Autistic Masking and Trauma
Autistic Masking and Trauma
Autistic making and trauma are a part of an autistic person’s life in most cases around the world. Further, it is an under-discussed topic and is gaining importance these days. Additionally, hiding one’s true identity is an uncomfortable experience. So, think about autistic people and children who go through this every day. Furthermore, most autistic people are forced or expected to behave in a neurotypical way to be socially accepted. Imagine how difficult this must be for autistic people! Therefore, through this blog, we want to bring awareness about autistic masking and the trauma they experience. So, let’s talk more about autistic masking and trauma.
What is Autistic Masking?
Camouflaging in autism spectrum disorder refers to behaviors and strategies that mask the presentation of autism spectrum disorder features in social contexts in order to appear “non-autistic” (Attwood, 2007). Autistic people are made to feel that they should act or behave a certain way. In such cases, they mask their actual behaviors. Neurodivergent or autistic behaviors are masked by the autistic individual to be socially accepted. This is called Autistic Masking or camouflaging. The autistic person puts on a mask to hide their true self.
Further, it is the conscious or unconscious suppression of natural autistic instincts and responses. These natural instincts are replaced by alternative behaviors. It is simply pretending to fit into society. Growing research suggests this autistic masking can have a negative impact on the autistic person’s life.
Why mask their Autism?
Researchers believe autistic masking develops in the autistic person over time. In other words, this is facilitated by the stigma and negativity around autism. Further, many autistic feel the need to hide their stimming, echolalia, and communication ways to suit those around them. Therefore, they hide their autistic traits to stick to social norms. Furthermore, they mask their autism because of past trauma.
Trauma arising from bullying, teasing, and social exclusion. So, over time autistics feel they should mask or hide their real traits. It is a survival strategy for many Autistic children and adults. Unfortunately, they mask their real identity to remain safe and not be victimized by those around them.
Here are some examples of autistic masking.
- Maintaining eye contact even if it’s painful for them.
- Suppressing stimming behaviors in social settings.
- Underplaying their interests
- Forcing a social smile and greeting
- Suppressing their social anxiety
- Mimicking the way their peers communicate
- Rehearsing facial expressions and body language to fit in.
- Learning and practicing neurotypical conversational styles.
- Making small talk when they don’t want to.
- Internalizing sensory discomfort
- Suppressing their echolalia or stimming
- Practicing saying jokes and greetings
- Being vigilant all the time in social situations
Many autistics learn to mask due to bullying or adults telling them not to behave differently. Therefore, to protect themselves they tend to mask their traits.
Consequences of Autistic Masking
It is uncomfortable for anyone to behave in a certain way that is not natural to them. Hence, many autistics who mask their traits go through severe side effects. Here are some side-effects autistic people experience from masking.
- Emotional burnout
- Mental exhaustion
- Sensory dis-regulation
- Anxiety/ Depression/ Suicidal tendencies
- Poor self-esteem
- Emotional trauma
- Educational and life needs are not met
- Delay in getting a diagnosis of Autism
- Social isolation
- Prone to abuse
Hence, if you or your loved one is Autistic and is undergoing mental health concerns, contact your nearest Autism support group!
Enduring trauma from an early age is very common among autistic people. Many times, parents, siblings, friends, caregivers, teachers, and people around Autistics inflict mental trauma unconsciously. In other words, small events add up to the trauma an autistic child experiences. Further, autistics experience profound long-lasting trauma. Here are a few instances which can be traumatic to an Autistic person,
- Bullying or teasing at home/ school
- Isolated in social situations
- Forcing an autistic child for eye-contact
- Suppressing their stimming/ autistic traits
- Downplaying their feelings/ anxiety
- Forcing them to communicate verbally
- Asking them to behave the neurotypical way
- Communicate with neurotypicals
Many children and adults experience this trauma worldwide. For example, the child masks his stimming because he gets bullied at school for hand flapping. Hence, this is a classic example of autistic trauma. A child is made to believe he’s not good enough. Further, this leads to low self-esteem and mental health issues.
Autism Therapy for Trauma
Autistic children and adults who have experienced autistic trauma can access autism trauma therapy. Hence, at 1SpecialPlace we have a team of neurodiversity-affirming therapists who can support and help navigate Autism.
Tips to support an Autistic person
Here are some tips to support a person with autism or a child who has experienced autistic trauma.
- First, educate yourself about Autism and neurodiversity
- Understand the need of the autistic person
- Be empathetic
- Promote inclusivity at home and in public spaces
- Get them access to mental health therapy
- Listen to what they have to say
- Promote neurodiversity-affirming forms of speech/ occupational therapy.
- Do not try to fix Autism
There is ample research suggesting a link between Autism and psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety. A recent article by Perry et.al, in 2021 shows higher camouflaging is associated with autism stigma. Further, this study highlights lower well-being in autistic adults due to the stigma. Similarly, another study by Fuld in 2018 describes in detail the impact of stressful and traumatic life events on Autistic people. Further, the study quotes “Mounting evidence of childhood stress and trauma in autistics affects their wellbeing and mental health”. Overall, there is mounting evidence for autistic masking and the trauma associated with it.
“If you truly wish the best for your Autistic loved one, accept them as Autistic.”