that seemed so distant and so overwhelming and at times completely abnormal to me. I struggled with all aspects of life, the things that most people find easy,
I found really difficult; from socialising, making friends, learning new tasks that were not given with specific instructions, changes to my routine, school, studying and employment, and I felt like it was my fault.
I spent forty years of my life knowing something was different. I spent many times blaming myself, thinking it was ‘my fault’ or that I was doing something wrong. Getting that diagnosis had changed my life completely. It felt like a fog had finally been lifted.
Everything from there on started to ‘make sense’.
But what I was doing was masking my Autism.
But what is Autistic Masking?
Masking is where we try to hide being Autistic so others will accept us. To disguise the fact that we have Autism we act in ways other people will like or think are “normal” and “socially acceptable”.
Masking is also called “Passing” or “Camouflaging”.
But what does masking mean for Autistic people?
Sometimes we don’t realise we are masking as these roles can feel natural and happen automatically.
Other times it may be a lot harder and require a lot of concentration.
Autistic people have to consciously use body language, vocal tone and facial expressions as well as show interest.
Some examples of masking behaviours are:
Maintaining eye contact
Trying to stay still
Copying others behaviour
Forcing ourselves to use facial expressions and smile
Learning conversation topics others might be interested in
Practising how to act before we go to an event
Doing these things can take a lot of effort and time so it’s understandable why many autistic people feel drained or socially burnt out.
Why does masking explain misdiagnosis?
Because of masking, you may never notice someone is Autistic. This is why some people may never get diagnosed or only in adulthood. It could also explain why fewer girls get diagnosed as they usually have more masking behaviours and so may not seem Autistic. This could lead them to get another diagnosis or fail to be diagnosed at all.
Some people may not even know they are Autistic. They may think their challenges are because they are tired or hungry. This can lead to them blaming themselves and continuing to do things that are bad for them. Others don’t get socially burnt out as easily and some don’t when around routine people like their parents or partner.
Research is still needed to understand why more males get diagnosed with Autism than females. Masking may explain one reason. If so this could mean, there are many undiagnosed adults who may need help. It’s my hope that if everyone understands masking then more of us may realise we’re Autistic and in doing so lead more fulfilling lives.
I’m now at the age of 43 and I am still finding my feet as a newbie within the Autism community. I’m learning more and more about what it means to be Autistic and I feel extremely blessed that I can now utilise all of the fantastic supports out there for people living on the Spectrum.
Below is a video titled “Take the Mask off” which explores why we mask
Carry on the conversation
How many years did you mask (or hide your Autism for?)
Did you have any idea that you were Autistic all along?
Were you relived when you finally got diagnosed as being on the Autism spectrum?
Let me know in the comments below
As always, I can also be found on Twitter: @AutisticNick9 and at my email firstname.lastname@example.org
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Thank you for reading and I will see you next time for more thoughts from across the spectrum.