I figured since the name of this website has to do with “Autistic Masking”, we should probably talk about what that is, right? The short answer is that autistic masking is hiding or suppressing autistic symptoms or traits in order to be accepted by others, or to make life easier in some way. Hence, the mask. We put on a mask and hide our true selves from others. This isn’t meant to be manipulative or to be fake, but is meant as a self-protective measure because many of us have been bullied for our odd behavior.
Here are some common things that many autistic people have heard throughout our lives:
- You need to grow up, or mature.
- Stop being so rude!
- You make people uncomfortable.
- No. Don’t do that. Stop moving. Look this way.
- What’s wrong with you?
- Do you ever talk?
- Please stop talking.
- Calm down.
- You’re weird/strange/odd.
- Are you on drugs?
- Can’t you just try harder?
- You’re so selfish!
- Do you even care about me/her/him/anyone?
SOME COMMON WAYS OF AUTISTIC MASKING
Just as a note, not all autistic people will struggle with these issues or will mask in all of these ways. These are just some common ones.
STIMMING – An obvious one is suppressing stims. (Stims are just repetitive movements that autistic people do which they find calming, like rocking, spinning, or hand flapping.) Because these movements are often targeted as “problem behaviors”, we quickly learn to suppress and hide them. I’ve had a teacher make me sit on my hands because I was moving too much and distracting other children. Rocking, which is one of my favorites, is seen as infantile. All these hand movements, spinning, rocking, and even noises can be criticised as “not normal”, immature, or “being on drugs”.
We will often force ourselves to be as still as possible. This causes many of us to continually tense our bodies. We can also resort to other harmful stims in an effort to not be obvious. I would take my thumb nail and repeatedly dig it into the side of leg, and because my work pants were often thin, I would sometimes scratch so much I would end up bleeding. I know another woman who would bite the skin around her nails to keep from stimming, and now the skin around her nails is scarred. And all this effort of constantly suppressing and containing these stims can lead to meltdowns and explosions.
If you think of stims as a pressure valve, then stimming is what regulates emotion and the sensory system that we can often get overwhelmed with. If you turn that pressure valve off, the tank that the pressure valve is attached to will eventually explode. That’s what happens when autistic people aren’t allowed to stim. Now, there are harmful stims that can be problematic to the person, and I’ll talk about that in a different post. For those, you basically need to redirect the stim to something that isn’t harmful. If the autistic person isn’t hurting themselves or anyone else, just let them stim.
EYE CONTACT – Many of us learn to give eye contact, because if we don’t, we either appear rude, or the other person thinks we aren’t listening. There are tricks to this, such as looking right in between someone’s eyes, looking at their nose, or looking around their eyes. Sometimes, I can get away with looking at them when they are talking and then looking away when I’m talking.
Eye contact can often feel very intense and intimate. It can even feel so intense that some of us will have a physical pain reaction. This doesn’t happen to me too often. What happens more for me is that I have trouble concentrating fully on what you’re saying. If I don’t look at you, I can visualize what you’re saying and visually access the information I need to respond to you. All of that visualization stops when I look at you.
You can teach a person to face the person they are talking to without forcing eye contact, and teaching them to say the name of the other person to get their attention. There are ways around eye contact to get what you need from the autistic person. You just need to be creative with your solutions.
SCRIPTING – I used to think I was the only person who did this. After talking with other autistic people, I’ve realized that it’s something many of us do. If we know there is an upcoming social event or just a conversation that we are anxious about, we will come up with scripts and rehearse them in our heads. We will also have multiple versions of these scripts. We will think of all the different kinds of conversations and the different ways a conversation can go.
This can have both positive and negative effects. The positive is that we can look like we have amazing social skills, and can lead to gaining friends. The negatives are that we can look like we have amazing social skills, which leads to people not believing our diagnosis or just not getting one, and the other people in the conversation with us don’t have the scripts we created. This means we can look like we are dominating the conversation when really, we’re just going through the scripts we spent hours creating. Also what happens when they go off script? What do we do then? We didn’t prepare for that.
SILENCE – This one may sound odd, but many of us just choose not to say anything even when we want to. A topic of interest is brought up, but we will remain silent. Many have been told that we are too intense about our interests and don’t let others talk. So we may be in a situation where we have something we really want to share, but we don’t want to be seen as too intense. We might not even know if people want to know ALL the details we have to share.
NEGATIVES OF MASKING
I think at this point, it’s pretty obvious that masking can have a significant impact on a person’s mental health. When I was in high school, I was constantly in pain and didn’t understand why. Now, I understand that I was autistic, and was exhausted from constantly masking it just to function in school and everywhere else. I would harm myself and just wanted to die, but not because I really wanted to die. I just wanted everything to stop. No one understood me, and I didn’t understand myself.
Many adults who get diagnosed later in life, get diagnosed after some sort of mental health break. Masking is how we blend in, get an education, get a job, interact with people, but it’s so exhausting. So we often end up with depression and anxiety and thinking about suicide. It can be a very dark and lonely place, especially if you don’t know you’re autistic and haven’t been diagnosed yet.
SOME NECESSARY REASONS FOR MASKING
Now, I do need to say that I wish some of these weren’t necessary. Unfortunately, our world isn’t always fair or kind. I also live in America. So this will be from my perspective of living here. Some of this will apply to any country, while other parts of it will apply to America or other similar Western countries.
SUPPRESSING STIMS – It’s nice to say that we should be able to stim in public, and that if more of us do it then society will get used to it. However, there are a few problems with this. It causes me more anxiety to know that people are staring at me. So I have to weigh out my need to stim with the anxiety of having people stare at me. I have a few small public stims that aren’t too obvious that give me what I need, but don’t seem to disturb others too much or attract attention.
I also have the problem of worrying about people calling the cops on “the woman on drugs” walking down the street. I don’t have this thought too often when I’m by myself, but I definitely think about it when I’m with my children. I can already imagine people calling the cops on the “unfit mother on drugs walking down the street with her children”. This is me as a white woman in America. Imagine being a black autistic person in America. They have a much higher chance of the cops being called on them.
EYE CONTACT – Some people will take this as a sign of disrespect and can get very aggressive about it. Some of this is dependent on the situation and the person, and sometimes it has to do with people in positions of authority, like police officers. This is why I would really like to see training added into the police force about better handling people with mental health issues and developmental disorders like autism. If you have inconsistent eye contact with a police officer, they will often either assume that you are being non-compliant, or that you are drunk or high.
SCRIPTING – Sometimes scripting can be helpful to just get through a quick interaction, get what you need done, and get home. For example, you’re at the store and need to get your food and leave. You can use your scripts to talk with the store clerk and maybe the person in line with you if needed. You’re likely not going to see them again and the interaction is fairly short.
You might be in a conversation where you’re not certain what you want the other person to know about you. So you have a few practiced conversations in your back pocket that you can pull out, get through that interaction, and then go home. You’ll notice the important part of using scripting to get through specific situations, and then going to a safe place, like your home, to relax and recover.
I hope that gives you a better understanding of what masking is and why many of us do it. A fun fact is that women tend to mask more than men. So autistic women will often seem to have better social skills than autistic men. However, men can and do mask as well. How much a person masks and what they do, will be different for each person. I support autistic people not continuously masking, because it is very damaging for our mental health, but I also understand that there can be times where it is necessary. You’ll have decide what’s going to be best for you.
STIMMING – 一個明顯的例子是抑制stimming。（Stims只是自閉症人幫助會感到鎮靜的重複性動作：搖擺，旋轉或手部動作。） 我們很快學會抑制和隱藏它們，因為這些運動通常被視為【問題行為】。老師强迫我坐在我的手上，因為我移動的太多了，分散了其他孩子的注意力。搖擺是我的最愛之一，被視為稚氣。所有這些手部動作，旋轉，搖擺甚至是聲音都可以被批評為“不正常”，不成熟或“正在吸毒”。
眼神接觸 – 我們中的許多人都學會了眼神交流，因為如果我們不這樣做，我們要麽顯得粗魯，要麽另一個人以為我們不再聼。有一些技巧，例如在某人的雙眼之間注視或注視著鼻子。有時，我可以在他們説話是看著他們，然後再我説話是看著別處。
用劇本説話 – 我曾經以為我是唯一這樣做的人。與其他自閉症人交談後，我意識到這是我們許多人要做的事情。如果我們知道即將到來的社交活動或只是我們擔心的對話，我們將提出脚本並在腦海中排練。我們還將有這些脚本的多個版本。我們將考慮所有不同類型的對話進行的不同方式。
安靜 – 這聽起來可能很奇怪，但我們中的許多人甚至選擇了不説話。提出了一個有趣的話題，但我們保持沉默。我們中的許多人都被告知，我們對自己的利益過於關注，不讓其他人講話。因此，我們可能處於一種我們確實想分享的東西的情況下，但是我們不想被視為霸道。我們甚至可能不知道人們是否想我們必須分享的所有細節。
抑制stims – 很高興地説，我們應該能夠在公共場合stim，而且如果我們中的更多人在公共場合stim，那麽社會就會習慣它了。但是，這有一些問題。知道別人在盯著我，這使我更加焦盧。因此,我必須考慮需要別人盯著我stim的焦慮。我有一些不太明顯的小stims，可以滿足我的需求，但似乎不會打擾別人或吸引太多注意力。
眼神接觸 – 有些人會將其視為不尊重的標識，並且對此會變得非常激進。其中一些取決於情況和人。有時，這與諸如警察之類的權威人士有關。這就是爲什麽我真的希望看到警察部隊接受了關於如何更好地處理患有精神健康問題和發育障礙的人的培訓。如果你與警官的眼神交流不一致，他們通常會假設你不合規，或者你醉酒或吸毒。
用劇本説話 – 有時候，在談話使用脚本可能有助於快速互動，完成需要完成的工作並回家。例如，你在商店裡，需要購買餐飲和離開。你可以使用脚本與店員以及必要時站在你旁邊的人交談。你不太可能再次看到他們，並且交互非常短。