Masking is a complicated subject, and one that is often misunderstood by those who are not on the autism spectrum. This is why I’m so excited to be introducing our guest author today, an autistic blogger who goes by the name anonymous gods and writes on autistic masking. Masking is the practice of hiding one’s true thoughts and feelings in order to conform to social norms. It can be a difficult thing to do, but it’s something that many autistic people feel they must do in order to survive in a neurotypical world. Our guest author shares some understanding and advice for those who want to understand this complex concept better. I hope you’ll enjoy reading his post!
Why Is Masking Used By Autistic People To Cope With Social Interactions?
Masking in Autism is the use of ‘behavioral masks and makeup’, oversized clothing, or other items to make oneself appear non-autistic in order to cope with social interactions. This allows autistic people (and other neurodivergent people) the chance to better navigate society without having to deal with sensory overload and bullying.
Can Lead To Diagnosis Later In Life
Masking becomes particularly salient for individuals who are diagnosed after childhood, as they have likely spent much of their lives successfully masking and learning to pass as non-autistic. This may allow neurodivergent people who were misdiagnosed (i.e., told they’re not autistic) to seek a diagnosis later in life, giving them access to supports that will assist with coping with socialization.
Assertion Of Identity
Masked Autism isn’t just about passing, however — it’s also an assertion of identity. As autistic rights activist Lydia Brown writes, “It is certainly true that some do not mask because they are too impaired by their sensory issues or cognitive/communication differences to access a situation without masks, but others simply do not mask because they refuse to. For them, the social pressure is itself part of what they want to disrupt.”
In that same essay, Brown also points out that passing as non-autistic often comes with rules, such as when autistic people are expected to feign academic interests in order to fit in with their peers. These rules are often seen as alienating, especially to autistic youth who may not have the self-awareness or language skills needed to perform masking successfully.
It’s Not Always A Choice
Masked Autism isn’t always a choice — it’s also sometimes forced upon us by parents/guardians and others who don’t understand why we need to look or act a certain way in order to function.
Forced masking often results in the formation of psychological coping mechanisms, including depersonalization, dissociation, and other mental health concerns. Autistic people are already predisposed to anxiety disorders due to the stress of navigating society’s neurotypical-centered world, and this can lead to a bad situation for neurodivergent people.
Coping Mechanisms Aren’t Always Healthy
In the face of forced masking, some autistic people turn toward coping mechanisms such as stimming and self-injurious behaviors, which are deemed “problematic” by the medical community. Self-harm becomes a way of asserting our true identities while simultaneously coping with the intense anxiety and isolation we feel.
It is for these reasons and more that autistic people and other neurodivergent individuals turn to masking and other items to create a visual barrier between themselves and their social environment. They do so not to deceive or defraud others but because they need certain accommodations in order to thrive as autistic people in a neurotypical-centered world.
Resources for Masking as an Autistic
There are excellent resources that deconstruct why masking is important, how to go about doing so without losing yourself in the process, and how to protect yourself if you do choose to mask. Autistic burnout is real, and it harms autistic people — take steps to protect yourself by discussing your situation with your psychologist.
If you want to read more work by this author, you can learn more about them on their website at https://anonymousgods.com/about/
Dr. Jessica Myszak has had over 10 years of experience performing psychological evaluations with children and adults. She offers both in-person and telehealth evaluations. In addition to seeing clients on the Chicago North Shore, she is able to work with families who reside in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin! If you are interested in learning more about potentially working with her, you can visit her website here or email her here to get the process started.