For autistic persons, masking is a complicated and costly survival strategy.
It usually entails learning neurotypical behaviours and then imitating them in social circumstances.
Masking can sometimes be used to hide activities that people believe will not be approved.
People may hide their autism symptoms or traits for a variety of reasons, including advancing their jobs, connecting with others, or avoiding being stigmatised by others.
While masking can be helpful at times, doing so on a frequent basis can have negative consequences for one’s mental and physical health.
Anxiety, depression, tiredness, a loss of identity, and negative thoughts are some of the outcomes of prolonged masking.
Masking can take different forms depending on the person, however it can involve things like:
During face to face meetings, forcing or feigning eye contact.
Being over compliant, aiming to please the other person.
Appearing to be confident and assertive, when in reality one is the opposite.
Copying other people’s smiles and facial expressions.
Personal preferences are hidden or minimised by imitating motions.
Establishing a rehearsed repertoire of responses to questions.
Conversations are scripted.
Stifling stimming activities ; perhaps distraction techniques to avoid detection.
So, why do some people use masking in social situations? Autism masking in this case, can be hidden for a variety of reasons, including:
A sense of security and the avoidance of stigma
Avoiding bullying or cruelty
Achieving professional success, obtaining a romantic partner, and forming friendships and other social ties.
A sense of belonging or of fitting in; acceptance and enhancing positive identity.
Masking begins when a neurodivergent person presumes that being viewed as neurotypical is crucial to their success. This often includes areas in relationship building, or perhaps a job opportunity that they may feel they would otherwise be overlooked because of autism.
Whatever the reason, an autistic person may feel compelled to hide their differences or alter their normal behaviour, especially if their living or working environment does not tolerate, support, or recognise neurodivergent behaviours.
When people believe they must compensate for autistic traits, they must devote a significant amount of time and energy in attempting to “pass” as neurotypical.
Notice social interactions amongst people around them.
Monitor their own facial expressions and body language.
Learn social cues from various sources of media, like Youtube.
Adjust their tone to appear interested or comfortable.
Using voice to imitate the speech patterns of others.
An autistic person can then employ these observations and talents in social situations to various degrees of success.
No one can tell if someone is faking or performing since they are so good at masking.
In either case, the mental and physical health of people who mask, is affected by the cognitive and emotional strain. Maskers frequently report feeling depleted and exhausted by the effort of trying to adhere to neurotypical behavioural standards.
Masking may be widespread in environments with limited support for neurodiverse persons or where people on the autistic spectrum are at risk.
While masking has some advantages, it’s crucial to keep in mind that it comes at a price.
Time spent acquiring neurotypical behaviours is time not spent developing other aspects of one’s personality.
Furthermore, the effort required to mimic neurotypical interactions can soon lead to social exhaustion also known as autistic burnout.
Regular and prolonged masking can have a detrimental effect on your Mental Health and Wellbeing; some of which are as follows:
Anxiety and stress.
Masking needs a significant quantity of energy.
This is a broad account of what masking is, and I would be really interested to hear from anyone who has experiences of masking and could give more insight into this coping strategy. I come across issues relating to Masking frequently in my interactions with individuals on the Autistic Spectrum, yet not many I have spoken with are aware of this term of ‘Masking’. It is just another form of protecting yourself and trying to be more accepted in this world.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.