When we talk about autism, you might have heard of the expression masking.

This is a common trait of autism and it needs to be talked about.

Autism masking is often detrimental to a persons mental health and can lead to feelings of isolation and depression.

Masking can also have a negative effect on caregivers too as only they experience the real challenges behind closed doors while the rest of the world only sees a glimpse .

This can lead to feelings of isolation for care givers also.

The main reason i write this blog is to help parents of special needs feel less alone and also to raise awareness of disabilities such as Autism and Tourette’s.

Autism masking is more common in girls than boys and this is why it is particularly difficult to diagnose autism in girls and quite often they slip under the radar.

Many thousands of adults in the UK may have undiagnosed autism and worldwide the condition is still very misunderstood.

Awareness of the condition is slowly increasing thankfully.

Young girl showing a happy face depicting masking
Young girl holding up sign of happy face

So what is autism masking?

Adults and children with autism see the world different to the average person. They often cannot make sense of the world and can experience an overwhelm on their senses. Things that don’t affect us, affect them.

A change in routine, bright lights, loud noises or busy places can be traumatising for autistic people.

This can make them feel “ different” like they don’t fit in to society.

Therefore those with autism will often try to hide their authentic self from the world.

  • They will hide their true self because they worry how people will respond. They are worried they won’t be liked.
  • An individual with autism will “unmask” with their safe person, showing only that person their true self. Often this is mum but it can be dad, another carer, a friend or partner. It’s the person they feel safest with. The person that they know will love them no matter what.
  • Adults and children with autism often look at how neurotypical people behave in certain situations, and they will mimic these actions in order to “fit in” .
  • This is where social stories can help.
  • Masking is exhausting for the autistic person and uses a lot of concentration and energy.

I think it’s important as an autism mom that we try and encourage our children to show their authentic self to the world.

Only the other day my son had a meltdown because he had a slight change in his morning routine.

Every day before school he expects a certain sequence of events to happen in a certain order and if that order is disrupted it causes trauma for him.

This particular morning we were affected by a brief power cut which meant that this morning ritual was disrupted.

This caused him to spiral into a genuine traumatised state and he cried in the car on the way to school. Once we got to school he stopped, he looked at me and he said “ Now I will be upset at school, but I will hide it” A classic example of autism masking.

As a parent this is horrible to hear and i gently encouraged him to talk about how he was feeling to the teacher.

I explained that he doesn’t need to hide his feelings from the world and he can be himself. I gave him a big cuddle and sent him off to school where no doubt he managed to mask for the entire day.

My son also has tics and is in the process of a diagnosis for Tourette’s.

At home he will squeak, say random words out loud,click his fingers, bang his head with his hands, repeatedly. Then my friend will come round or a family member and he will stop.

He will still show tic behaviour but it will be more subdued. A watered down version of what i see.

School have now noticed his tics as he is now feeling more comfortable in that environment and is being himself.

He is now being referred for a diagnosis of Tourette’s which is absolutely fine as we now know what we are dealing with and he can get the right support.

Developing tics and Tourettes is very common with autism. There is a lot of support and help for people with these conditions and they can live a normal and happy life.

How to support children who mask their needs.

  • Keep things as structured and predictable as possible
  • Use visuals when instructing or transitioning
  • Avoid non literal language
  • Give a 5 minute warning before changing tasks.
  • Remember if there is a change and your child struggles to cope that “they aren’t giving you a hard time, they are having a hard time”.

I will be adding a range of visual timetables to my shop soon so watch out for those.

How can I help my child to unmask away from me ?

Quite honestly i don’t know the answer to this . With my son i try and talk to him and encourage him to show his true feelings. The goal to minimise the autism masking.

He is quite a sensitive soul and will get upset very easily if someone expresses to him that they don’t like something he is doing or saying. This will cause him to feel angry, which he will hide from the person but show to me, his mum, his safe person.

In this situation I will acknowledge his feelings as his. They are his feelings and they are valid.

I will tell him his feelings are his and he is allowed to feel them but then I will offer an alternative. I will suggest that maybe the person that upset him didn’t mean it like that. Again this is where social stories can really help.

I will show him ways he can calm himself by deep breathing, talking to me and giving me a tight hug. Sometimes he will punch a cushion, although i am still unsure about this approach. I think there are two schools of thought on this ? I would love to hear your views?

I think all we can do as parents is to try and communicate every day to our children that they are amazing and loved an it’s ok to show the world who they really are.

Have a look at this article about Autistic people and masking. Which can be found on the National Autistic Society website.

There is nothing wrong with having autism or Tourettes.

It’s a neurological condition. People with autism and Tourettes think differently. They developed differently and are often a lot more intelligent than neurotypical people.

People with autism and hidden disabilities are amazing individuals that often excel in a special interest and are extremely clever and loving. They have many positive qualities and are valuable members of society.

We need to change the way people see hidden disabilities. It’s not a negative. They don’t need pity. It’s a superpower.

If we could change the way the world views those with autism maybe they would feel more encouraged to unmask to the world and show their amazing authentic selves.

5 responses to “What is Autism masking?”

  1. Carole’Diane Pace Avatar
    Carole’Diane Pace

    Excellent article which highlights the “Masking” both in children and adults and the affect that it has on the caregivers that grown ups have to hide as much as the child/adult is hiding / masking their true feelings. A double edged sword and vicious circle that impacts both.

  2. David Snape Avatar

    Really good post 🙂. I wouldn’t try to mask myself because I wouldn’t know where to start, if I wanted to be like someone else. Maybe it’s because I can be too honest at times. I want to be me 🙂

    1. Donnamarie Avatar

      That’s lovely to hear that you want to be yourself and you absolutely should be. 😘

      1. David Snape Avatar

        Thank you, it’s the way forward 🙂

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