Almost a year since I discovered that I’m Autistic, I realise that most people really don’t care.
Some in a good way. They accept me for who I am and have even said that learning that I’m Autistic didn’t come as a major surprise to them. (Which does make me wonder just how obvious my differences are!)
Many people, however, and unfortunately, don’t care that I’ve discovered that I’m Autistic in a way that asks you to sweep it under the carpet. Even people who have known me my entire life (or a decent chunk of it) and friends that I’ve known for decades, now know that I’m Autistic but haven’t said a single word.
I’m not asking for a big song and dance here. I’m asking for some sign that they’re looking out for me. A question about how I’m travelling, or if I need anything, or some recognition that they’ve even looked at this blog.
I suppose this is what happens when you’re diagnosed Autistic so late in life. When you’ve lived more than half the average life expectancy (in Australia in 2023 that’s 83.73 years, and in the US 79.74) not knowing, and so those around you, some of them anyway, can’t accept it for what it really is and just want to maintain the status quo.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I received my diagnosis at 52 rather than 70. But imagine knowing from the time you were a small child that you’re Autistic – and being raised in an environment of acceptance and understanding.
There are parents who have left comments on this blog, and on my now seldom used social media channels, who have told me they are the parent of an Autistic child, and that they’re in their child’s corner, fighting for them and their undeniable rights.
Wouldn’t that be wonderful? To be a child who’s Autistic and know that someone has your back like that. You might even grow up to be yourself.
It’s why I’m a strong advocate for getting a formal diagnosis – if it’s possible – as early as you can. And why I’m also a huge believer in unmasking as much as you’re able to.
I’ve written previously about Autistic masking – the practise of hiding your Autistic traits – what it is and why we do it. I’ve talked about how it’s a survival instinct to ensure we’re perceived as non-autistic because, let’s face it, it’s a non-autistic world.
I’ve even covered how, to a certain extent, we all mask in some form or another so that we can improve our interactions with others.
The difference for Autistic people, however, is that we have to mask so much more than others, and when we mask it does severe damage to our mental health, resulting in anxiety, depression, and overwhelm in the form of dysregulation and meltdowns.
And it gets much, much worse than that. The suicide rate among Autistic adults is three times that of the non-Autistic adult population, with some research showing that the average life expectancy of an Autistic adult is only 58. (Little more than five years away for me!)
We Autistic people learn to mask because others tell us – parents, friend, teachers, health professionals – indirectly and even at times directly, that who we are and certain behavioural traits that we possess, are wrong, weird, or downright shameful.
So I don’t blame anyone, no matter their age, for doing it. As I’ve previously said, it’s only as recently as this year that I even knew masking was a thing, and that I myself was doing it.
Acceptance, or the lack of it, in our societies is huge. No one wants to lose the friends, or even the family, they have.
But knowing how damaging masking is, and realising that it’s the cause of so much of the pain and confusion that I have carried with me, means that I’m now doing everything that I can to stop it – and I want to encourage you to stop doing it, too.
To that end, I am very happy to have completed putting together my first ‘freebie’ for readers of The Unmasked Autistic: 25 unmasking tips: advice to help Autistic people remove the mask.
This is a free digital download available direct from my website to anyone who subscribes to receive my regular blog posts.
I have already sent all current subscribers a copy of the tips via email. But it’s now also available to anyone, Autistic or not. (In fact, if you aren’t Autistic, why not sign up anyway, receive the tips, and become a friend o’ Autistic people. You could do a lot worse!)
The tips encourage concepts like living authentically, learning to trust yourself and your instincts, practicing self-validation, letting go of the past, forgiving yourself, choosing people who choose you, and many more.
For myself, I realise now that although I had lived my entire 52 years without even suspecting that I was Autistic, I had already been living some of my life ‘unmasked’.
I largely only saw people that I wanted to – something that cost me a lot of “friends” when I was in my mid-twenties – I have never been afraid to say no (isn’t that right honey? 😉), and I have never been shy (since around the time of my early thirties, I estimate) about expressing my ideas and beliefs.
It can be a terrifying prospect, unmasking. Especially if you’ve been doing it for so long that it’s become an integral part of who you are.
You might be in a job and think you need to mask to keep it. Or in a relationship where masking protects your very life (if you are, I implore you, do what you can to get out). You might even worry that once you let the mask slip, no one will want to see you.
Well, I say stuff ‘em all! If they’re worth it, your job, your friends, your family or loved ones, they’ll accept you the way you really are. And if they don’t, there will be others more than willing to step up to the mark. If not in person, then online, in Autism chatrooms or Facebook groups, or even on blogs like this one you’re reading now.
There is an incredibly vibrant Autistic community out there. I’m only in the early days of discovering it myself. But it exists and, most importantly, it’s accepting. Of me, of my Autistic ways – the good, the “strange”, and the sometimes ugly.
Remember, someone can only reject you if you give them that level of power over you. But if you don’t, if you put yourself, your true self forward, no matter the outcome, you might even feel invincible. (Or you will until someone blows a whistle and you scurry back into your corner and roll about in fetal position on the floor. These are unmasking tips, after all. They won’t help much with sensory sensitivities. And I really don’t like whistles.)
The 25 free unmasking tips are available by signing up from any page on my website [The Unmasked Autistic], or from this direct link: https://theunmaskedautistic.com/25-free-unmasking-tips/.
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