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© 2023 by inTune Pathways 

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Apart from the masking

November 22, 2018

People truly underestimate how deep and intricate masking becomes in an autistic child all the way into their adulthood.
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I was diagnosed and assessed for autism twice, once by a highly regarded clinical psychologist specialising in females on the autism spectrum in the education system and then by a research team at a university known for autism research.
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Each assessment, I became aware of my masking when it was too late and the assessment was over.
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Psychology has always been an interest of mine, I'm a grad year Psych student and I have four children on the autism spectrum who have been through the process. So, I'm adept at autism assessments and how they're carried out.
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In the moments where the assessor was asking me questions such as "Have you travelled?", if I had it my way, I would just answer "Yep." But, I knew better-I know what is socially expected of me and so I answered with a little more detail and then, I asked her if she had travelled as well.
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I didn't want to. I didn't know her, I didn't really see the point of asking her, I wasn't interested. BUT, I knew what she was doing. She was testing to see if I would participate in conversation in this way and..I did.
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And, it was to my detriment. I was masking. I was engaging in what I knew to be socially expected rather than what I truly wanted to do.
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There were times where baskets of sensory toys and fidgety bits were laid out in front of me along with a newspaper.
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I was desperate to get into those fidgety bits and pieces and get my mind around how they all work and what exciting things they do..
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But I resisted.
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Because I knew that I was a 33 year old adult woman of intelligence and socially, indulging in those toys would be almost shameful.
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And it was to my detriment.
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I picked up the paper and started looking through it. I wasn't reading it, I was fixated on the fact that I knew she was pretending to be adding scores but she was observing what I was doing and it was so off putting.
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Do you know how badly I wanted to sniff that newspaper? Have you ever sniffed a newspaper?
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BEST. SMELL. IN. THE. WORLD.
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But I didn't.
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To my detriment.
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There are so many examples of where I did not show my true autistic self in my assessments because masking, pretending, hiding is so deeply ingrained in autistic people that we are on autopilot.
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And this is why so many of us are overlooked as autistic.
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It's also why the world hasn't caught up in understanding that autism is NOT RARE.
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There is often so much shame attached to autistic behaviours and preferences, sensory needs and so many other aspects of autism life that there is no way in hell we'll show that side of ourselves.
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Assessment and diagnosis of autism without extensive interviewing and exploration of the areas of diversity falls short on many levels.
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Autistic people also need to be able to feel safe enough to be authentically autistic and often, when we've masked all of our lives, we have no clue how to do this.
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Often, after diagnosis in adulthood, many of us will be told "Well, I never saw you THAT way" or "It seems like you're making yourself appear more autistic just because someone told you that you are".
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But here's the truth..
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When you've gone your entire lifetime pretending to be someone and something you're not, it's a given that there will definitely be some form of residual burnout, mental health issues, chronic illness, pain, suffering, struggling.
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So, when we are finally 'normalised' as autistic, we are given permission to begin the unravelling, the undoing, the unlearning.
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If you support us in doing so, you'll uncover the most incredible versions of us you've ever known.
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And yep, I was still diagnosed given my masking efforts. But so many of us go undiagnosed due to our skills in pretending to be non autistic.
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It takes years after a diagnosis to understand our own autism, to identify where we had come up with our own reasons for quirky parts of ourselves and come to the truth: that it’s actually autism.
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Normally when adults sit an assessment, they’ve very little understanding of just how extensive their autism is due to the masking.
So many questions will not be answered accurately in terms of our self awareness.
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We are incredibly self aware, however after diagnosis, the lens in which we view ourselves and our lives dramatically alters.
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We are learning the truth.
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<3

 

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