Autism is a hidden disability, this means that just by looking at a person or having a conversation with them you would not nessisarily know that the person is autistic. I am classed as ‘high functioning’ and have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome so in my case you may not realise I am autistic until you see me on a regular basis. This is because High Functioning Autism means I can ‘pass as normal’ or ‘blend in’ with social norms for the most part in short social situations, this is also known as ‘masking’. I think masking is one of the first barriers of communication between autistic and nuerotypical (NT) people so that is what I’m going to work on addressing with this post, but first off I will try to give a general overview to answer the question “What is Autism?”
- You Can’t Catch Autism: Autism is a life long disability, you are born that way, it is not a disease or illness and does not need treatments or a cure.
- What Type of Disability Is It?: Autism comes under ‘Developmental’ disabilities. Autism does not cause mental health or learning disabilities but they can be experienced by an autistic person.
- What Challenges Do Autistic People Face?: The main categories are Communication, Executive Functioning, Sensory Sensitivity and difficulties with Transition & Change. Autistic people experience challenges in these areas through out everyday life. Obviously everyone is different so the level of difficulty varies from person to person but all autistic people are affected severely enough to impact every day tasks/skills average people can complete intuitively.
I think it is also important to aknowledge this quote from the NHS:
“It means your brain works in a different way from other people…Being autistic does not mean you can never make friends, have relationships or get a job. But you might need extra help with these things…Some autistic people need little or no support. Others may need help from a parent or carer every day.” (What is autism?, 2020)
I just wanted to add this in as it breaks through some stereotypes of Autism quite nicely. The quote below resonates with me quite strongly from a high functioning point of view:
“…people appear to know, intuitively, how to communicate and interact with each other, yet can also struggle to build rapport with people with Asperger syndrome. People with Asperger syndrome may wonder why they are ‘different’ and feel their social differences mean people don’t understand them…” (Asperger syndrome – National Autistic Society, 2020)
(To learn more about autism you can visit the National Autistic Society Too Much Information campaign.)
It is instances like this miscommunication and others that causes an autistic person to ‘Mask’. Masking is when we hide our autistic traits/ social deficits, it’s not something we are necessarily conscious of doing but have taught ourselves to do over time to ‘fit in’, a strategy we use to get by in everyday life which goes against our natural instincts. It is a behaviour or a persona that we use to get through social situations where our autistic behaviour is likely to be rejected. Masking is more common in women and girls, it is the ability to mimic “social norms’ When this happens people get a false idea of who we are and that can lead to expectations of us that we can’t keep up which causes great anxiety, stress, low mood and takes away from our personal identity. Which is why I believe it is such an important barrier to overcome. I just want to clarify that I am not trying to blame or make nuerotypical people feel guilty, communication is a two-way system and both sides have to put effort in to make it work but because of the lack of awareness and education about autism I feel people in general don’t know how. I know that the following helps me personally:
- Don’t ‘drop hints’ that you want to talk me about something or assume I know that you want me to ask, tell me directly
- Give me time to process what is being said and form a response
- When I tell you something tell me what you understand I have said and double check that’s what I mean
We are not rude or selfish or uncaring we just don’t pick up the same signals as NT’s, please bare with us! ^^