I’m reading through Devon Price’s Unmasking Autism: The Power of Embracing Our Hidden Neurodiversity. I haven’t got very far. I’m stuck on page 14, which is the last page of the introduction.
There’s this table, right. And you have to fill in five moments from your life when you felt you were FULLY ALIVE (all caps appear in the original lest you want to yell at me for shouting). Fortunately Devon tells us that this task might take weeks, which is handy because I am indeed taking weeks over it. So far I’ve got two, neither of which I feel comfortable sharing on a public blog.
Which is weird, because I can tell you right now that the entirety of my primary school class would guess the first moment and the entirety of my secondary school year would guess the second moment. So it’s not like my happiest memories are unknown to other people. I’ve just kind of squashed everything down, all my feelings and thoughts and emotions about the things that give me most joy – which is what the book is about. How autistic people mask themselves by making themselves smaller and quieter to be more socially acceptable and then forget how to be themselves or even if they do remember they are afraid to admit their personal values, their hopes and dreams and aspirations out loud for fear of what others might do or say.
To a certain extent everyone masks. The way someone behaves at work or meeting the Queen is not the way they behave at home when no one is watching. The issue for autistics is not with showing other people politeness and respect but with turning ourselves into bland shells of the people we used to be. And that’s hugely damaging to our self-esteem. We deny parts of ourselves in the hope of being liked and accepted (and dare I say loved) and because we’re not being our fullest, quirkiest selves we stop being authentic. And then when we are rejected by others is that because we seemed inauthentic to them, or because they didn’t like the toned-down version of ourselves that we let them see? Would they have liked us more if we had just been ourselves? But of course, we started masking for a reason. Because other people let it be known that they didn’t accept our autistic selves and that we needed to be more like them, more neurotypical.