Unmasking as a Late-Diagnosed Autistic Person

As someone who wasn’t diagnosed with autism until I was 40, I often struggle to understand what unmasking means to me. What if people don’t like who I am without a mask? To what extent am I masking myself? These are just some of the questions that someone diagnosed with autism late in life must wrestle with when determining whether or not to unmask.

What is masking?

masking It is when an autistic person alters or camouflages their behavior to better fit their get ready behavioral expectations (non-autistic). Many autistic people do this because it allows them to feel safer in a world where there is still significant stigma around autism and autistic behaviors. Wearing masks is also one of the main reasons why many girls – who often mask at higher rates than childrennot be diagnosed for so long, if they are ever diagnosed.

Masking occurs when an autistic person alters or camouflages their behavior to better fit expectations of allistic behavior.

Masking looks different for every autistic person, depending on the particular autistic traits they have. Some masking behaviors may include, but are not limited to:

  • avoiding stimulating or the need to move
  • Use facial expressions or make eye contact.
  • Wearing clothes that are uncomfortable to look “professional”
  • Engaging in social etiquette behaviors that don’t make sense to them because it makes others feel more comfortable (for example, small talk, which can be extremely draining for autistic people)
  • Rewrite (and rewrite again) emails to make them sound less forceful and friendlier
  • Avoid the temptation to talk at length about your special interests.

For many years, parents and caregivers of autistic people have encouraged training and therapies such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) that teach how to curb autistic behaviors and better fit into allistic expectations. However, in more recent years, there has (very fortunately) been a strong movement in the autism community to recognize that autism is not something that needs to be “cured” or “treated,” but that we must find ways to better support people. autistic people. in a world built for alism.

Is it easy to mask?

There is really no way to measure the energy required for an individual autistic person to mask. How easy it is to mask depends on a variety of factors, including what behaviors someone is trying to mask, how often they feel the need or are required to mask, and what level of masking they feel the need to use, among other things. Wearing masks often requires a lot of energy for autistic people and often causes stress, fatigue, and other physical ailments.

So why wear a mask if it’s so exhausting? There is still quite a bit of stigma attached to autism and the behaviors associated with it. It can be very uncomfortable for someone to come out to people who have expressed negative prejudices towards autistic people or have not made clear how they feel about autism. And for many of us who have worn masks since we were children, it can be difficult to know how not to wear masks if we aren’t diagnosed until much later in life.

Many BIPOC, women, non-binary, and queer people (who are often already coding their behavior based on their race, gender, or sexuality to stay safe) choose to wear a mask when they feel unsafe at school, the workplace, or other situations. .

It is also extremely important to note that many people feel the need to wear a mask for safety. Many BIPOC people, women, non-binary and queer people, who are often already coding their behavior based on their race, gender or sexuality to keep themselves safe, they choose to wear a mask when they feel unsafe at school, the workplace, or other situations. This can cause additional fatigue and exhaustion on top of dealing with racism, sexism, and homophobia in these situations.

Unmask

As the world continues to grow in its acceptance and sometimes even celebration of neurodiversity, hopefully more autistic people will be able to unmask themselves in any situation. Some autism advocates have also argued that the only way to live fully as an autistic person is to unmask yourself. However, for those of us who have been diagnosed late, unmasking can pose some additional challenges.

As we work to unmask ourselves, this may mean a lot of uncomfortable conversations with the people around us. It can be just as exhausting to constantly be the educator in these situations as it is to wear a mask.

For many of us, we have established work situations and relationships based on who we have been as masked autistic people. As we work to unmask ourselves, this may mean a lot of uncomfortable conversations with the people around us. It can be just as exhausting to constantly be the educator in these situations as it is to wear a mask.

It can also be difficult to know what is masking and what is not when we have lived most of our lives undiagnosed. For some of us, masking comes naturally right now, and unraveling what we’re really feeling at any given moment can be difficult. We may be using adaptive behaviors and masking and not even realize it!

And of course, it’s important to remember that unmasking may not be a safe possibility for some autistic people and/or in some settings.

Ultimately, the choice to mask or unmask an autistic person is very personal and can depend on many things. But there’s no doubt that wearing a mask during our daily lives can cause a significant strain on our physical and mental energy, meaning we may have more difficulty in other areas of our lives. If you want to learn more about the masking and unmasking of autism, we recommend the book “Unmasking autism” by Devon Price has great information and exercises to help you better understand what this might look like for you.

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