Autism and masks
a personal story
It is Hallowe’en, a time for wearing masks and I have a confession to make.
I have always worn a mask.
Wanting to fit in I become a mirror of those around me, I mimic mannerisms, I copy phrases used by others in similar circumstances, after meeting someone I can do a reasonable mimic of their accent. But only for a time, I am generally hopeless at doing accents. The only thing I am not is myself. I became a different person at home and church to the person I was at work, or earlier at school.
This social masking was a survival strategy. I started to do things because they were expected. I was forever being told off for being antisocial. I didn’t look people in the eyes, I generally stare over their left shoulder. I’m not anti-social. I try not to speak during television shows only to be told to be quiet; when I go to another room to play music I am then told that I am being anti-social. Why? It is me who wants to talk, it is me who wants to be social. I can never seem to get that one right, a neuro-typical world has unwritten rules that no one seems to be able to explain to autistic people. Neuro-typical people can converse during TV shows but there are times not to speak. I do not know when the speaking and silent times are. I want to be sociable, but I do not do social the same way that you do. I am not anti-social, social is anti-me.
I digressed there, I was trying to give a list of things I do that people think are weird, but TV distracted me. But it illustrates how I am socially awkward. I am nervous in social settings, liking being sociable (unless the crowd is too big and noisy, shopping malls, I hate you) does not mean I don’t get nervous, and that is shown by me tapping my feet, drumming my fingers or not sitting still and walking around. All of these I have been asked, or even told not to do. Then they tell me not to fret. I was doing OK until toy stopped me tapping my feet.
So I have learnt to sit still, be quiet, and not fidget, but it is all a masquerade. That is not me. It is so exhausting for a start, having to be typically neuro-typical when I am nowhere near typical is a constant strain, the mask is not held on very well and every now and then the mask will slip. Every job I have ever had has been spoiled by me having a meltdown at work. Once I was sacked. Masking, I have since learnt, was one of the factors which led to the mental overload, which led to the meltdown.
Meltdowns are autistic behaviour that looks like a temper tantrum but is neither anger nor trying to control people as would be the case with a temper, but is the brain being overwhelmed by too much stimulation. Ironically acting more autistic, allowing myself to fidget etc has helped me to reduce the number of meltdowns. Being me is so much easier than being someone else. Yes, I am a weird geek, so what, I am a happy weird geek. Making autistic people act in a neuro-typical way is a form of abuse. Please accept us as we are.
Me without my mask is the real me. Me trying to be neuro-typical is just the Hallowe’en masquerade I have lived most of my life. The battle is for those like me to be accepted as the autistic people we are.