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AceofPens
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01 Apr 2019, 10:05 am

Often while reading about "female autism" I've come across this term, but I don't quite understand what it means. As far as I can tell, it suggests that some autistics can function normally, but their competence is "faked." But I can't comprehend how this could be - how can a person employ skills that don't exist? If a person has impaired social skills, they have impaired social skills...so if they can still function in a social setting to a typical standard, where does that ability come from if not social competence? I don't see any overlap of skills that could enable a person to make up for clinical impairments to the point that they do not significantly affect one's function.

On the other hand, I understand that competence in one area might make people think that they are equally capable in all other areas, but this still wouldn't cover up the impairments themselves, it would only distract from them on a superficial level. Masking, in the contexts that I've seen, seems to mean that functional impairments are actually absent, but neurological impairments affecting those functions are present to a significant (i.e. diagnosable/clinical) degree.

To be concise, I would like to know:

a) What is masking? How do you define it within the context of autism?

b) If functional impairments are absent in masked sufferers, how are neurological impairments evident in their behavior/abilities? In other words, how are neurological impairments measured if they do not affect performance?

c) Does masking occur in other neurological disorders (ADHD, learning disorders, etc.), especially among females?

(Keep in mind that the above is a discussion of "masking" as it relates to autism at Levels 1-3. Autism, being a spectrum, extends beyond the diagnostic criteria to include unimpaired individuals with notable traits [often referred to as BAP]. I'm only interested in "masking" as it applies to those who have clinical autism - Autism Spectrum Disorder, or autism traits to the extent of being functionally impaired.)


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jimmy m
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01 Apr 2019, 10:10 am

Some people are very good at mirroring the actions of others. They psychoanalyze every encounter and observe how others react to certain situations and they model their lives by wearing a mirrored mask.

For example, you are in elementary school and with a group of your classmates. One of the children tells a joke. You do not get the point of the joke, and you do not find the joke funny. But the other children laugh, so you mirror their reactions and laugh at the joke.



Last edited by jimmy m on 01 Apr 2019, 10:16 am, edited 2 times in total.

kraftiekortie
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01 Apr 2019, 10:13 am

Both male and female people on the Spectrum "mask."

Basically, "masking' is the attempt to put on a "normal" presentation (i.e., no stimming, engaging in "small talk") when they are around people they perceive as being "normal/neurotypical."

They are "putting on an act," rather than "being themselves."



magz
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01 Apr 2019, 11:06 am

I can speak as someone who expiriences it.
My social life have developed mostly around observation, analysys, forming strategies and acting. After 30 years of this, I am capable of going through virtually any social situation, given I have enough power.
What is the difference between this and "normality"? Cost. My social life goes through my frontal lobe. In NTs it doesn't. I think Tony Atwood compared it to solving Math problems all day, every day. It makes you exhausted.
Another problem caused by excessive masking, in this thread: viewtopic.php?t=374747 you can see it is a shared expirience, is losing one's ability to expirience (and thus adress) their own emotions and identity. In long run, it leads to burnouts and mental health issues.

As for your last question - I have a friend who masks her dyslexia. With a concious effort, she can write correctly, but it makes her exhausted.


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AceofPens
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01 Apr 2019, 7:05 pm

Isn't social mirroring itself necessarily the result of social skills, though? Even simply being able to glean social information from observation is a significant social skill - it's picking up on cues. And their proper application is another separate skill - also a significant one. If social skills were simply a matter of knowing the rules, after all, they would be easier to acquire and apply. I know that some things are taboo to talk about because I've been told so, but that doesn't stop me from talking about them in the moment - my factual understanding of social rules, the result of observation and instruction, does not improve the quality of my interactions because I lack the skills to fluently translate them into practice. There is a disconnect between theory and application involved in social impairments, not necessarily an absence of knowledge.

I can understand the ability to analyze, comprehend, and form an appropriate response to social information as a conscious, deliberate process (I even think most HFAs are capable of it at some speed), but it's the fluency involved in masking that confuses me. Even if you're using a deliberate and analytical process, you still have to keep up with the NTs to socialize properly, which means you have to be at their level of social fluency in order to interact well. In light of this, I do not see the difference between NT social skills and masking skills, unless it is merely that it takes more effort, but even then I am confused. It can't simply be that masking autistics are trying harder. Rather, there must be abilities they have that are lacking in others - and again, I'm back to my initial problem: masking must be based on social ability, but it's also supposed to cover up social inability. It seems contradictory to me, but perhaps I'm just looking for a clearer definition.

@jimmy m's example: most interactions are more complex than that, though. Even I know to smile politely if I don't understand a joke (as an adult, anyway). It's not enough to get by in life.


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01 Apr 2019, 7:19 pm

It's one level up from acting. I tend to look at an act or behavior, its result, and its relationship to other behaviors. For example, looking to the side and closing someone's eyes VERY slightly can mean one thing, and the recipient and that individuals relationship to the first means another. It adds together like a formula. It often takes a lot of effort but does seem to have a noticeable impact on (at least) the quantity of my relationships. I then copy that behavior in a similar environment but I make it more subtle, because the chance I am employing it incorrectly is somewhat higher than in another person.

Most people can employ these behaviors and they are neurologically able to pick up on them without having to pay excess attention to them, and as a result do not become exhausted. However, having to consciously present a curtailed version of yourself exhausts you and that's when someone with an ASD might go into social isolation, and all their social ties are ruined after a while with no contact.

Masking is like mimicking behavior after having spent some time trying to learn why it happens and how to utilize it so someone doesn't turn everyone else away.



eilishbillie987
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01 Apr 2019, 9:18 pm

its like ur gay and closeted .



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01 Apr 2019, 10:40 pm

I think maybe a good comparison would be "improv" in acting. You have to come up with your lines, body language, etc. in the moment by thinking about what the normal response would be for your character.

For a autistic person who is able to mask (and good at it), their character is who they want the world to see them as...so for instance, a typical woman. A social interaction might go like this (from her perspective, in her head).

"Janet is walking toward me. Hmmm, I should say hello and smile. Remember to sound happy and smile with my eyes crinkled while looking at her face! Okay. She is slowing down. Going to stop and talk to me. Listen to what she says. She said "how are you?" The appropriate response is "fine, and you?" And she is older and southern, so I should ask about her family. She liked it when Joyce did that last week at church. All the old ladies seem to like that, as long as they have family. Beatrice does not, but this is Janet. Ok, great, she is smiling and talking about her grandkids. Don't forget to look at her face! But look away for a glance every few seconds so it isn't staring!! Alright, still talking about grandkids. Probably my turn to say something. Sounding impressed by their achievements is a safe bet. Got to do "enthusiastic voice" and smile some more while I say "wow, you must be so proud!" Okay. I am over this small talk thing. Running out of ideas and energy. No, don't flap hands in public. Twirl hair instead. Time to use an excuse to move on....how about needing to find my husband? That usually works. Ok, let's do that. Make sure to smile and say "so good talking to you, see you next week!" Whew, done. I think that was ok. Now I just need to get out of here before...Aw, crap. Joyce just saw me."

So from my understanding, a neurotypical person just talks. Those body language cues just happen, and the social rules are learned more naturally too, and at an early age, so they come as second nature as well. And most of them actually WANT to do all that small talk.

I personally feel kind of in the middle...I do consciously think about my body language and facial expressions a decent bit, but knowing what to say is usually pretty easy....it's almost always variations on the same stuff anyway. And I am pretty good and identifying facial expressions.

So I'd say masking is basically like improv acting, but in your real life. And if you've done it long enough and from a young enough age, sometimes you aren't sure how you'd normally behave if you WEREN'T following all the little rules and patterns you've learned over the years. Which can lead to depression and anxiety, because normal life feels so exhausting, and you aren't sure why or what to do about it. (Especially true if you aren't diagnosed, which many "master maskers" are not, especially if female.)

One of the theories for why fewer females are diagnosed is that the female autistic brain is better at picking up on social behavioral patterns, facial expressions, etc, than most males. So female autistic people, especially high-functioning, learn to mask at a very young age and may not realize that what they are doing isn't what everyone does. Some copy specific people - they may idolize a popular girl at school or a character on tv - and model behavior and mannerisms off that person. Others pick up ideas from multiple sources.

I hope that helps a bit? Masking does involve some social skill in that you need to be able to learn about social behaviors and mimic them, but it's not the same as the innate way a neurotypical person just naturally does all of it. For a masking person, it is largely a conscious thought process/complex set of behavioral rules they implement. It isn't them expressing themself naturally.


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02 Apr 2019, 12:02 am

To mask is to decipher what's right for the situation and to present yourself accordingly. I wear a mask every time I spend time with my parents, so that my mum doesn't disown me again.


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02 Apr 2019, 12:22 am

AceofPens wrote:

I can understand the ability to analyze, comprehend, and form an appropriate response to social information as a conscious, deliberate process (I even think most HFAs are capable of it at some speed), but it's the fluency involved in masking that confuses me. Even if you're using a deliberate and analytical process, you still have to keep up with the NTs to socialize properly, which means you have to be at their level of social fluency in order to interact well. In light of this, I do not see the difference between NT social skills and masking skills, unless it is merely that it takes more effort, but even then I am confused.


I think there's an assumption that we mask our autism well. In my personal experience, I can never disguise myself into a socially adept person. I can try to tame mannerisms that aren't considered acceptable, and try to appear engaged or friendly. What I cannot do is engage normally outside of a very simplistic and rote way.



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02 Apr 2019, 12:37 am

I believe masking is something everyone does to some extent, for example when someone is at work they “wear” their professional mask. I think the biggest difference for people who are masking ASD is it is much more difficult and not as natural as reading emotions and understanding social cues can be much more difficult. I tend to mask in public and I feel like I am approaching social situations from a logical perspective and less from an emotional or friendly one. The extent to which I feel like I have to hide my real self becomes very tiring and I now feel it is difficult for me to make meaningful connections with other people. People really only get to know one side of who I am and I behave in a way I think they would take to, eventually I will say or do something that will express my true self. When some of my ASD traits show or I am expressing another side of my personality or interests I am either a) ridiculed or cirticized for it or b) nobody believes me and whatever I said or expressed is ignored.

I do believe taking part in masking too much can have negative consequences on mental health. I now find it difficult to know who my true is self is at times and using the mask can bring down my moods. I have also read books and artcles that talk about the negative consequences of masking and trying too hard too fit in. It can cause disassociation and depression in some people and it is very mentally tiring. It’s kind of like acting in a very long unscripted play, but it’s your life.

I have learned that having a space where I can be myself is important. I decorate my room a certain way, dress the way I want at home, indulge in my special interests, and seek out friends who like me for who I am. I am also learning how to explain to people the “weird” things I do such as shaking my hands in away that is true to myself but doesn’t disclose my ASD. For example, I may say “sorry I’m a bit restless which is why I am moving around so much” doing this reminds me nobody is perfect and the focus on my actions is gone.

I think when people are in their teens or early 20s the pressure to fit in with a peer group, impress teachers, etc...is strong and they try hard to impress. This leads to behaving a certain a way to gain a certain status or obtain friendships within a particular group. I believe males and females do this, however I do believe their has always been more pressure on girls to be “perfect”, polite, and socially acceptable. I would say say girls probably try harder to fit in, especially those with a neurological difference such as ADHD or ASD. I have read books and articles and it seems females try harder to mask their true selves and are more likely to suffer from anxiety due to social pressures. Since most depictions of people with neurological disorders is often male, especially in terms of ASD, I think a lot females with neurological differences on some level have become accustomed to masking in their daily lives.

If your interested the book “Pretending to be Normal” covers the topic of masking autism from a female perspective.



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02 Apr 2019, 1:09 am

So I really don't enjoy shopping. When I was little I would protest, go limp, bite, or run away to avoid going into stores. Now that I live independently, well, I have to go shop or I'd never eat. So I had to just get used to sucking it up and doing what must be done. After years of "sucking it up" I thought I had gotten over whatever issue I had as a kid. I thought it didn't bother me anymore to go shopping... until the day I got a real-time blood pressure monitor. My doctor pointed out that my blood pressure goes crazy whenever I go into a store. It's almost medically concerning it's so high. It turns out I didn't stop freaking out at all. I just got used to being in a state of panic. I got used to telling people (even myself) that I'm okay even though I'm not. It's not the same as being okay. Sometimes faking is just faking.

I believe that is one example of masking.


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magz
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02 Apr 2019, 3:23 am

Fern wrote:
So I really don't enjoy shopping. When I was little I would protest, go limp, bite, or run away to avoid going into stores. Now that I live independently, well, I have to go shop or I'd never eat. So I had to just get used to sucking it up and doing what must be done. After years of "sucking it up" I thought I had gotten over whatever issue I had as a kid. I thought it didn't bother me anymore to go shopping... until the day I got a real-time blood pressure monitor. My doctor pointed out that my blood pressure goes crazy whenever I go into a store. It's almost medically concerning it's so high. It turns out I didn't stop freaking out at all. I just got used to being in a state of panic. I got used to telling people (even myself) that I'm okay even though I'm not. It's not the same as being okay. Sometimes faking is just faking.

I believe that is one example of masking.

This is a very good description of how it works.


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magz
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02 Apr 2019, 3:45 am

AceofPens wrote:
Isn't social mirroring itself necessarily the result of social skills, though? Even simply being able to glean social information from observation is a significant social skill - it's picking up on cues. And their proper application is another separate skill - also a significant one. If social skills were simply a matter of knowing the rules, after all, they would be easier to acquire and apply. I know that some things are taboo to talk about because I've been told so, but that doesn't stop me from talking about them in the moment - my factual understanding of social rules, the result of observation and instruction, does not improve the quality of my interactions because I lack the skills to fluently translate them into practice. There is a disconnect between theory and application involved in social impairments, not necessarily an absence of knowledge.
I'm only now realizing most other adults' self-control is nowhere near mine. Training, probably. But maybe also genes or something.

AceofPens wrote:
I can understand the ability to analyze, comprehend, and form an appropriate response to social information as a conscious, deliberate process (I even think most HFAs are capable of it at some speed), but it's the fluency involved in masking that confuses me. Even if you're using a deliberate and analytical process, you still have to keep up with the NTs to socialize properly, which means you have to be at their level of social fluency in order to interact well.
How to tell it... you use your CPU to make up for lack of GPU. With a powerful CPU you can emulate a GPU well enough to use it for basic tasks - but never expect to play the newest video game on it.
You socialize well enough to pass through typical situations. Does not mean you avoid all mistnderstandings and wrong moves. You apologize for them and they hopefully get forgot but the stress remains.

AceofPens wrote:
In light of this, I do not see the difference between NT social skills and masking skills, unless it is merely that it takes more effort, but even then I am confused. It can't simply be that masking autistics are trying harder. Rather, there must be abilities they have that are lacking in others - and again, I'm back to my initial problem: masking must be based on social ability, but it's also supposed to cover up social inability. It seems contradictory to me, but perhaps I'm just looking for a clearer definition.
There are definitely abilities others often lack. Enormous self control. Focus on identifiable social signals (like a deaf person can learn to read lips if they look at someone speaking). High efficiency in processing information. I employ my pattern thinking but I believe it's not the only way one can do it. And great motivation to put all the effort into it and to suffer in silence.


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eilishbillie987
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02 Apr 2019, 4:32 am

PoseyBuster88 wrote:

For a autistic person who is able to mask (and good at it), their character is who they want the world to see them as...so for instance, a typical woman. A social interaction might go like this (from her perspective, in her head).

"Janet is walking toward me. Hmmm, I should say hello and smile. Remember to sound happy and smile with my eyes crinkled while looking at her face! Okay. She is slowing down. Going to stop and talk to me. Listen to what she says. She said "how are you?" The appropriate response is "fine, and you?" And she is older and southern, so I should ask about her family. She liked it when Joyce did that last week at church. All the old ladies seem to like that, as long as they have family. Beatrice does not, but this is Janet. Ok, great, she is smiling and talking about her grandkids. Don't forget to look at her face! But look away for a glance every few seconds so it isn't staring!! Alright, still talking about grandkids. Probably my turn to say something. Sounding impressed by their achievements is a safe bet. Got to do "enthusiastic voice" and smile some more while I say "wow, you must be so proud!" Okay. I am over this small talk thing. Running out of ideas and energy. No, don't flap hands in public. Twirl hair instead. Time to use an excuse to move on....how about needing to find my husband? That usually works. Ok, let's do that. Make sure to smile and say "so good talking to you, see you next week!" Whew, done. I think that was ok. Now I just need to get out of here before...Aw, crap. Joyce just saw me.".


yup ..