It’s Autism Acceptance Week this week and we asked our families to tell us some of the things they wish people better understood about autism. One that was mentioned a lot is Masking, or Camouflaging as it is also known.
In many ways this goes to the heart of what Autism Acceptance Week is about.
Many Autistic people often recognise at a young age that they are different.
They mask in order to try and better fit into a world that is built for Neurotypical brains.
They mask to force themselves to act in ways they understand to be more ‘socially acceptable’.
They mask to stop themselves doing things other people may find ‘strange’ or ‘unacceptable’.
They mask to avoid being bullied, to avoid ridicule, to avoid standing out, to try and fit in and to make friends.
They develop ‘scripts’, people please, mirror behaviours, withdraw, mimic people who look like they’ve got it sussed, hide stims and internalise sensory overload.
They become adept at compartmentalising and can act like chameleons – acting out different roles and personas for different people and places.
They mask to hide their true, authentic selves.
Females can be particularly adept at masking or camouflaging – which is part of the reason why they are also so underdiagnosed – but all genders can do it.
And masking can be particularly common at school meaning teachers don’t necessarily see anything that would lead them to believe a child is autistic, but at home in their safe place where the mask slips it’s a very different story.
Whilst it’s true that everyone makes small adjustments to their presentation or behaviour at times to confirm to ‘social norms’, for Autistic people masking and mimicking neurotypical peers is a constant and exhausting effort that can come with a heavy cost. It can lead to physical exhaustion, sensory burnout, extreme anxiety and mental health challenges as they pay the price for trying to fit into a neurotypical world.
We need a world where Autistic people are accepted for exactly who they are, wherever they are and whoever they are with. Where they can thrive. Where they can take their masks off with pride and be happy and comfortable in their own skin.