Autistic people often feel they need to hide or “mask” who they are. They may need to perform social behaviours which are not natural, and they might feel the need to hide behaviours and parts of themselves to get by in society.
This is commonly called masking and it is a social survival strategy. It can include some of the following behaviours:
- preparing conversations in advance
- forcing themselves to make eye contact
- imitating facial expressions
Masking is generally employed to make life easier in some way, perhaps to avoid bullying or to forge friendships. This is because in many many areas of life, there is very little awareness or support for neurodiverse behaviours. It is believed that autistic girls and women are more likely to mask than autistic boys and men, but for all who mask regularly it is an exhausting, draining process. This is why children who seem to cope fairly well in school may have extreme blow ups when they get home, as the effort of the day takes its toll.
Habitual masking can lead to higher occurrences of anxiety, depression and fatigue. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6483965/
It can also delay identification of autism, as some people are so good at masking that they generally “pass”.
Part of the skill of a therapist is to create an environment where individuals can relax and be themselves. This is what I endeavor to do when working with autistic children.
If you know anyone in who you think I can help, please put them in touch.