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What does masking autism mean?

Camouflaging or masking in autism has far reaching effects on the person. In this post you’ll discover what masking is, what effects it has on the person, why it is damaging and how to avoid it in future children.

What is masking in autism?

Masking is when an autistic person behaves in a way that is unnatural to them in an effort to seem more ‘neurotypical’.

Why would someone mask autism?

There are some simple reasons that people would mask their autism. In general, people fear things that are different. While some celebrate difference and diversity, many are unkind to those they don’t understand. It is only natural to try and hide your true self when you’ve been punished or bullied. Many autistics describe masking to fit in. However, this behaviour doesn’t stop in childhood.

There are 4 times more autistic males than females. Recently, there has been a lot of discussion if autism is really more common in males or if females are more skilled at (and more likely to) mask their symptoms. Female autistics are often diagnosed at later ages, potentially because they’ve been masking their autism symptoms. Many female autistics report only discovering their diagnoses when their own children were struggling. These women simply believed that they were different and needed to pretend to be ‘normal’.

Autistics who mask have said that it has helped them get friends and jobs. Unfortunately, masking autism has many negative downsides.

Image of a woman looking at herself with a negative reflection. Representing masking autism symptoms.

Outcomes of masking

While having friends and getting jobs might seems like excellent reasons to mask autistic symptoms there are many downsides. Autistics who mask report higher incidences of depression and anxiety. They internalize that who they are inherently isn’t good enough. That’s a horrible feeling to have. It can lead to all sorts of other problems. Some autistics relate regressions or loss of skills to masking.

Another really damaging downside of masking autism is that it leads to late diagnosis. Children aren’t receiving the help they need early on because they’re pretending to be someone they’re not. Not accessing early intervention services will have lasting impacts on the person.

Acceptance of neurodiversity: a path forward

There has been a recent explosion of awareness of autism in North America. Most people know at least one autistic person. However, this isn’t enough to inhibit people from masking. Awareness isn’t nearly enough. We have to embrace neurodiversity and create acceptance and equity in the same way we do for other differences.

Some behaviours have to be targeted (because they’re dangerous). However, most ‘typical’ autistic behaviours don’t need to be addressed. If we created a world that was accepting of difference, it wouldn’t matter that the person didn’t look at your eyes for extended periods of time, or talk about the topics that interest you. We would recognize and celebrate the intrinsic value that each person brings to our lives.

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