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#TakeTheMaskOff – Week 5

Week 5 20-26 Aug – Diagnosis/self-awareness. How does that impact Masking?

Most undiagnosed autistic people have no idea what masking means. Only after a diagnosis do they recognize that masking is what they have been doing all their life, intentionally or not.

We feel so much pressure to fit in with others around us, even to the detriment of our own mental health.

Being aware of what masking is and how it affects you can change an autistic person’s life. Instead of feeling an overwhelming need to conform to neurotypical standards 24/7, they can adopt a healthier mindset.

Whether it’s taking sensory breaks or unabashedly stimming in public, being aware of the ways in which we suppress our autistic traits can help us to find healthy ways to unmask.

There are some who are opposed to self-diagnosis, but many live in a country where a diagnosis can cost thousands of dollars. For many, who are unable to work, or work a minimum wage job, or have a family to support – that kind of money can be hard, or impossible, to accumulate.

I was able to afford a clinical diagnosis, but others are not so lucky. Self-diagnosis may be the best that someone can do. It can still be a transformative process. A diagnosis of autism can give meaning to a life that has long made little sense.

Since being diagnosed, I’ve come to understand what masking is, and why it led to such a striking case of autistic burnout for me. I’ve made adjustments to my life, accommodated for myself and my needs. Life is infinitely better.

But more importantly, I don’t second-guess myself or question every move I make anymore. I feel more free. I’m able to use my mental energy to focus on the things I want to do, instead of worrying about whether or not I’m sufficiently doing the things I’m “supposed” to do.

Every single person with autism deserves that privilege. We may not yet be at a point in our society where every person with autism can freely unmask, but we have to do our best to get there. We have to help those with autism right now to live the best life they possibly can.

A child who does not know that they are autistic (or what autism even is) will either a) almost always feel the need to mask, or b) feel incredibly “off,” and may never truly understand why.

Children are incredibly perceptive, often more than we give them credit for. They can tell when they are different from other kids, both in real life and in the media.

Verbal or nonverbal, autistic kids have a sense of self, an identity, ideas about who they really are and how they fit into the fabric of society and the greater world around them.

Autistic kids need to know about their diagnosis, and they need to know what it means to be autistic. Not the negative traits (many of which may be due to co-morbid conditions), or the stereotypes, but the wonderful, awesome things that they can do because of their autism.

That’s why I love initiatives like the addition of Julia to Sesame Street, and the increase in children’s books about autism. They make it so much easier to share relatable, positive representations of autism with even our youngest students.

Giving autistic kids positive role models and representations is critical to their psychological well-being and their sense of identity – the same as it is for any other child. We all want to feel like we are valid, like we belong.

This also underscores the importance of having ActuallyAutistic adults in these kids’ lives. It helps them feel less alone, and helps them to feel more understood. That sense of community is so important, to everyone!

Join the #TakeTheMaskOff conversation on Twitter!


Published by Adriana Lebrón White

Autistic school librarian and former special education teacher. MA Ed in Special Education and MLIS with a focus on Youth Services and Storytelling.

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