Autism & Masking

By Robert Schmus

I can relate to this article.  I worked in the hospitality industry. There was a sign on the door going to the front desk saying you are going on stage now. Being on stage in serving the customers. I had a general manager who said that when ask how you are doing he only wanted to hear great.  At the end of my shift I would be tired from making.   – Greg

Masking neurodiversity 

Recently within the autistic community, there has been much talk regarding masking. Masking, also known as camouflaging, is the practice of artificially performing certain social behaviors in order to fit in with the neurotypical world. This can include mimicking social behaviors and repressing certain autistic behaviors, such as stimming.

Many autistics have used masking in their lives. For instance, one study showed that many autistics mask in order to connect with others, find a job, or even gain a romantic partner (Hull et al. 2017). There are times in which masking can be forced upon by others. For example, a teacher or parent might force an autistic teen to act a certain way so that they can blend in, even though the characteristic that this autistic youth engages might be calming to them. From the outside looking in, it would seem that this is efficient. However, masking can do much more harm than good.


Let’s put it this way, as an autistic person myself, masking prevents us from truly being ourselves. We are told to deny the characteristics that make each of us unique. For instance, there are autistics out there who have to hide certain interests because neurotypicals might see them as “weird”. Because of this, autistics would mimic how neurotypicals would talk, act, and behave.trying to hide how they really feel so that they can act “normal” (when it comes to our world, there is no normal).

Some autistics could use masking when it comes to their difficulties. For example, an autistic who has great difficulty giving eye contact would hide this issue so that he or she would not be seen as strange. This might be seen as a way to ease into a social environment, but the reality of it is that it could cause mental health issues, specifically anxiety.

The harm of masking

Anxiety has been shown to be prevalent through masking. According to a British study in 2017, the autistic adults that were interviewed universally felt mentally, physically, and emotionally drained from masking, as well as having a great sense of loneliness (Hull et al. 2017).

This anxiety caused by masking has shown to be prevalent with autistic women. It was reported that, due to autism in women being highly undiagnosed, the difficulties that many autistic women face are frequently mislabeled or misdiagnosed. This would force them to mask to fit in (Bargiela 2016). Studies have also shown that masking amongst autistic women has a price, with many reporting feeling overwhelmed when hiding a certain characteristic, such as stimming, because that stimming helps them with regulating emotions (Hull et al. 2017). Autistic women already have difficulties with being underrepresented, masking just makes it worse.

Now I want to be very clear that every autistic is different when it comes to masking. However, I do have personal experience with masking. Growing up there were a few tics that I had to help me calm down when I felt anxious. One of them was known as flicking, in which I would find an object, like a pen cap, and would flick in my hands. I would also rock back and forth while listening to music on my MP3 player when I felt anxious.

These methods helped me, but those around me greatly discouraged them, especially flicking. People would tell me to stop and lecture me on how weird it was for me to do that. For this, I was forced to mask myself from not doing it. Deep down I didn’t think it was weird, as it helped my anxiety. So, in order to keep my sanity, I continued to stim in secret. It wasn’t until later on in life when I found out that this behavior was known as stimming and that it is usual amongst fellow autistics. To this day, I continue to stim and have no shame towards it.

Removing the masks

For so long, we autistics had to mask their certain characteristics causing much anxiety. But we have to mask it because the neurotypical world feels that it is “strange”. Why should we do this to please them? This is who we are and how we cope. I say enough is enough and that we shouldn’t mask what helps us feel better.

The neurotypical world needs to listen to us and see why we need to do these things without hiding them. It is through this awareness that the neurotypical can see that what we are doing gives us a piece of mind. In a world where anxiety is at an all time high, why must we autistics mask how we cope?

Fighting Against Neuro-Discrimination in the Workplace

By Damian Mellifont

I think this is an important topic.  In my work career I have faced discrimination and at that time I did not know about my asbergers.  If I had known I could have educated my employer and asked for accommodations.  – Greg

Neurodivergent researcher Damian Mellifont discusses factors that contribute to neuro-discrimination in the workplace and of those that ‘fight the good fight’ against it.

Fighting the Good Fight

Do you know what neuro-discrimination is? Put simply, neuro-discrimination (or sanism) involves discrimination against neurodivergent persons [1]. People who are neurodivergent have minds that function in notably different ways from the norm [2]. Sanists (i.e., neuro-discriminators) do not fight fair. Neuro-discriminators might jab away with sneaky microaggressions. Microaggressions are small acts or comments that over a period of time can cause emotional damage [3]. With no referee present, a neuro-discriminator has opportunities to mercilessly strike their target with big shots (i.e., open acts of discrimination). Unfortunately, many neurodivergent persons report experiencing discrimination in the workplace [4]. It is therefore important to raise awareness about the factors that contribute to this form of discrimination and of those that fight the good fight against it. 

My recently published article that was informed by a traditional review of the literature describes facilitators and inhibitors of neuro-discrimination in the workplace [5]. I will briefly discuss some of these factors before summarizing the ways forward.

Neurodivergence in the workplace – discrimination facilitators.

Bias against neurodivergent persons can play out in many troubling ways. Biased employers can resist employing these applicants [6]. Such neuro-discrimination is not constrained to job selection processes. Bias can also deny neurodivergent persons access to workplace accommodations [7]. Neuro-discrimination therefore has stamina and can hurt neurodivergent employees throughout their careers. Left unchecked, sanism has the power to knock these persons out of the workforce. And we are left with toxic workplaces where ignorance and intolerance are the winners at the expense of diversity and inclusion.

Silence is yet another facilitator of sanism in the workplace. Fears of stigma can deter staff from disclosing their neurodivergence [8]. Neurodivergent employees understandably do not want to be on the receiving end of ‘cheap shots’ following disclosure. It is at this time where colleagues and supervisors can change their views about a person’s competency [9]. By staying silent, however, some of these staff might be putting their productivity and wellbeing at risk [10]. This silence can therefore result in losses not only for the individual, but also for their employer. 

Neurodivergence in the workplace – discrimination inhibitors.

Education can assist in fighting the good fight against workplace sanism. Where education is missing, employees might draw on negative stereotypes about neurodivergent persons [11]. Educational measures can also promote useful workplace accommodations [12]. Greater contact with neurodivergent persons might further assist in redressing prejudicial attitudes [13, 14]. Furthermore, responsible workplace leaders should be supportive of cultures that are inclusive of neurodivergence. Where flexibility, cooperation and respect are promoted, workplace culture improves for all [15]. 

Ways forward 

The following actions endeavor to redress neuro-discrimination in the workplace [5] :

Recognize silence and bias as two facilitators of sanism in the workplace.

Conduct policy reforms that encourage a workplace culture where individuals are safe to disclose and discuss their neurodivergence.

Make sure that hiring panels are mindful of their responsibility to reasonably accommodate neurodivergent applicants.

Implement affirmative action to help to reduce the possibility of neurodivergent persons experiencing discrimination in hiring processes.

Provide mandatory education about the negative impacts of sanism and make it clear that such discriminatory behaviors are unacceptable.

Invest in studies to explore potential ways in which to increase contact among neurodivergent and neurotypical employees.

Sanists might be winning the early rounds in many workplaces. But the fight is far from over! Despite its fearsome and well-earned reputation, neuro-discrimination is not invincible. Employers who embrace the above-mentioned measures will be supporting greater diversity and inclusion while also ‘fighting the good fight’ against sanism.