I’ve discussed the concept of ‘masking’ before, this is when a person with autism camouflages their autistic traits in order to attempt to fit into a world, which is predominantly neurotypical. Most high-functioning autistic people have done this at some point or another and many continue to do so, depending upon the circumstances and the environment. Some people fail to identify my autism, because I am both high-functioning and able to mask some aspects of my condition; to others, it’s blatantly obvious. I will state, at this point, that I am very open about my condition and it’s an area I not only enjoy writing about, but discovering more about how it affects both myself and others on the spectrum.
Should we be forced into hiding in, or as I prefer to think of it, ‘hiding in plain sight’? That’s a tricky question. In many situations, the world dictates that we all hide aspects of our personalities.
We are expected to conduct ourselves in an accepted manner in much of life, especially in adulthood. For example, I really don’t like wearing a tie and yet, I have worked in various environments in which a tie is considered the norm. Occasionally, I will make attempts to challenge this norm, but doing something like wearing a cravat or an open collared shirt; I have struggled with the concept of ‘MUFTI’ or ‘dress down’ days. My interpretation of a dress down day is not, generally speaking, a polo shirt and chinos; hell, I don’t own a pair of chinos, nor do I want to. This has lead to discussions about not wearing a Sisters of Mercy T-Shirt and jeans for dress down Friday, when I worked in an office. I responded by either digging in my heels and ultimately, wearing a suit and not wearing a tie.
Attempting to fit in, without a set of rules is frankly difficult, at least for me. If I’m given rules or guidelines, I’m generally pretty good at following them.
From a legal perspective, there is protection in place to help and protect autistic people, including making reasonable allowances and adaptions within the workplace and so on. However, many os us work in very similar fields, there seems to be a lot of people on the spectrum in the education, I.T. and artistic sectors from my knowledge and I suspect that a lot of professional athletes are on the spectrum. Maybe these areas allow us to still exhibit autistic traits, such as a high level of focus and attention to details and still excel in the workplace.
It can, however, be exhausting. A working day, or one spent in study or even recreation, around others can be hard work. Human interaction comes with a myriad of complexities, potential pitfalls and hidden agendas. The difference is that the NT person is more likely to be able to pick up on the subtexts, whilst we, the autistic community, haven’t a clue: we generally take things at face value. Which means that we spend time an energy trying to read subtext or we simply bumble around.
If anyone is looking for definitive answers to this issue, I’m not able to give them. It is my personal opinion, however, that in being open and honest with people and asking questions and for guidance, it can be easier. That and a lot of patience, tolerance and understanding from those around us. Giving people knowledge is empowering, for them and you. We shouldn’t have to hide. We’re not social lepers, we’re just using a different way to get on the same journey.