I spend a lot of time sitting in the background, listening and observing, and soaking in other people’s conversations, especially online, where I can engage in my native language – text.
Writing and reading have always been more accessible and more fluent for me than spoken speech. Not every Autistic person has this experience. I, however, also fall into the hyperlexic category of neurodivergence. My reading skills are far above my spoken abilities, and I read very naturally, thanks to an early obsession with books and reading – starting from the age of one and a half.
My reading skills help advance my speaking skills because reading allows me to repeat the things I read or write out. This gives me an advantage because I use this skill to create advanced scripts for different situations – like YouTube Videos, Educational Presentations, or even scripts that I can take into my everyday life.
I learned this back when I was eleven, shortly before experiencing a severe Autistic burnout while acting in a play with a local theatre group.
This burnout lasted for months and months, dragging on long after the play had ended. It kept coming back, making me sick.
The skill I had learned in the play, acting, I had applied to my everyday life, using scripting and masking. Playing out the roles, doing what I thought I was supposed to do.
At the age of eleven, I had no idea that acting was work and that people need to limit how many hours a day they do work, so I acted (masked) nonstop.
“I masked until I made myself so sick, I could barely leave my bed and spent a lot of my time curled up on the bathroom floor, unable to still my stomach, upset by my spinning head and sensory overload.”
Eventually, as I grew older and knew more of the hard pains of life, I learned to care less about what people thought of me, falling into my rebel nature and parts of the mask began to fall away. My health improved, though I did hang on to some of the mask elements because I still didn’t feel safe enough to drop them.
In the years I lived inauthentically, I could not develop meaningful relationships with people because I wasn’t showing anyone my true self. There was no way I could find my people because I was hiding much of who I was from the world.
I was miserable, living more for other people’s expectations over my own wants and needs, and the soul-crushing weight of it was taking a toll on my mental and physical health.
The mask that had been built over many years, long before learning I was neurodivergent, had to go.
Neurodivergent masking can be a hot and sometimes controversial topic online and in social media communities.
Most Autistic people I’ve heard from say they mask for safety and protection, to blend in when it is not safe to stand out.
Though I’ve stopped trying to camouflage in recent years, there are many situations where standing out can cause more harm than good. It may even be dangerous depending on your surroundings and how hateful or understanding the people around you are people who are different from them.
As a Queer person, I can tell you in Texas, where I am from, there have been places I wouldn’t want to advertise my Queerness.
Similarly, there are still situations where I will even to this day mask my neurodivergence, drawing on my theatre background to help me in professional situations or in encounters with law enforcement officers, who spike my anxiety.
“Masking from time to time probably won’t harm most people, but so many people hide their neurodivergence, camouflaging their traits or weaknesses instead of speaking up for their needs and being authentic in life.”
People have a need to be accepted, that includes the whole person, strengths and weaknesses, but many of us have not been free to express ourselves and have picked up a mask as the only way we knew how to cope with the systems that weren’t designed with our needs in mind.
I’ve seen this argument repeatedly on social media – Is the ability to mask or hide your neurodivergence a privilege or a curse?
In my experience, masking has been a costly skill that slowly drains my life force, depleting my batteries and dragging me down.
I’ve grown uneasy because there are still situations where being unmasked as an Autistic person can be dangerous. This is true for many neurodivergent people, especially when dealing with authority figures and law enforcement officers.
If I’m afraid of the police, I can only imagine how scary it can be for other Autistic people who police are more likely to target than me, as a small, stereotypically non-threatening person.
Masking isn’t something neurodiverent people do to be deceptive or manipulative. We pick these costly survival skills up as we go through life, making our way through traumatic systems that unintentionally oppress us.
Because of the toll it takes on me, masking is something I try to do only when absolutely necessary.
I am glad I know how to mask, but I wish I didn’t have to play the game.
Is the ability to hide one’s neurodivergence a privilege or a curse?
From my perspective as a Queer person, it is hard to call being forced into the closet a privilege, though being able to switch into the masked version of myself has definitely saved my bum a few times.
I can easily see both sides of the argument, though I’m just one Autistic perspective. What do other Autistic people think?
What do you think about the idea that being able to hide/camouflage Autistic traits is a privilege that some Autistic people have?”
No privilege but can be useful. It’s an inbuilt reflex I am trying to unlearn, stops me getting my needs met, it makes people believe I am- what I am not. It’s inauthentic (identity instability) which I feel makes you ill as well as being exhausting-leading to burnout. | @Neurodiverse_af
Curse. Yeah I can appear normal to others, but it comes at my expense. I can never just be myself around others, I have to constantly put on an act to look normal, and it’s exhausting. I am happiest when I am on my own because I can just be me without worrying about being judged. | @Okapi4Life
Both. By masking I am afforded some privileges, but it causes a great deal of harm to do so. | David Gray-Hammond of Emergent Divergence, @emgntdivergence
I also think it’s similar to LGBT folks being in the closet. Growing up in incredibly homophobic areas, it was incredibly stressful being in the closet. Now that I don’t have to do that, I feel much better. Masking feels like being in the closet and doesn’t accord protection. | @shaedygirl
Both? When your masking skills level up, you’re less likely to be singled out / ostracized / threatened. But being “too good” at it comes with a price (burnout, late diagnosis, sensory overload, etc.) | M. A. Hoak, @hoakwrites
The ability to mask, or to “fit in”, is a curse disguised as a privilege. It’s like one of those human interest stories of someone working extra hard to help others, but the article glazes over that they’re doing it because we as a society have failed to provide what we should. | @voltron42
I’m on my way for a job interview. I will be putting all of my energy into masking so that I can be successful. But this level of masking is not sustainable in the workplace, not for any real length of time. It then becomes a “behaviour” issue. | @AustisticSean
I don’t think whether the traits are hidden is the dimension where privilege comes into play. Hidden is not inherently better. I think the privilege they’re trying to articulate is the ability to navigate (some?) neurotypical spaces effectively without being (consistently) hurt. | Anastasia, @AnaIsAutistic
I wish I hadn’t had to lose myself, As so many autistics have to do to themselves, And now that I found myself, I never want to let myself go, No more masking my way to an early grave! | @deep_blue100
I imagine it as a privilege because I don’t have it. But then I think about why most of us mask and realize that it’s an unhealthy coping technique. Then it occurs to me how much I have in my life by being able to be myself and I realize that I’m the privileged one. | @CarveResumes