Masking and identity
Many autistic people diagnosed later in life, but also some that have been diagnosed early, say that they felt, and knew they were different to other people from a young age, but wanted to fit in and feel accepted. In order to achieve this, autistic people will closely observe people around them and copy their behaviour. This is known as ‘masking’.
The impact of masking
Masking is seen as not only a coping strategy, but a survival strategy for many. Those who are different are often bullied and therefore, fitting in, is crucial. But pretending to be someone you’re not is extremely damaging to mental health.
Not only is it exhausting, but it is unsustainable. Usually at some point, it all becomes too much for the person and a mental health crisis often follows. This can often happen during a transitional period such as moving schools, going to university or starting work, when additional efforts are needed to deal with changes and new situations.
Hiding your true identity
Autistic people who mask may come across as confident, expressive individuals, but much of this is behaviour learnt from a lifetime of people-watching. They often have very low self-esteem and may have been bullied or humiliated in the past and are afraid of that happening again.
Autistic people who mask are also typically very sensitive to criticism – perfectionists and people-pleasers who will sacrifice their own happiness to hide their vulnerabilities.
Find out more about masking and identity by clicking on the links below.
Links to more resources
Stress and anxiety and its impact
Autistic people can have difficulty managing their own emotions as a result of their differences and can quickly become overwhelmed. They may be more prone to meltdowns or may appear to ‘overreact’ to something others consider minor. Read more on how to help autistic people with stress and anxiety.