Can Autistic Traits Be Hidden Through Masking?

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Mountain Goat
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25 Oct 2019, 7:56 pm

Well, the short answer is yes. BUT.... Well. I know I mask and I feel like now I strughle to mask, everything seems to be falling apart.
It is liely that I might be on the spectrum. (If not then I will be puzzled... Unless I am a BAP).
But picture this. It is only in the last few years where I hit some sort of burn out (I don't exactly know what else to call it) where I started to find it difficult to mask like I used to, where pwople have noticed. Somehow, these days, (If it is autism that I have?) I feel more autistic as I can no longer mask to hide the traits.
But, how is it possible to have gone through life masking to such an extent that no one could have guessed? I look back in my childhood and teenage years and think "How can it have been missed", especially during my pre-teen childhood years. How was it possible that I was such a loner and no one noticed or even questioned?
And how come I have masked for so long and didn't know that this was not normal behaviour?

Well. I may not be on the autistic spectrum. If this is the case, why do I find it now more difficult to mask where I feel more (I used the term more autistic but if it is not autism, it is more something!)


Ooh. I can smell old double decker bus in my mind. What has set that thought off? Uhmm. Interesting!


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25 Oct 2019, 9:07 pm

I would guess based on comments on WP , and general reading about ASD,the answer would be yes. However that raises conflicting thoughts for me. I am not aware of having consciously 'masked' ,although someone said a while back my going to a group at the library could've been seen as masking. The virtual lack of masking makes me wonder why it took till I was 62 for things to be picked up on. Incompetent MH pros - seeing all behaviours as relating to a diagnosed mental illness?, very mild ASD symptoms that flew under the radar despite a minimal amount of conscious masking on my part? If the second is true would I have met the threshold for a diagnosis? Perhaps there's more to ASD not being picked up on than whether one masks or not . That 's at odds with my first statement , but hey I'm conflicted .


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25 Oct 2019, 9:26 pm

I think definitely and I feel, had it not been for my love of writing that I would have never been diagnosed. For context: After being diagnosed with ASD I wrote about many neurodiverse characters, stumbled on autism and related enough to tell someone and because I had NES, had my diagnosis a lot faster than usual. While I did not fit in with others very well, I got so great at masking that I blended in to the point I was undetectable. My traits only become apparent when I'm stressed and I can no longer think clearly enough to act normal. At first, I never saw myself as 'masking' but then I thought of my internal dialogue and how I studied body language and psychological tricks to gain people's favour even before the diagnosis. Now I have a reason to constantly monitor myself but when I think about it I was doing it back then but thought it was just me overthinking in situations.



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25 Oct 2019, 9:29 pm

Yes, to a degree. More when life is in "order". Less when it is not.

I didn't consciously mask.

I just behaved "correctly" as much as I could. I didn't consciously know that I was deceiving myself. Now I get to choose whether I will behave correctly or not -with awareness.

I was just ashamed when I couldn't quite do this or that. Now I get to approach something differently or ask for help, and have pride in myself in my wholeness as I am.



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26 Oct 2019, 1:18 am

I know that I was both automatically asking and manually masking.
Automatic masking I call the type of masking which starts off in a manual way, but then gradually one does it as a learned behaviour. I find that when this type of masking momentarily breaks down, or is exposed, I could hardly move! I mean... I would be really concious of my every move... Everything I did! It was horrible!
Manual masking requires a lot more intelect to achieve. Since I was about six or seven... Maybe earlier... I can go this far back with automatic masking... But manual masking? I was really in my teens before I developed this and it was due to me discovering that I could be communicating with the rougher tougher kids in school without being bullied due to having a sense of humour in a specific area. I guess I was 14 when I started to do this. It all began after I had done my science exam where I had the highest marks in the class, but the whole sex education area of the exam... Well. I didn't have a single mark or I had one single mark.... I had had a rather sheltered upbringing where I was always taught one should not speak about such things, so I kinda took it literally and when the lessons came up in school, I basically blanked them from my mind. I didn't really understand them but I made no attempt to either, as in my mind I was thinking "I shouldn't be learning this!", so I didn't!
After word got out because the science teacher read out all my sex education answers to the class which I had completely just guessed and wrote anything down (I had not even revised this area of my science book. I felt it wrong to even look), and the science teacher just read out my answers... To which the whole class and even the teacher were in hysterical laughter.... At this point she did not say who's exam paper she was reading. She then gave me the exam paper and said to the class "And you can laugh. He got higher marks in the exam then the rest of you!"
Since then, word quickly went around the school, and the rougher lot of the kids who would usually be the bullies if they could be bothered... But they were usually more interested in dissapearing to certain hidden areas so they could smoke... They would come up to me and ask me sexual questions to hear my completely fabricated but plausable answers. For example, one question in the exam was "What's a miscarriage?" My answer to the exam... A car to take the lady to a wedding". Now this made sense if one broke up the word to "Miss" and "carriage".
It went on from there, as I quickly discovered how I, who just didn't really connect that well to anyone apart from a few missfits who tended to be much younger then me and required a single boy in my class who did befriend me in an odd way... (He was a "Foggy Dewhurst" type of character... A "Leader of men" (But not really) type who thought he was but we connected to him because we found him amusing rather then his "Leadership abilities". He was a good kid really ad a good friend who I kept friendly with for a few years after I had left school but later lost touch when his nursing career took over). So for me to connect with people my own age was rare.
But here was I becoming popular with the ones I never have guessed I would have any connection with by using a strange sense of humour!
This lasted several months before they became bored of my repeated replies as there are only so many seual questions they could ask and only so many strange but semi plausable replies I could give.
Fast forward a couple of years and I had left school and went to collage... Oops... College. It was more of a collage time for me. To fit in this new enviroment where I felt very much a loner so had no friends, I started to bring this technique back again and amplify it to include many other areas and not just the sex education side of things.
Due to the different enviroment which I clearly did not fit into... Which involved a small core group of classmates who would double up in size by joining another group for half the week and another group for the other half... (I was on a general engineering course, so the first half of the week we joined the electrical group of students for two days, and then we were joined by the agricultural group who were from another college for the mechanical engineering side of the course). The core pupils who stayed with me were at an age were getting drunk and partying were being discovered. I clearly didn't fit in at all. I didn't drink and no way would I ever go to a nightclub, pub or party etc. It just wasn't my scene.
I felt all alone despite their kindness. But by acting thick and saying things to make it seem that I was thick, I found that I could fit in.
I had also been told off at some stage by a lecturer for not making eye contact in class. Iwas very quiet and timid in class, so to be told off made me feel ten times worse then others would feel I guess. So I remember trying to force myself to make eye contact with disasterous results! HAHA! I look back on t now with amusement, but at the time it was just not funny, as what I did to try to make eye contact, was when I spoke to someone I would put my face so close to theirs that my eyes didn't focus, so the eye contact thing wasn't an issue. Oh boy! I freaked some of my classmates out when I did this, so I usually didn't try to talk and went back to being quiet again. (I hardly spoke in school).
The only issue with masking is there comes a point where the cracks start to show. The other problem is that itbtakes such a lot of mental work to maintain... Dont forget, that I had at least two forms of masking to maintain. I was automatically masking to appear as normal, and the acting thick with a hidden sense of humour was a kind of reverse masking on top of that. I had been described as a cross between Mr Bean and Frank Spencer, which was kind of accurate to the type of masking I had maintained. They also called me by my sirname as a type of knick name so my first name was never used... Even by the lecturers, so I felt more protected even though my sirname was not quite so popular as names go.
I had initially been very enthusiastic about the course... But as I could not physically keep up with the dictation notes, and it was all dictation in the college, coupled to the fact that I kept handing my work to the wrong lecturer so would get 0 marks (The lecturers didn't even question why my answers didn't add up to the questions. They would just give me a zero mark. It was due to this when about six to eight months or more had passed when one lecturer came in to speak to another and I suddenly realized there were two of them and not one who used two different names compared to which subject he was teaching... Well. The college was a wierd place... While this was the mechanical side of the course... The electrical side had one lecturer who would cluck like a chicken ad do the actions at random occasions through the lessons, another lecturer who taught two subjects who couldn't speak any English and he was learning English while he was trying to teach (With some amusing results), and still another lecturer who was so peculiar that if one of us passed wind quietly, he would go round from person to person almost smelling us to find out who it was. He would go buzzurk when he found out the victim! Which made nurvous pupils like me need to pass wind even more!)
So my heart just went out of wanting to learn. I was putting in such a concentrated effort to maintain two forms of masking that it was wearing me out, so by the time the end exams were looming, the students I was with had discovered it was all a mask, and I found myself suddenly exposed and vunerable and no place to turn.
I could not mitch lessons or my Dad would have found out and given me a hiding, so I continued, and I became bullied. It was more of the guys humour in playing with my fears... They had discovered some of my fears and were having fun. Except to me it was not fun at all.
Then not long before the exams, we were in a high up classroom which spanned above the road. It was a prefabricated type of 1950's to '60's type of quick build classroom with aspestos sheets painted with a woodwork frame (Hidden metal girders under the floor etc), and a large expanse of windows... And I found myself in a position where the whole class had turned against me. Aroud 24 or 25 students against one of me. The lecturer had nipped out. They were going to try to drag me to the toilets to put my head in the toilet bowl and flush the chain. They had tried this before and six to eight of them could not drag me down the corridor as I put up too much of a struggle. But this time I had the whole class to deal with. One student stood by the door blocking my escape. I quickly went to assess how I could possibly make my escape. The windows were large single pane glass with thin wooden frames. I saw the top of the large tree with its pink blossomed leaves below. I stood on the desk. I had planned a route how I would do the unexpected and run from desk to desk and smash through the window to land in the tree, and climb down. I kept my bicycle below. I would quickly unlock it and make my escape.
So I was standing on the desk (To the puzzlement of the otjers in the class as they had no idea of what I was about to do). I steadied the desk under my feet and was about to try to leap from desk to desk to try to get as much momentum as I can to break through the window... When the lecturer walked back in. He gave me a telling off for standing on the desk and that was me saved.
I only thenappeared for the exams which I failed. I did not care. I couldn't at all be bothered what result I had. I noticed that some of the lecturers were nurvous. It had been a five year course, and then it was three, and we were the first students to complete it as a two year course. The same work squashed into two years. I noticed, the lecturers were turning a blind eye to the students who had their text books out in front of them with the mathematical formulas in them. They were out and out cheating and the lecturers knew it. They were trying to encourage it too!
I totally refused to cheat. It occurred to me that if I cheated and had a job, it was a high qualification where I could have gone straight in to an important position, and I did not want to be responsible for mistakes in thw workplace through not knowing my work. I refused point blank to cheat. I did the exams. Answered the questions as best as I could on the day. I ended up passing 9 out of the 18 units. I was offered to spend another year to pass, but my parents could not afford to do this as at 18 years old, the family allowance benefit stopped (My Dad was not earning much as the council had not given them much of a pay rise since he first started work 20 years earlier), and besides. With my college experiences... I didn't want to know.
I had been spending my lunch times hiding in a bicycle shop where I had found favour by getting the staff member there his lunch while talking and assisting in bicycle repairs... So I ended up working there instead. :)

But I soon discovered that I carried on manually and automatic masking through the various jobs I had, and when I felt that the cracks were appearking in my masking, I would quickly move on to another job, to avoid any bullying.

The college experience has greatly effected me. For ages, I struggled to walk through town. I hated crowded enviroments and was on edge. It was like I was expecting ordinary passers by so suddenly all have their minds connected to each other and turn on me... I never went anywhere without mentally plotting a means of escape. If I had to attenda group of people like at a church gathering, I would be by the door. I would claim a seat and put my thigs on it, and then stand out side and slip in at the last moment, and try to be the first to leave so I could avoid social contact, and avoid having the group think that will turn on me type of event. I did discover that Christians were not like that. But it took me ages before I could trust other people not to turn on me!

Having ones masking exposed is like trying to be in a public gathering stripped naked. One has to run!


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harry12345
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26 Oct 2019, 10:22 am

I got to my 40's before anyone suspected anything.

I think it was because I was always happier on my own. I never tried to socialise any more than I had to. My parents are quite asocial as well and I think that helped hide things. I am sure if I'd been dragged out to social functions and family gatherings every other week it would have been picked up a lot sooner.

Circumstances meant that after lessons at school/college we all went our separate ways. Lunch time I would always go wandering off on my own. My first job I was the only one with a car and the only one who lived out of town.

My second job I was fine if I was left alone, but increasing amounts of noise and interaction took it's toll on me. I think shift-work set the first burnout off, combined with a few unpleasant things to deal with at home. The second burnout happened because I didn't know about the first burnout (i.e. what it was) and didn't recover properly. I left before the third burnout could happen.

Ultimately they were pushing everyone to "improve themselves". Learn more, do more, take more responsibilities, be better. If you wanted a pay rise you had to prove you had done this that and the other, keep records of what you were doing, update a personal development plan.

Gee. I am glad I am out....

@Mountain Goat. I've read a lot of what you've written recently and so much of it rings true with me.



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26 Oct 2019, 10:25 am

harry12345 wrote:
I got to my 40's before anyone suspected anything.

I think it was because I was always happier on my own. I never tried to socialise any more than I had to. My parents are quite asocial as well and I think that helped hide things. I am sure if I'd been dragged out to social functions and family gatherings every other week it would have been picked up a lot sooner.

Circumstances meant that after lessons at school/college we all went our separate ways. Lunch time I would always go wandering off on my own. My first job I was the only one with a car and the only one who lived out of town.

My second job I was fine if I was left alone, but increasing amounts of noise and interaction took it's toll on me. I think shift-work set the first burnout off, combined with a few unpleasant things to deal with at home. The second burnout happened because I didn't know about the first burnout (i.e. what it was) and didn't recover properly. I left before the third burnout could happen.

Ultimately they were pushing everyone to "improve themselves". Learn more, do more, take more responsibilities, be better. If you wanted a pay rise you had to prove you had done this that and the other, keep records of what you were doing, update a personal development plan.

Gee. I am glad I am out....

@Mountain Goat. I've read a lot of what you've written recently and so much of it rings true with me.


Were you ever assessed?


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harry12345
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26 Oct 2019, 10:31 am

Mountain Goat wrote:
harry12345 wrote:
I got to my 40's before anyone suspected anything.

I think it was because I was always happier on my own. I never tried to socialise any more than I had to. My parents are quite asocial as well and I think that helped hide things. I am sure if I'd been dragged out to social functions and family gatherings every other week it would have been picked up a lot sooner.

Circumstances meant that after lessons at school/college we all went our separate ways. Lunch time I would always go wandering off on my own. My first job I was the only one with a car and the only one who lived out of town.

My second job I was fine if I was left alone, but increasing amounts of noise and interaction took it's toll on me. I think shift-work set the first burnout off, combined with a few unpleasant things to deal with at home. The second burnout happened because I didn't know about the first burnout (i.e. what it was) and didn't recover properly. I left before the third burnout could happen.

Ultimately they were pushing everyone to "improve themselves". Learn more, do more, take more responsibilities, be better. If you wanted a pay rise you had to prove you had done this that and the other, keep records of what you were doing, update a personal development plan.

Gee. I am glad I am out....

@Mountain Goat. I've read a lot of what you've written recently and so much of it rings true with me.


Were you ever assessed?


Yes. I was diagnosed a little over three years ago.

I found this on the PC the other day - I saved it from the WWW. It might help. I don't know where I got it from and googling part of it doesn't show anything likely.

Quote:
I tried to think of an analogy for the way a burnt-out autistic person might feel and how the fix works, and the image of a hamster wheel came to mind (this might be because I saw one on TV last night!).
So let’s try this…

An autistic person pushing themselves for too long can feel as if they are trapped on a hamster wheel. They can run at good speed around and around and around. They’ll look as if they are doing well. But at some point they will feel like they really can’t go on any longer, and one of the first things you might notice is that they stop communicating.

A neuro-typical or non-autistic person might de-wheel, eat, have a chat with a friend, have a sleep and get back on again. When they do get back on (even if it’s something they don’t particularly want to do), they’ll feel the benefit of doing something else for a while and will feel re-energised by the socialisation. They’ll look for support from others by distracting themselves with chat.

Not so for an autistic person. Because of the sensation of never-ending movement we will find eating, sleeping and socialising difficult. Lights will seem too bright, noises will scratch away at us, and thinking clearly will become progressively more difficult. We will fear the hamster wheel and want to run away.

There will be an overwhelming and overriding instinct that everything must stop and we must obey our instincts: get away from the noises, away from the lights, away from the people, away from the feeling of going around and around and around.

Of course society tells us we must get back on the hamster wheel – so many of us do, but each time we do, we feel more and more debilitated and less and less able to function. The best thing to do is block out every single other thing in life and concentrate on the one and only thing we are not allowed to stop doing: the wheel. From the outside we look moody and unsociable but physically capable. This is because in order to concentrate on one important thing we have suppressed ourselves.

In my opinion this is where autism looks like depression and where it might, indeed, eventually lead to depression. But I think the significant difference is that it is caused. And there’s an almost formulaic process and reaction: Fighting back tiredness plus coping with sensory stimuli plus dealing with repeated socialising equals burnout.



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26 Oct 2019, 10:55 am

I can relate to the hamster wheel scinario... Then I hit this stage first about 12 years ago, and then again about 8 to 10 years ago... And actually many times since. Every time I tries working I ended up in more and more of a mess. Except with me, due to the way I had strings of multiple partial shutdowns along with needing more and more recovery time between shifts with lack of sleeping etc... That the wheel was going slower and slower until it finally ground to a stop with me being such a gittery mess... I felt that at any time I could have a mental breakdown and took it so seriously that I passed on all my important information to my mother so that if anything did happen, she could tell people on sites like this (Or get one of my brothers to do it).
I feel far too fragile to get back on the wheel.

I very much 100% know all about the "Unloading". I was giving posessions away and selling what I could. Getting rid of everything which may have needed my attention, so I would have less things to think about. I could not cope with things deteriating around me because I wasn't feeling up to either earning money to keep the things working or spending time on them to keep the things working.... Things deteriate if not looked after... They may get damp, go rusty etc...
I have already parted with so much stuff, and I still have things I am thinking of parting with. I also parted with my house to move back in with my Mum. Sold it off cheap at half price as I had left a decent job during the first burnout, so at least the house sale paid off my morgage so I had no bills. It has been such a downward spiral from then on. So in a way I have sacrificed almost everything to try to unload so I have less stress in my life. The less things I have to deal with, the less stress I have.


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26 Oct 2019, 11:09 am

You are learning what you need and how to protect yourself and decrease stress. That's good MG.


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26 Oct 2019, 11:14 am

Teach51 wrote:
You are learning what you need and how to protect yourself and decrease stress. That's good MG.

The problem is that its not working, as yes it reduces stress, but the stress is still... Well.I find myself feeling so fragile that it only takes a small thing and I am effected.


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26 Oct 2019, 6:40 pm

You can hide it if your autism is “mild” enough. When people get into middle age there are certain thing things they not do that they used to(for example stay out all night drinking and go straight to work). When one adds the constant extra effect needed for an autistic to fit into the NT world the slowdown can come hard and fast.


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26 Oct 2019, 6:45 pm

I am "Odd" as I have never gone down the drinking/socializing/partying route as it is the opposite to being me. Being me means I will enjoy quiet walks where no one is there except a close family member. Rainy days are a blessing. A beach to myself!


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27 Oct 2019, 7:38 am

By definition yes, that's what masking is. But is comes at a cost. I didn't realize how much stress it was causing me my whole life till about 5 years ago when I just couldn't do it anymore. After many years of practice, I used to be able to mask 90% of my autistic traits. .. now I can manage about 50%. I doubt that I'll ever be able to reach my previous level if faery. .. but I really don't want to.


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27 Oct 2019, 7:54 am

It is a wierd aake up call. I would have thought I was becoming an extreme mental case by now if I had not found this site and started to make sense of things. I am soo glad that I know what's happening.


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