Patreon members and YouTube channel members had access to this video on July 6, 2022. The video’s public release will be September 14, 2022.
Welcome back, Lyric here.
I am an Autistic adult. I’m also ADHD, however, I did not know that I was Autistic for the first 29 years of my life, and the ADHD wasn’t diagnosed until I was in my mid-thirties. Not knowing this part of my life had a huge impact on me.
Since discovering my NeuroDivergence, it will be six years ago now this fall, I have learned something that I wish I could have known all along, and thinking about this truth that I’ve learned, it actually seems quite simple.
That I can only really be happy and successful if I am able to be my most authentic self, permitted to exist and be comfortable in my own skin, as I’m sure is actually the case for every single one of you here today.
Before we jump in, and roll the intro, I’d like to ask everyone a quick question… Go ahead and drop your response and the comments below for me.
The question I’d like to ask is a question I ask when I speak to people in person, and sometimes even on zoom, I’ll ask this question:
Do you, NeuroTypical or NeuroDivergent, Autistic, or not, struggle to be happy, if you need to pretend to be someone or something you’re not? Does the expectation to be someone or something you’re not make you miserable?
Let me know if being expected to be someone or something you’re not makes you unhappy. Drop a comment below.
When I ask this question in a room full of people, all of the hands in the room go up. That’s because it’s a fairly human need to be accepted as we are: strengths, weaknesses, the whole person, which includes all of our identities.
For the first 29 years of my life I was hiding parts of who I was, and it prevented me from moving forward in life, and getting help when I needed it.
In my thirties, I had to teach myself to ask for help because I’d learned to mask, camouflage, or hide all of those weaknesses, and even some of my strengths, and my joys… instead of speaking up for my needs.
My and most NeuroDivergence is invisible. That means if I didn’t want you to know I was NeuroDivergent, you’d never know. If you’d like to know more about this, please do stay tuned.
Welcome back! Before we dive in any further, I did want to give a definition of NeuroDivergent Masking: NeuroDivergent masking is when a NeuroDivergent Person, either consciously or subconsciously, camouflages, or masks, their divergent traits in order to blend in or to appear NeuroTypical.
Now, when we talk about masking for NeuroDivergent People, whether that’s Autistic People, ADHD, Dyslexia, any other neurodevelopmental difference, it’s important to understand that this camouflaging, this blending in, this masking, is something that many of us do in self-defense. It can be a subconscious thing. Some of us are not even aware we are doing it.
It’s something we do for safety and self-preservation. It’s a survival skill that can be harmful to those of us who adapt this survival skill. However, being able to blend in, and being able to be invisible, in a society that can be unfriendly, and even hostile, to those whose minds work differently, is something that we do to be safe. It’s not intended to be a manipulative or deceptive bait and switch.
The thing about masking, as a NeuroDivergent Person is: I learned to mask, even though I didn’t know, I was NeuroDivergent. I learned to mask, even though I wasn’t in any formal NeuroDivergent Conversion Therapy type of a program. I learned to mask, because not having an autism diagnosis and a label growing up, meant a lot of the Autistic struggles I had were labeled as behavioral problems and punished.
Or growing up, not knowing I was Autistic, going through the world, acting as an Autistic Person does, because I was Autistic, regardless of having the autism label or not, meant I would do things that other people would think were air quotes, ‘weird’, or air quotes, ‘socially unacceptable’ for example, the way I move, and the way I talk, and certain, things such, as stimming and things that other people didn’t understand… being echolalic, and using echolalia, and echoing other people, and echoing a lot of animal noises and things like that.
People would call me, names, such as twitchy, spaz, the R word, and lots of other things, anytime I would do something that gave me away as Autistic, and I didn’t even know I was Autistic.
It’s just anything that the other kids or people around me decided was weird or, or quotes annoying. So I would do something and someone would tell me I was weird or annoying and it would be like, “oh, that’s something you don’t do in front of other people that’s something you should be ashamed of.”
So, you put those parts of you away, whether it is not admitting when you’re struggling or needing help with something, or toning down your genuine joy and excitement, when other people around you are like, “you shouldn’t be so happy about that. You’re making a big deal out of nothing.”
The thing about masking is: I mask without even realizing I’m doing it. I try to take off the mask and I don’t know how, because I’ve been doing it for so long. I’m masking right now in this video, just because, the way I communicate, if I communicate naturally, tends to be so all over the place and is not linear… it’s very branched, all over the place type of thinking. That is hard for other people to follow.
Therefore, just by the nature of trying to get a clear point across, that goes in a linear fashion.. I’m masking, just trying to communicate with other people. Everything about engaging with others, especially in a social way, or communication way, is very artificial for me, because I’m told I’m either too much, or confusing, or people can’t keep up or, or follow me when, when I’m going on on with the, the way my brain works, and the way I’m thinking about something.
There’s a lot of effort that goes into even just communicating and getting my points across, and a lot of scripting, and preorganization of my thoughts.
Wish I could show you my notepad right now with the the bullet points, and the outline of this video, to make sure I stay in a linear fashion, but even, when I’m communicating in these videos, I can’t just take it off, because so much of it is subconcious, and then, there’s, there’s intentionally masking too.
If I’m going into a situation where I know it’s gonna be very taxing on me, and I don’t want to, worry about being misunderstood, or I don’t want to enter a situation that could be dangerous for me, I’m intentionally going to mask.
Something I’ve learned to recognize is: if I’m masking a lot, and I’m masking very heavily around certain people, or situations, to really evaluate that situation carefully, and ask myself, why do I feel I need to mask in this situation, and if it’s specific people I’m having to mask around, if it’s worth it to be putting myself into those situations with those people, where I feel that I, cannot have the safety to be myself.
For those of us who do mask, this ability to camouflage can fluctuate throughout a person’s lifetime. For example, with myself, if I’m not doing well, mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, whatever, my ability to camouflage blend in, and hide and compensate for my weaknesses can be decreased. When that happens, my struggles often can become more obvious to the people observing me from the outside.
Masking is hard on NeuroDivergent People for many reasons, other than the obvious problems having to hide your authentic self would cause any human being, NeuroDivergent or NeuroTypical.
With Autistic People specifically, we have seen masking tied to poor mental health outcomes. I find this scary, because Autistic People are statistically more likely to have anxiety and depression, which we know masking can cause, but also because suicide and epilepsy are still two of the top killers of Autistic People. So anything that is taxing and a Autistic Person’s mental health, with these considerations, is scary.
Some Autistic People have this talent for pushing themselves past where they should push themselves. I, I know because I I’m some Autistic People, this is, this is me. In fact it was in my diagnostic assessment, in the report, that I don’t know my own limits and I don’t know when to stop.
That is why I am an Autistic Person who has repeatedly experienced Autistic Burnout in my life. That’s from holding myself to non-Autistic, NeuroTypical standards, pushing myself to fit the NeuroTypical mold, the NeuroTypical box, to be something that I was never meant to be.
Autistic Burnout, specifically, is defined as the intense physical, mental, or emotional exhaustion, often accompanied by a loss of skills, that some Autistic People experience. Many Autistic People say results mainly from the cumulative effects of having to navigate a world design for NeuroTypical People.
That definition is not mine. It’s a definition from Spectrum, which is an organization that does a lot of autism research, some great, some not so great.
The thing about these burnouts in Autistic and NeuroDivergent people, is that often they are caused by that pressure that we have to hold ourselves to NeuroTypical standards, and also stressors in a person’s environ.
For Autistic People, and those with sensory sensitivities, often that is going to include sensory related distress and sensory related triggers.
When we burn out, it can be harder for us to mask, and we can lose our ability to compensate for our weaknesses and they become more obvious.
Often people expect us to be able to keep that at all times, but when we burn out, all of a sudden we can’t do it anymore, and people don’t understand. “Why, why can’t you do this? You did this yesterday” As you’re watching the, the NeuroDivergent Person, just completely falling apart in front of you.
For the first 29 years of my life, I was in an endless cycle of burnout, and these burnouts, regressions, started when I was in elementary school. One of the very first burnouts I remember, I was probably about 11 or so years old.
Now that I know I’m NeuroDivergent, I have been working to understand my mind, and work with my mind instead of against it, stop trying to force myself into this NeuroTypical mold, that was never made for me, and having pride in myself as a Autistic, NeuroDivergent Person, living authentically, and embracing my brain, the way it works, and its differences, has been a really important piece in overcoming all of the shame that had kept me down for a good portion of my life.
I have been in a gradual unmasking process for almost six years now, and people ask me all the time about how you can take the mask off, once you find out you’re NeuroDivergent.
Something I wanna make sure to say about that is: taking your mask off is not something like all of a sudden, you’re just gonna be able to take it off, just whip it off and it’s gone forever. Because so much of it is subconscious, a lot of us don’t realize we’re masking when we’re masking.
We may not realize how much of that we’ve internalized. We may not know where the mask ends and we begin. We may situationally mask more. Even I will situationally mask from time to time, if I’m feeling unsafe.
Remember, if you find yourself masking more heavily in certain situations, or around certian people, that’s something you should pay attention, to and listen to.
It may not be possible, safe, or realistic, for many of us to fully unmask in this NeuroTypical world, however, the closer we can get to authenticity, and living a life the way we want to live, and living as our true selves, the happier we can be.
Thanks for hanging out this week. I’d love to know, you watching, if you have gone through and tried to figure out where you’re NeuroDivervgent mask ends and you begin, later in life.
Or if you’re someone who’s known you’re a NeuroDivergent for a long time… what is the experience of masking like for you?
Thank you, everyone who hangs out and watches these videos. If you’ve made it all the way this far to the end, if you go ahead and hit that thumbs up button, let me know I stayed on track enough and I didn’t lose you, I appreciate that.
Thanks to everyone who shares your comments, shares the videos.
Thanks, of course, to the Patreons subscribers, YouTube channel members, Twitter Super Followers, and Facebook subscribers, those of you who do that little bit of monetary subscription to help with things such as transcriptioning on the website website, hosting, also the close captionings, all of those things that make this content accessible would not be made possible without the help and support of viewers like you.
So thank you all. I will see you next Wednesday. Bye!
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3 thoughts on “Autistic and NeuroDivergent Masking, Unmasking, and Burnout”
Hi Lyric! Finding your website has been very helpful to me. I guess you can say “validating” that I am what I am, Neurodivergent—I’ve always known it. I’m 60 years old and have never been diagnosed in any official way, but when I’ve recently broached the possibility, I received lots of “oh, no, you’re not Autistic, you’re normal.” Please, I have been camouflaging all my life, adjusting my mask to fit in with the normal people. Their expectations are exhausting. When you mentioned being echolalic, I was so joyful to learn that it is a thing! And I do it. I spent most of my first-grade year going through speech therapy because I made the “noises,” imitations, and the singsong “baby talk.” They tested my hearing constantly (more than annually) because they thought I was deaf (probably because of my selective mutism, ya think?) How many times did my teacher write on my report card that I needed to apply myself or to sit still, or I was too quiet, it’s astounding. I’ve lived a long complicated life, I’m retired and happier than ever! Take care, Lyric!
Thanks for your honesty. I’m happy that you are learning more about yourself. You’re not pale, you just haven’t burnt your skin in the sun. You are you and that is special! Thanks for this post.
I was diagnosed at the age of 62 that I am a High Functioning Asperger and that I have ADHD. Talk about masking. I told my mom, before she died, that I had autism all my life and I was officially diagnosed. She said, you’re not autistic. I would know. Oh well. It didn’t bother me that she didn’t see it, but looking at my father’s and grandfather’s history, they both had Aspergers.
You sure look pretty in the Spectrum magazine.
It also looks like I’m hyperlexic. I still have a wonderful fascination with numbers and letters. Reading and spelling before I went into the first grade I thought, was normal. I’ve always enjoyed life because people are so funny, I can’t help but laugh. Not out loud, because people are sensitive.
Intel Corporation Research and Development (retired)