Masking

sorting it out, or trying to: random musings


I am reading more on my autism forums and blogs about masking. It has been confusing me a lot!

I am reading declarations from people swearing they will no longer be masking. They will stim in public, they will be their autistic authentic selves at all times and in all ways, loudly and proudly. “throw off the mask!”

wait a minute… really? I understand that masking is done to gain social acceptance… that it is done to ‘fit in’… things like wearing things that are the same as everybody else at the office, wearing ( for women) specific styles of makeup and doing hair and nails in conventional ways to be seen as ‘normal’ and become socially acceptable… forcing oneself to be careful to have manners and try not hurt anybody’s feelings, to respond in kind if asked to participate in social gatherings, group activities, etc etc. Many of these things are very difficult for autistic folks, and seem to be harder for us than those with neurotypical selves. Have I got it all wrong?

I suspect that a good many people who are not autistic struggle with doing all of these things and with “playing the social game” as well.
Why else would there be all the cartoons and comments about wanting to get home behind closed doors and take off your work persona along with the office clothes or uniform, slipping into comfy clothing or PJs all of that. ????????

At age 68 I have very many habits deeply ingrained. I have had a very difficult time sorting out my own “masking” which I am assured by others is being unhealthy and somehow morally untrue to my autistic self hidden deep inside. I can’t find that me.
I did ” play the game” (and mostly failed anyway) when I needed to and I dropped most of that once I left the world of the office behind.
Late in high school I did try to use makeup, wear appealing clothing, spend hours doing my hair – at least off and on. My attempts failed, and I went back to wearing cowboy boots and jeans for the most part, and spending more time with my horse than with people.

Things changed mostly around 21 years old when I had a boyfriend who pressured me to be more fashionable, to do things a certain way, to wear certain things, to change my basic self to make him more satisfied with me as a partner who brought admiration and social status to him by looking or acting certain ways.
Of course these were HIS ideas of who I should be. Being trained since infancy to appease and perform for praise and to avoid anger and punishment, I worked very hard at it all. I had chosen the wrong partner.


Subsequent marriage and then later divorce from that man, and a load of good counseling on making healthy choices and learning to be self assertive, that all went away. It took years !
I had spent so much time trying to please others I did not have a clue about who I was or what I wanted.

I gradually found myself, and married somebody completely different. My partner of 40 years supported me in being the ‘real’ me right from the start.
I stopped dressing to please others and began to wear clothing that was comfortable and didn’t hurt. I have not owned a pair of high heels in 40 years. My feet are so grateful!
I stopped doing my hair and makeup and stopped worrying about the latest fashions.
I found something that suited me.
I stopped going to social things and started finding delight in nature. In essence I found myself. Years ago.
It took quite a while to realize that I had developed confidence in my own choices of how to appear and how to behave in any given situation.

How much of ‘masking’ is due to our lack of self confidence, our lack of self knowledge and self understanding in the rush to fit in and please others? I wonder if this is just one more thing I had to be taught because my autistic rigid thinking did not let me see alternatives until somebody else pointed them out?

After thinking it all over, I suspect I don’t have much masking left in me.
I have no desire to openly stim in the ways that I did as a child. I have changed and adapted stims over all these years of life. Why should I go back to awkward and difficult behavior that caused me to be even more socially isolated? Don’t all people grow and change and adapt? Why is that so wrong?

I have no desire to aggressively proclaim myself as “different” and wear yet another “social uniform” representing another group of angry people seeking attention by “in your face” attitudes.

The strident calls of “unmasking” and demanding to be accepted no matter how far afield a person dresses, behaves, or self decorates, etc do not mesh.

Human nature is attracted to those who are similar and rejects those who are radically different (in most cases).

I have no gripe with the way anybody else wants to represent themselves, but if I walk into a formal situation wearing a diver’s wet suit instead of traditional formal dress, should I be offended if people avoid me and look at me askance? My reading of some of these loud opinions on the forums is that I should be angry not to be accepted as myself no matter how I present myself. Really? I think that might be a tad unrealistic.

Maybe I misunderstand it all. In any case it is only my observations and construct from my own
” old lady ” perspective.

I speak for nobody but myself in my limited understanding of so much of the world.

Anger and strident behavior do not seem to me to be likely social attractants.

One side of the group autistic mouth proclaims and demands and the other side laments lack of friendship, finding few who willingly interact and respond.
Do what is right for you.

Masking stims: What are you Hiding?

“Me?? nothing!” Another Autistic awakening.

I guess it was inevitable. As we grow and change our behavior adapts to pressures surrounding us. Most of us have stopped drinking from a bottle, sucking our thumbs, carrying a blanket, and have become house trained (ok, toilet trained, then) by the time we go to school.
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Note: stims are self stimulating behavior which provides sensory input and which autistic individuals instinctively seek to help themselves with self expression, self comfort, or to cope with our world.
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I was a thumb sucker. I had a callus over my thumb where my teeth made almost constant contact with it… pressure from parents and grandparents to “stop that, you are not a baby any longer!” eventually had its effect and this form of self comfort was no longer available to me. I longed for approval, and did all I could to avoid disapproval and scolding.

About age 2 I was taught to brush my teeth. By age 4 I was expected to brush my own teeth without help. It was explained that my teeth would fall out and I would not have any if I did not brush them often. I demanded to brush after I ate anything. To this day I brush my teeth immediately after eating unless I am in public and it is impossible to do so promptly. I floss frequently, even to the extent of carrying floss picks everywhere with me, and having them available around the house… I have described this as compulsive behavior in the past.

I went to school at the age of 4, I was not emotionally mature enough, but I was reading, counting, could tie my shoes… what a bright little girl! I began to bite my nails shortly after I started school.

I continued biting my nails until once again social pressure began in middle school. By 7th grade the teacher was inspecting girls’ nails before class every day to see if they were clean and well cared for. Everybody noticed when the teacher shamed me in front of all the class. How humiliating! I learned to compulsively wash my hands and to dig beneath the quick to clean my nails, and I tried desperately to quit chewing those nails and the finger edges until they bled.

I was successful after several months of struggle.

I began to bite and chew pencils and erasers. I demolished several pencils in a week and always had splinters in my gums and between my teeth. This was a short lived experiment on my part, resolving itself in a couple of months. It was painful to brush my teeth then, so I found a useful behavioral substitute in gum chewing.

I chewed gum all day at school, often getting scolded for having gum in my mouth and being punished, but I could not quit. I used all my allowance to purchase gum. Being without gum caused panic and anxiety. I had to have it!

Around that time I discovered jaw breakers. I began to carry and consume jaw breakers, having them in pockets and purse at all times. I could manage to chew up a jaw breaker between classes, ( 3 minutes allowed to pass from one class room to another). I went through many jawbreakers a day.

I had the jawbreaker habit for many many years and eventually my teeth were so stressed I had to get caps put on as I broke teeth off from chewing such hard candies.
I have had to give jaw breakers up now. All that sugar releasing constant endorphins, all that wonderful hard crunchy chewing! It was perfect for me (except of course for the obvious health consequences).

I have always sought out hard pretzels, loved hardtack, hard dry toast, the harder the better, the more chewing experience the better.

I even have a description of words for the foods I like best.

They are foods which provide “chew time”: ( you would think that might have been a clue, if I had been looking!)
I have kept the habit of constant brushing and flossing, but now(today) instead of seeing that as compulsive behavior, I understand it is another way of masking my need for oral stims.

To this day I love hard and dense breads, pretzels, crackers and jawbreakers. I am warned not to have them because of my dental conditions. Caps can’t take the abuse.

I had never put this string of behavior together until thinking today about reasons it seems impossible for me to lose weight. I seem to have to have something in my mouth at all times. Snacking is a constant thing with me.

Suddenly the light went on!

I am one of those people who need lots of “chew time”, oral stims do something I need… I have had inner ear/balance problems all my life. I wonder if chewing hard things somehow provides vestibular stimulation as well?

I am continually uncovering ways in which autism has worked in my life. Truly this has been a surprise and a revelation.

As an older adult I have adapted to social pressures, masking stims such as this need for chewing over and over as social pressures intervened with my favored methods of stimming.

Having finally uncovered the hidden stim, I am making plans to look into finding out more about adult “chewies” . So interesting. I’ll report on my progress at a later date.

Now I am going to sit down and try to search my memories for other hidden stims.

What are you hiding?