Autism and Masking

When I disclosed my autism diagnosis to everyone, some people found it hard to believe that I was autistic since I seemed so “normal”.

I wasn't surprised by this at all. In fact, I was expecting it because I’ve spent my whole life trying to act “normal” after realizing as a child that I was different, not just in behavior, but in perception and thinking. I realized that I perceived things differently than others and thought in different ways than others, and while I could do nothing to change the way I perceived and thought about things, I could definitely change the way I behaved so that others wouldn’t realize that I was different and would accept me as one of them. 

I observed the way people around me behaved and which behaviors were appreciated and which behaviors were condemned. I adopted the behaviors which seemed to be appreciated and suppressed the behaviors which were not. However, I soon realized that it was not so simple. The appreciated behaviors were not appreciated all the time, under all circumstances. Different circumstances dictated different accepted behaviors. For example, smiling was an appreciated behavior. It showed that you were friendly. However, smiling was not an appreciated behavior when you were sitting in class, or talking to a teacher, or called into the principal’s office.

Over the years, I have tried very hard to adopt socially appropriate behaviors to fit into society. However, it is a constant struggle as they don’t come to me naturally. I can put on an act for short periods of time and pass off as “normal” during limited interactions. However, it is a whole different story when it comes to prolonged, life-long interactions because it’s impossible to put on an act in the long-term.

This “putting on an act” to pass off as “normal” is called masking and it takes a huge toll on the person. It is extremely exhausting, demeaning, and detrimental to one’s sense of self and leads to severe anxiety and depression, as has been the case with me.

This is one of the reasons I decided to come out as autistic because pretending to be “normal” has had a huge impact on my mental health. I can’t live this way anymore. In fact, I refuse to live this way anymore because I deserve so much more.


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