Masking of autistic traits and behaviors is common among women and men on the spectrum. Your stereotypical autistic boy, who doesn’t make eye contact and sits in the corner playing with trucks, is not the only type of autistic person in the world.
A lot of us mask how our traits and our difficulties, hiding the truth of our experience from others, often to our own detriment.
So, why do we do it?
For me, one of the big reasons that I mask is to avoid the pain of others’negative reactions. Autistic folks can be so extremely sensitive to others’ reactions, and that’s especially true of negative reactions. It’s almost like someone else’s discomfort gets amplified 1000 times, L\like feedback between two loudspeakers, to the point where it’s absolutely unbearable.
Neurotypical reactions to autistic behavior are seldom comfortable or accepting, let alone celebratory, hitting me hard – like a punch in the gut – and amplifying as time goes on. Just like those proverbial loudspeakers facing each other with the vibrations and frequencies amplifying to earsplitting level, other people’s reactions to my stimming, lack of eye contact, repetitive movements, and holding forth on my favorite subjects, are physically painful for me.
So, I protect myself by masking. I just don’t show people what is going on with me, I don’t let on that I need help, and I don’t let anyone know what is really happening with me.
The net result is that I look great on the outside, and inside I feel like I’m dying. This happens numerous times each day, to the point where I hardly even notice it anymore.
No, I don’t let anyone know that I’m confused, that I’m frightened, that I lost the train of thought of our discussion about 20 minutes ago, and I’m literally just guessing at what I need to do next. As a result, I look great on the outside, and inside I feel like I’m dying. This happens numerous times each day, to the point where I hardly even notice it anymore. But when I think about it, it nearly brings me to tears.
So, I don’t think about it.
At least that’s one problem solved.