Thoughts on Masking (#TakeTheMaskOff)

(Image description: Five figures are standing in a line. The one in the middle is red and has a magnifying glass over their face.)

Hi all,

This post will be about masking and ties in quite nicely to the latest campaign in the autistic community called #TakeTheMaskOff. This campaign is designed to draw awareness to the mass amount of masking done by autistic adults which is often required for survival and social acceptance. I am unsure if I will be able to keep up with all six weeks of articles like other bloggers so this post will be more general thoughts about autism and masking and I may write another post next month exploring this topic more.

(Note: You can read more information on the #TakeTheMaskOff campaign here.)

Masking is essentially a form of acting. In short – this is where an autistic person tries to act non-autistic by imitating the behaviour of non-allistics. For many autistic people, social behaviour has to be learnt manually and not instinctively like allistics (hence the existence of things like social skills classes). Masking cannot be done permanently and in the short term often leads to exhaustion when the mask wears off. However the long term effects can be dangerous.

Autistic people have shorter life expectancy than allistic people and a large reason why is due to the results of masking which include the development of mental illnesses and other comorbid disabilities that can limit typical participation in society (which includes not being able to work). Often this comes after being diagnosed as an adult after not getting the right support in childhood and being left to find for themselves in a world that doesn’t understand them. Some autistic people mask so much to the point where they don’t know who they are anymore while other autistic people cannot mask at all.

This is why the stigma around autism needs to be done away with. Autistic people are entitled to a good quality of life just like allistics and they should not be consigned to the rubbish bin simply because they are autistic. Autistic people have to do significantly more work than allistics to get through this world which isn’t fair. Hence why it is important that the wider world reaches out to them and try to accommodate them in the best way possible.

On a personal level, it has been a year since I joined autistic Twitter and started my blog. I have noticed I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin and have started to adjust my life around my autism. I feel this has shown in some of my blogposts such as this one.

This follows a time when in high school, I originally didn’t mask because I was confident in myself who I was. However, not long after I started to try to make friends, I felt compelled to put a mask on. This is because I thought I needed to do this to be accepted by my peers as I had found it very difficult to make friends. Hence I learned to mask but it still wasn’t enough for them.

Subsequently the bullying and isolation destroyed my self-esteem and it took me years to build my self-esteem back up again. It was only after school ended and I went my separate ways from that group that my recovery could begin. Said experiences of social rejection are very common for autistic people – except that not everybody is able to recover.

Nowadays I find it very difficult to work out when exactly I am masking likewise how to mask in certain situations. Some of the behaviour I have learnt from allistics is second nature and doesn’t lead to exhaustion whereas other times it does and it will visibly show soon enough. I just don’t have the energy to learn how to mask long-term and I don’t see the point in trying to hide who I am anymore. I am me and nobody else.

That said, it isn’t possible for every autistic person to stop masking. Due to society still being largely discriminatory against autistic people, it isn’t safe for many to take their masks off for many possible reasons. This includes the stagnation in career progression and sudden exclusion from social groups due to other people not wanting to associate themselves with visibly autistic people anymore.

In the case of other groups (ie. People of colour) it could potentially be threatening to their lives as the stigma of being visibly autistic is stronger than if you are a white cishet man (the stereotypical autistic person). Therefore the process for autism acceptance has to be gradual and this can only be done through education, accurate media representation and legal support for autism in general so the opposition is weakened.

That’s all I have to say on the subject for now. I would strongly recommend reading up on the experiences of other autistic adults on masking as to gain a broader understanding. The hashtag #TakeTheMaskOff on Twitter and other social media platforms is a good place to start.

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Subtle
(@subtlykawaii)

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