Take the time to explore the things that bring you joy. It can be tricky to take off the mask and uncover your authentic self after years of masking. Ask the people who know you best to help you explore this – your family and friends, and any professionals who you feel you have a good relationship with. Other neurodivergent people are often great for these conversations as well!
Find places/spaces where you feel safe to unmask and be ‘the real you’. For some people this is clubs such as dance, drama or sport, for others it’s spaces such as online forums, or it might be somewhere you can be on your own or with people who make you feel safe.
What things make you feel comfortable? Build up a real or virtual toolkit of resources and ideas that you can take with you to different places. This could be a fidget toy, a set of ear plugs or headphones, the freedom to stim.
Where possible, find an adult in school/college that you trust and ask if you can talk to them about how things really are for you. You could write it down or send them an email if you find this easier. Often school staff are really surprised when they hear children are struggling because ‘they seem fine’. If your school or college has an Autism Champion, this could be a good place to start (even if you don’t have an autism diagnosis), but any adult you have a good relationship with should be able to support you.
Keep a record in a journal of situations in which you mask, and how that makes you feel. Try consciously unmasking in safe environments, and record whether your fears were met and how it made you feel. More often than not your worst fears of being judged or embarrassing yourself, will not be met.
You could ask for a neurodiversity profiling tool to be completed with you and your parent/carer which will help school to understand your needs.
Always remember that neurodivergent people have so many strengths and enrich the world we live in. in every room, school, supermarket, cinema etc there are a range of neurodiverse people – great things happen when we celebrate neurodiversity and the brilliant minds that all people have.
Words from Cerys- a young person with Autism on Masking
“To me, I have masked forever. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t need to. Primary school is when I can remember masking impacting my life. I was struggling at school, so I subconsciously was masking which gave the illusion that I was the golden child. However, when I came home that was a different story, because at home I felt safe enough to not mask and my behaviour would be terrible. I still mask now; I mask to not be different in crowds and to disguise parts of me that are different to others. Masking is exhausting, trying to be accepted, changing who you really are to suit where you are and who you are with takes its toll emotionally. For me, this means I burnout and completely shut down. I become so overwhelmed I can become extremely emotionally dysregulated (I call this a meltdown), and to people who don’t understand me this can be distressing for them and always for me. But I am actively trying to stop masking all together to prevent future meltdowns and burnouts. I am such a high masker that I will have a burnout at least five times a month, which isn’t healthy at all, this is why I’m trying to unmask. When I burn out or have a meltdown I cannot communicate. Things that help me are having a safe and quiet space to go to, painting and listening to music and texting certain people who understand me and that I trust. I can unmask when I’m around my family or even in public with certain people like my family or boyfriend. Since my Autism diagnosis at 17, I have discovered a lot about myself and masking and I now know why I would struggle in school, work, and even friendships and why I have the mask. At school I would struggle to ask for help so I would start failing certain classes. At work I would hate the lack of routine and being told what to do. With friendships, disputes were more likely as I was viewed as ‘stubborn’ or a ‘know it all’ because id take jokes literally and correct them. I have amazing friends now who understand why I am the way I am and accept me for me. I have the most supportive family around me.
I would always say- don’t be afraid to say no, to allow yourself time to recharge and to use your amazing unique brain to celebrate who you really are.”