An Important Note About What Autistic Masking ISN’T

Woman with dark hair in an updo looking down with her face appearing to be being "detached" to reveal cybernetics underneath with light beige text that reads, "A very important note about what autistic masking ISN'T."

I received a direct message about autistic masking that not only drew my attention to this matter, but immediately placed it on the top of my list!

I must say I was quite taken aback when I received a message from a neurotypical person who has an ND spouse and child, both of whom are capable of masking for weeks at a time (which, up until recently, I didn’t know was possible), and learned that this person’s fear seemed to be that they didn’t know which person was “real”, the masks or the people underneath them!

“Oh, my God!” I thought. “Is THIS how many NT people are interpreting autistic masking? If so, I have to clear this up NOW!”

Let me tell you how I experience masking:

It’s like I’ve been born with a facial abnormality that really stands out to others, but the only time I even had a concept that this facial deformity existed is when others reacted to it with fear, disgust, or abuse. They wouldn’t even tell me something was wrong with my face because they (understandably) thought I knew!

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The best way to improve communication with your autistic loved one is to understand how your autistic loved one’s mind works! Intentions, motivations, and personal expressions (facial expressions or lack thereof, body language, etc.), are often quite different in autistic people than they are in neurotypical people.

Experience a better understanding of your autistic loved one by reading books about life from an autistic perspective as well as stories that feature autistic characters. You’ll have so many “Ah ha!” moments and start seeing your autistic loved one in a different light (and you’ll have a better understanding of their behaviors, which you may have been misinterpreting up until now).

Books I recommend for a better understanding of your autistic loved one:

One day, I received a “special mirror” where I could see this facial deformity, and I suddenly realized I would have to cover it up if I wanted to go out into the world and be around others without them fleeing in terror or attacking me.

I designed a mask to cover the deformity, and I was suddenly accepted! For the first time, my face matched my heart and the true beauty within, and people were no longer afraid of me.

The drawback is that the mask gets sweaty and uncomfortable, and I can’t breathe, and, eventually I have to take it off.

This makes many relationships fall apart, but the mask keeps me safe and palatable while I’m in public, so I don’t dare go without it.

This is a terrible catch-22 because the mask makes me appear to not have this “facial deformity” (being autistic), but when I finally have to remove it, few people are able to stick around not matter how much I prepare them for what’s coming in advance!

However, and this is so incredibly important, like someone with a severe facial abnormality, the mask is used to keep safe, to blend in, to find work, and to have relationships.

It is NOT in any way another personality. In other words, the mask doesn’t cover up a robot underneath or something like that (as the stock image would imply), and it’s not meant to cover up malicious intent or hidden danger.

It is worn so that our social differences don’t stand out as much and DETRACT from what’s on the inside, who we truly are.

We are always us. The heart, mind, and soul is always the same, masking or not. Our values, our core beliefs, our likes and dislikes, etc., that doesn’t change.

The mask just makes it safe for us to blend into an NT world, so we don’t have to spend the entirety of our lives in fear.

When we drop the mask, we don’t think, “Haha! Gotcha, you fool!” We think, “This person is safe. I don’t have to force my face into a smile, I can let my eyes glaze over comfortably, I can stop stifling my stimming and stop policing my tone of voice, etc., so I can have some energy to spend with my loved one.”

We are still the same person, always, mask or no mask. But society as a whole is not ready for our “facial deformity”, so the mask is what we use for now, until, of course, we are safe with our most trusted friends and loved ones. ❤

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3 Responses

  1. July 25, 2019

    […] I did my latest piece on masking, I have to say something kept nagging at me for a few weeks. Something that has very slowly taken […]

  2. April 24, 2020

    […] Note: What Chelsea is doing here is called masking. This is a survival skills that many autistic people learn early on in life to keep us alive and uninjured (or less injured) in a neurotypical world. Learn more about it by clicking here and here. […]

  3. October 23, 2021

    […] autistics choose to wear, from my own experience and what I’ve been told by friends (and internet folks who have spoken about it) are never meant to be disingenuous. Autistic masking is more along the […]

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