Updated: Nov 4
The Basics of Masking and Why Neurodivergent Individuals Should Be Encouraged to Stop
Masking is a term that describes the behavior of neurodivergent individuals who, either deliberately or subconsciously, try to hide or suppress their natural tendencies and reactions to fit in with the neurotypical majority of society. Neurodivergence refers to the variation in the human brain that causes differences in cognition, emotion, and perception, such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, Tourette’s, and others. Neurotypical refers to people who do not have any neurodivergent conditions and follow the conventional norms and expectations of society.
Masking can have negative effects on the well-being and self-esteem of neurodivergent individuals, as well as prevent them from getting the support and understanding they need. In this article, we will explore what masking is, why people do it, and why it should be discouraged.
Unmasking Neurodivergent Masking
Masking can be divided into two main components: mimicking and camouflaging.
Mimicking involves learning and copying the social behaviors of neurotypical people, such as eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, and conversational skills. Mimicking can help neurodivergent individuals blend in with their peers, avoid bullying or rejection, and achieve their goals in school or work.
Camouflaging involves hiding or suppressing the discomforts and reactions that neurodivergent individuals experience due to their sensory sensitivities, emotional regulation difficulties, or cognitive differences. Camouflaging can help neurodivergent individuals avoid negative judgments, criticism, or stigma from others who may not understand their challenges or needs.
Masking can be a conscious choice or a subconscious habit that neurodivergent individuals develop over time. Some people may start masking at an early age, and others may discover their neurodivergence later in life and realize that they have been masking all along. Some people may mask more frequently or effectively than others, depending on their personality, environment, and level of awareness.
Neurodivergent Masking Challenges
Masking can have several negative consequences for neurodivergent individuals, such as:
Exhaustion: Masking requires a lot of mental and emotional effort that can drain the energy and resources of neurodivergent individuals. Many people report feeling tired, stressed, or burned out after a period of masking. They may need to recover by spending time alone or engaging in activities that soothe them.
Invalidation: Masking can make neurodivergent individuals feel that they are not accepted or valued for who they are. They may struggle with their identity, self-esteem, or sense of belonging. They may also feel guilty or ashamed for hiding their true selves or lying to others.
Isolation: Masking can prevent neurodivergent individuals from forming authentic and meaningful relationships with others who share their experiences or interests. They may feel lonely, misunderstood, or unsupported by their family, friends, or community.
Misdiagnosis: Masking can interfere with the detection and diagnosis of neurodivergence, especially for those who are less visible in their traits. Professionals who are unfamiliar with the complexity and diversity of neurodivergent conditions may ignore, misidentify, or misinterpret them. People who mask may also miss out on the benefits of early intervention, accommodation, or treatment.
Meltdown: Masking can increase the risk of having a meltdown or breakdown when the pressure or demand becomes too high or when the coping mechanism fails. When a neurodivergent person experiences stress or sensory overload, they may experience a meltdown, which is an extreme emotional or physical reaction. A meltdown can manifest as crying, screaming, hitting, biting, running away, shutting down, or self-harming.
Neurodivergent Masking: A Call for Authenticity
Neurodivergent individuals should be encouraged to reduce masking for their health and happiness. By lessening the degree to which they mask, or how often they do it, they can:
Embrace: They can embrace their neurodivergence as a part of their identity and diversity. They can celebrate their strengths, talents, passions, and quirks. They can also acknowledge their challenges, needs, and preferences without shame or fear.
Express: They can express themselves freely and authentically without worrying about conforming to social norms or expectations. They can communicate their thoughts, feelings, opinions, and boundaries clearly and confidently. They can also show their emotions and reactions naturally and appropriately.
Educate: They can educate others about their neurodivergence and how it affects them. They can raise awareness and understanding about the spectrum and variations of neurodiversity. They can also advocate for their rights and accommodations in different settings and situations.
Empower: They can empower themselves and others by creating and joining communities that support and celebrate neurodiversity. They can find and offer mentorship, friendship, or partnership to people who share their experiences or goals. They can also contribute to society with their unique perspectives and skills.
Masking is a common but harmful behavior that neurodivergent individuals engage in to fit in with the neurotypical majority of society. Masking can cause exhaustion, invalidation, isolation, misdiagnosis, and meltdown for neurodivergent individuals. Therefore, they should be encouraged to reduce masking and instead embrace, express, educate, and empower themselves and others as neurodiverse beings.
I hope you find this article helpful and informative. If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to contact me. Thank you for reading. 😊