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The Autism Spectrum: The Practice of Behavioral Masking

Updated: May 2

The autism spectrum features a variety of complicated aspects, from the difficulties with reciprocal social conversation to recognizing and interpreting non-verbal social cues. Another effect of the spectrum, one that has not received as much attention or support as would be appropriate, is the concept of burnout, otherwise referred to as camouflaging and masking.

The details regarding autistic people and the developmental challenge of masking their respective unusual behaviors in public social situations has been documented and discussed; however, the discussion would benefit from mote awareness and understanding.

Throughout the decades, people living on the autism spectrum have been taught through the therapeutic services that are available to assist with learning and navigating their challenges that the tendencies that come along with an autism diagnosis are meant to be modified the majority of the time.

Whether that tendency is the hand movements that many autistic people exhibit, including me, when they feel mentally over-stimulated, or talking too loudly in inappropriate times and places, those behaviors serve a purpose for the autistic person's functioning and well-being.

Even with that information in mind, since the hand movements, talking too loudly and similar behaviors are viewed as unexpected by the non-autistic population (neurotypical), the autistic community is taught to reduce and change the very behaviors that are designed to provide them with mental relief, and in some cases, are how they express themselves as unique individuals.

That expectation is both regressive in the aspects of autism acceptance, since modifying the tendencies most of the time teaches autistic people that they must change to be truly accepted, and results in mental and emotional trauma for people on the spectrum since it is mentally exhausting to keep themselves aware when they feel the need to mask any of their tendencies in public. It is also to note that neurotypical people exhibit their own versions of self-stimulating behaviors, such as shaking their legs, biting their nails and clicking pens, which presents a double standard as far as teaching autistic people to modify their tendencies for the purposes of social expectations.

I have experienced issues with this concept since my diagnosis of Asperger's as a nine year old, since I used to exhibit my tendencies to mixed reactions from others who were unfamiliar with the autism spectrum and appeared uncomfortable, and in some cases, unkind. I have several childhood memories, from school and in other environments, where people noticed my hand movements and other related behaviors, and reacted with both harsh words and unkind facial expressions.

In spite of autism presenting issues with social self-awareness and a lack of understanding non-verbal cues, I was and am more self-aware than others may have realized. Those words and facial expressions were hurtful, because I recognized the misjudgment and derision that those individuals were conveying to me.

Hopefully, with more awareness over time, people who are neurotypical and other autistic people will develop more understanding of the behaviors associated with the autism spectrum and why those behaviors are important for self-expression and the neurodiverse functioning of the autistic mind.

If that occurs, the practice of autistic masking will reduce and if a person on the spectrum needs to exhibit a behavior to self-regulate in public, they can do that with reduced misjudgment, derision, and increased acceptance.

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6 days ago

That was well written and interesting information to raise awareness!

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