On autistic masking: But doesn’t everyone wear a mask?

2 min read

The other day I was talking to a friend about being Neuro-divergent and wearing a mask. I wasn’t talking about the kind of mask people wear during a pandemic. I meant the proverbial mask of appearing to be happier, more “normal,” and less autistic.

Her response was, “Rae, everyone wears a mask, so I don’t understand the big deal.”

She was right because she was wrong

I couldn’t help but stare at her. My initial reaction was that she was right, but then I realized that’s why she is wrong.

Everyone chooses to wear masks, but some people were forced to wear a mask. Let me explain. Most people in the neurodivergent community have had a lot of different therapies in order to try to force development to be more similar to everyone else’s.

But, these therapies are not designed in consideration of the whole child and the psychological damage that comes with trying to force someone to develop against the grain of their neurology.

So many people were abused and neglected in order to fit in with neurotypical children.  So, wearing a mask for people in the Neurodivergent community is different. They are not trying to fit in. A mask is their survival mechanism. I want to emphasize that I’m sure there are exceptions, but this is why the term holds so much baggage within the community.

The Pain of Forced Masks

The other problem is many people within the community haven’t really been able to experience being their authentic selves comfortably, so this has a lot of negative psychological effects from the lack of boundaries, to social interactions, to self-love, to self-care, to defining their own dreams and aspirations– because they are constantly trying to cover themselves.

This is also why it’s different within the context of the neurodivergent community. Many people are openly advocating for people to remove their mask without being ashamed. Others are concerned that shaming people into unmasking could put them at risk of feeling ashamed about doing what they have to do to avoid abuse, maintain tenuous relationships, or remain employed.

So then the question becomes, how do I remove my mask that I have been wearing for so long? How do I find myself? What should be my next move?

I am not a psychologist, but I believe seeking to understand yourself is the first step and  knowing the difference between fulfillment and happiness should be your next.

 

5 Comments

  1. Indeed, the ‘same thing’ becomes very different things when enacted by free will and/or when imposed by coercion.

    And on those 2 closing statements, copied below; the answers to those questions are most likely going to vary for each individual person, and the statements following will provide information to help find your answers to those questions.

    Re: “So then the question becomes, how do I remove my mask that I have been wearing for so long? How do I find myself? What should be my next move?
    I am not a psychologist, but I believe seeking to understand yourself is the first step and knowing the difference between fulfillment and happiness should be your next.”

  2. YUP. All of this.
    It all boils down to choice vs force.

    Which is why things such as code-switching, while an entirely independent thing with its own laws, sometimes is “just code-switching” and sometimes it can become masking.

    The key concept in masking is “personal neglect”.

    The other thing I realized is that I feel that masking is a term often used only on autistics who “pass” as NT, when in truth I’d say that anyone on the spectrum can mask if forced enough to (*cough* abusive therapies *cough*). While not everyone can pass, many of us are forced to comply to arbitrary standards in order to not inconvenience NTs’ paradigm of communication at the expense of our needs and desires, which is the crux of what masking means.

    In a presentation I gave about emotional health in autism, I mentioned “narrative reinvention” as the work needed to undo a lifetime of masking, in which personal agency should by all means play a protagonic role. And by reading this article an important point pops up: only with personal agency involved, our code-switching becomes just code-switching.

    Because what NTs call “masking” is in truth code-switching.

    Thank you for sharing this article!

    1. I hope you write more about this, and if you already have, can you share links?

  3. The biggest gift of the pandemic for me, if something horrible can bear gifts, is that in working from home, I haven’t had to wear my mask except briefly for Zoom meetings. I’m not exhausted at the end of every day any more. It’s been odd to get to know my authentic self and I keep having to remind myself that it’s OK that I talk differently or not at all, that I move differently, and that I’m accepted here at home without having to pretend to be like everyone else.

    1. That’s something I can relate to 100%
      I am almost completely unmasked as of 2 years ago (not by choice) but the complete freedom of these last few months has been blissful.

Talk to us... what are you thinking?