Autistics and Childhood Masking

Autistics are often spotted around 3 to 5 years of age, an age when masking may also commence, unfortunately. Those unfortunately best at masking, may also not be discovered as autistic till 6-90 years of age.

Which is always very sad, but nearly as often... tragic.

Having one core task in life, to deliver the good that is your very self, can turn into a destructive and exhausting experience if the path to hiding self, merging at the behest of others, is forced or chosen.

Even a young child is capable of picking up subtle and not so subtle requirements to hide their self away, to be as others, to get to tawdry rewards or false-acceptance by sacrificing from their core.

It can begin with a parental "Don't do that", or a quiet hiding away of rituals and preferences, play or speech.


Am I to be who I am, or as others require, expect, prefer? Am I truly equal, or are others above me, directing, demanding, dominating?


Camouflaging neurodivergency entails serious health risks.

Examples in childhood include situation where a child is coerced in some way to embrace:

- tickling and touch

- eye contact

- unwilling attention

- immediate reciprocity

- facial expressions that match others

- trendy gestures and poses

- hiding or suppressing personal choices and focuses

- developing scripts, rehearsed responses, kneejerk answers

- hiding sensory pain (so many!)

- avoiding stigma and rebuke

- passivity where, clearly, activity is possible

- need for costumes in order to 'let themselves shine'

- different answers from a puppet or doll than the child might give in their own voice

- speaking in the third person sometimes

- choosing to whisper, not hear their own voice

- not attracting attention of bullies

- joining in without actually knowing a games rules

- fawning, parent-pleasing

- mimicry because of not knowing what to do

- adjusting tone or volume to what others find acceptable

- hold inside welling outrage till a safer space presents

- learning to not seek justice, to not complain

- faulty attempts at assimilation or compensation

- self-injurious behaviours should masking fail.

Without empowerment to be courageous about manifesting the very real difference, disability, that being autistic is... masking is inevitable.

Acceptance of autistics, even at a tender age, is a series of non-stop actions, not a sentiment, or statement of choice or direction or hope.


Every moment invested in learning specifically non-autistic skills or behaviours is a moment stripped from the autistic trajectory owed to an autistic child. It's not free. If your child is Iranian, and you live in Iran, and you halt their natural and educative learning of Farsi so they can learn Korean instead... it's not FREE. It has a COST. Being autistic is permanent. Learning to function as we are, autistic, is vital to autistic culture, autistic emphasis, autistic growth. Autistics are not shaped to receive endless amounts of non-autistic propaganda, tweaks, updates, overhauls, programming, and battery.


Over-stress, and anxiety, are the first fruits of masking that arrive after a certain tiredness sets in. Even a young child will experience disbenefit if they have to

a) be who they are,

b) hide who they are,

c) pretend to be someone else, and

d) still deliver what is expected or demanded of them.

Too many roles.

In a 2019 researchers found that stress and anxiety were higher in people who routinely masked autistic traits.

In 2018 researchers interviewing 111 autistic adults found those who reported camouflaging their autistic traits were significantly more likely to report depression or symptoms of depression and felt unaccepted by people in their social sphere.

In 2016 autistic women who used masking to satisfy neurotypical standards said they felt exhausted by the constant effort.


Other impacts that studies have concluded include:

- Delayed identification of being autistic

- Loss of community

- Loss of sense of self or identity

- Deployment of harmful strategies and medications

- A barrage of downstream mental health issues

- The nagging sense of feeling like a deceiver or inauthentic

- Depersonalisation and other unreality impacts

- Impenetrable distance in the place of closeness or intimacy

- Risk of severe autistic burnout or cPTSD

- Vastly increased need for downtime

- More meltdowns lasting longer with greater damage resulting

- Eventual withdrawal, reclusivity, inertia, pre-catatonia

- Increased suicidal ideation/suicide risk/extreme social alienation

- Feelings of being a burden or unwanted or unacceptable

- etc.


Autistic advocates believe the essential counter to masking is a whole-of-world change towards embracing neurodiversity, minorities, supporting needs because they validly exist and for no other reason, enabling access to everything an individual needs in order to get on with the journey of being themself.

Masking is a costly survival strategy individually-tailored for each autistic blocked from living on their own neurological terms as themself. The moment we stop listening for autistic needs, listening to autistic voices, the impetus to masking ........ re-begins.

~ ʎllɐǝɹƃ uɥoɾ