Autistic people mask because people do not accept their traits. We need to let go of the burden of camouflaging autistic traits to make people feel comfortable because it’s not our job to do so.
Sometimes we hear autistic people say they mask 100 percent around their families, work colleagues and friends. This isn’t true because it’s not possible to hide our whole autistic selves because its who we are. Many autistic people fear if they unmask around the people in their lives they will no longer like or accept them. They would already have seen many autistic traits. It’s just that autistic people may hide the things they view are not socially accepted by society.
Its not helpful to tell autistic people to be themselves and then say we didn't mean that, in other words don't be autistic. Autistic people are not broken versions of so-called normal people, they are autistic thus why it's not helpful to tell autistic people to apply strategies, or work in time frames like neurotypicals do to process information and emotions. Autistic people do not deal with these in the same way as non autistic people do.
I think there's somewhat of a misconception that autistic people who mask do not know who they are. Many do know who they are and only mask for acceptance, thus just because they mask doesn't mean they don't know who they are. I masked for 63 years, (65 now) but I knew who I was. I stopped masking because discovering I was autistic allowed me to show the pieces I had been hiding from others. I no longer cared what others thought because I finally knew why I felt and behaved like I did. Unmasking is a path of self-acceptance so unmasking aligns us with our true selves.
When autistic people express the issues they are experiencing and are then dismissed with comments like, we all have to deal with that, it fails to see how autistic people do not understand emotions the same, and feel them in intense ways they may not be able to express in words. Most neurotypical behaviour in autistic people is masking thus they are only acting this way for the benefit of non autistic people.
Autistic people may appear to be doing well when they are experiencing significant difficulties in day to day life. Using labels like high functioning only creates an anxiety in people to mask their autistic selves. I do not even like reframing words like low needs, because it may still indicate that they don’t need much support. Many do need more support than they let on. People often don’t let that be known for fear of more judgement, so they mask to appear to others as functioning well when their not and why their real needs often go under the radar.
Even though I have masked for most of my life, I for the most part followed my heart, and that came with many consequences. I was labelled difficult and rebellious to name a few. It has been said to me that my autistic traits have been worsened since discovering I am autistic. I have not become worse but rather I don’t mask much anymore. The consequences of not masking are not as bad as trying to be non autistic.
People have trouble believing us when we we start unmasking because we have been fooling them for so long that we are someone we are not. We can be told you’re not the same and have gone down a rabbit hole or you used to be so competent, what happened to you. The irony is we mask to protect ourselves from stigma and harsh judgement and then unmasking sets us up for non-belief, abuse, and more judgement. Masked or unmasked our mental health is going to take a beating from other people. So why unmask? I believe unmasking frees us from the shame, and guilt we have for being autistic.
I’m glad that I’m retired now and don’t have to navigate the outside manic anymore. I live a hermit lifestyle mostly protected from many of the daily challenges people have in their workplaces, but I know the struggle because I encountered it for many decades. I live in my own created bubble and hardly ever venture out of my house, so I rarely interact with people in person.
I only go out for appointments I can’t do from home. I tend to keep to myself when rarely and about as well. I blame my increased lack of ability to cope with social anxiety and sensory issues. I don’t mask either as I don’t have the capacity or energy for it anymore. When you add the threat of covid and the complacency of people pretending we are not still in a pandemic, thus no distancing or mask wearing just fuels more anxiety in me.