Autistic Masking for neurotypical individuals can be difficult to understand, but if you are autistic then you will have that innate, organic experience of what masking is. You will also know how meaningful it is to be able to unmask and be your true autistic self.
What helps me to unmask.
Having spent over 40 years masking who I am, trying to understand the social world, shielding myself from additional autistic traumas, I learned the me that my closest families and friends knew may not always be accepted and would more often than not be misjudged.
I realised very early on I didn’t fit the unattainable “normal” design, because I was different and sometimes being different means being “other”. Othering was and is incredible isolating and traumatic to the point you learn to do your best to pass off like your neurotypical counterparts as best you can albeit often failing .
In the end you are left as a shell of your true self and it is exhausting on every level.
Post identification I have been learning to unmask slowly when I feel most safe and at ease. Here are just a few of the ways that help me to unmask.
Kieran Rose has been an incredible source of information on what masking actually is and what unmasking can be like for autistic individuals. I am a HUGE fan of Kieran’s work and research. You can find out the most up to date information on Masking over on his website – www.theautisticadvocate.com
Autistic Un-Masking is different for every autistic person, this is what helps me.
Autistic Masking – What Helps Me To Unmask:
Autistic Unmasking for me, has been and will be, a gradual approach to relearning who I am as an autistic person, outside of the realm of societal judgements and attitudes, my own perceived human flaws and internalised ableism. It has been a process of embracing autistic culture, my autistic identity, and finding my place within the autistic community.
Here are just a few ways I have been learning to unmask and embrace my autistic self. Please note these are specific to me as an autistic individual, each autistic individuals experiences and their autistic self will mean their capacity, and manner within which they unmask will be individual to them.
Embracing Autistic Culture
Learning about and embracing autistic culture helps me to realise I have shared experiences with other autistic individuals. It helps me to feel grounded and secure in my experiences, it helps me to refocus the lens I have looked out into the world with. I realise now my past experiences were valid, in particular in moments where I have been gaslit.
Talking To Autistic Friends
I am my true self when I am with autistic friends I trust. I am witty and full of fun and less serious when i am with autistic friends, as I know they can understand my experiences of the world and the traumas we collectively have faced. We have jokes between ourselves that make “sense” to us that may not appear funny at all to neurotypical people.
If I have had a lot of social interaction, been away from home for extended periods of time, I can notice myself becoming less able to regulate, my mind becomes cloudy, my ability to verbally communicate becomes inhibited and I am in panic mode. What helps me to feel centred and more like myself, is my safe space. This will look differently for every autistic person, for me, its at home researching one of my special interests, surrounded by items that have real meaning for me. A quite place, with low lighting and low noise level, with little activity.
Sensory Safe Clothing
For as long as I can remember I live in sensory safe clothing, big hoodies, lose soft jeans or leggings. If I have to I will blouses and trouser pants, but once home I take them off immediately and wear what helps me to feel calm and centred.
AsIAm ID Card
I ordered my AsIAM ID card a while ago and it has been hugely transformative for me with regard to asking for accommodations for myself and also as a parent modelling for my children how to advocate for themselves. Now if I find my self in an overwhelming situation, I can request accommodations and ask for support.
I have experienced Situational Mutism growing up and I wish back then I had communication cards to support me. As an adult I have designed Communication Cards that I can now use when I am feeling overwhelmed and cannot use spoken words.
If you have ever observed me talking at an event or guest lecturing, providing a training, then you will have seen me stimming. Stimming is different for every autistic individual and can help to support regulation and be grounding for autistic individual. When I am home I stim more freely as I am not under the watchful eye of a sometimes judgemental society.
Music On Repeat
Often when I need to focus my mind or feel centred, I will put a song or music I like on repeat, and it helps me to centre and feel grounded. If I have been feeling overwhelmed it helps me to feel grounded and I feel more like myself and I block out the busy world.
Spending Time Alone
When I come home from a busy time interacting socially, I always try to spend some time alone. Not easy done as a busy mom of 4 but I try to get away and read for a short time, or do something regulating like organising the home school room.
Engaging in my special interests has always been incredibly meaningful for me. Whether that is reading, researching, watching favourite documentaries on repeat, it helps me to feel grounded and more like myself.
For me talking about my special interests, helps me to feel empowered. When I talk about my special interests I am not worried about my perceived social ineptitude, I am confident in my knowledge and happy to give my insights and perspectives.
Re-watching Shows & Movies
For me this is a form of self care that helps me to feel safe and secure as I know what will happen next and i now all the lines of the movie or show. I can relax into the moment and not consider or have to worry about any unexpected events.
I hope you found this post helpful.