I was sitting at a picnic table during a break at my daughter’s enrichment program and I couldn’t help but realize how incredibly uncomfortable it is to be autistic. All of these kids were running around having a great time and I felt like my entire body was being attacked. From an allistic standpoint, I am supposed to be an “adult" and keep it together. So I hid my experience because I knew it wasn't welcome.
Having people in your life who are truly neurodiversity-affirming is a privilege. How many of us can say that we are surrounded by people who would let us truly be an autistic person, cognizant of the entirety of what that means. When you are a late-diagnosed autistic, an interesting phenomenon happens. Because you have masked for so long, most of the people in your life assume you will keep doing it. Even if you were early diagnosed, the whole premise of ABA is to teach you how to act like an allistic person aka how to mask our autistic traits, especially those traits that are considered “disruptive” or “not compatible with the neurotypical world.”
Many of us find ourselves surrounded by people who see any deviation from our masked selves as us being selfish or passive aggressive or worse. Why would we have the audacity to openly show that we are autistic? No matter how many articles or videos we send our friends and family, they don’t read them or even if they do, they don’t understand how hard it is for us.
If we aren’t surrounded by neurodiversity-affirming people in our lives, it can feel like we have nowhere to turn to for help. We may just be told we should mask more or get “professional help” which basically implies that some professional will teach us to mask or at least make us less disruptive to others. Masking has taught us to be stoic and keep everything hidden because it was clear we wouldn’t be accepted otherwise. Unmasking causes us to get in touch with our pain and the overwhelming experience it is to be autistic. And as we unmask, we come face to face with allistic discomfort. Yet another hurdle to deal with.