Tag Archives: Clothing

#TakeTheMaskOff: What Is Masking?

Today, rather late, I found out about the #TakeTheMaskOff campaign designed to promote autism acceptance and awareness of the effects of masking. I really want to participate, so even though it’s incredibly hot here, I’m writing a post.

The campaign consists of six consecutive weekly themes about which participants blog, vlog or post on other social media. The first weekly theme is “What is masking?”

Masking, put simply, is pretending to be something you’re not. This can be done either consciously or uncnsciously. Many autistic adults have learned to mask so well it’s almost second nature. We’re also encouraged to mask on a daily basis when people judge us about being autistic. Then when we mask successfully, we’re told we don’t look autistic.

For example, I’m often told that I don’t appear autistic. After all, when I hold a conversation, I appear pretty “normal”. I am told I can hold down a reciprocal conversation that doesn’t sound stereotyped or like I’m scripting. I ask people about their interests, for example. Now that it’s been extremely hot here for a few weeks already, I have even mastered some smalltalk about the weather.

This obviously (to me) does not mean I’m not autistic. Autism, despite what many people think, is not about social niceties. Autism is not the same as a lack of interest in others. Besides, I have 32 years of experience being told how selfish I am for not appearing to show an interest in others. So instead of showing a genuine interest in the people and topics I’m genuinely interested in, I learned to appear to be interested in whatever and whoever I am supposed to be interested in. In other words, I learned to mask my autistic curiosity.

For example, I was eleven when my mother told me I might be institutionalized if I didn’t become more age-appropriate. My having too many toys and dolls, according to her, contributed to my challenging behavior and I was to get rid of them. Instead, I was supposed to develop an interest in music. I wasn’t all that sophisticated at the time, so rather then developing a genuine-appearing interest in music, I hung Backstreet Boys posters on my wall.

Similarly, I was encouraged to wear jeans rather than sweatpants even though jeans were a sensory nightmare to me. It was assumed that I wore sweatpants because I didn’t care about my appearance – which is partlty true – or because I, being blind, didn’t know that my peers were wearing jeans.

Masking can become so internalized, apparently natural, that you no longer notice you’re doing it. For instance, I wear jeans without a problem now.

It is easy to assume that, because the autistic person no longer notices that they’re masking, it must not be affecting them. This often leads to the assumption that, if someone doesn’t appear autistic and isn’t acting out, they must not be autistic after all. Then people go on to assume that, if said neurotypical-appearing person does act out, it must be “manipulativeness”.

I am, however, definitely masking when I wear jeans, or listen to my husband’s favorite radio station in the car, or engage in smalltalk about the weather or someone’s upcoming vacation. It isn’t always a negative thing, but it is still masking.

Teaching Your Autistic Teen About Hygiene

Many autistic people have trouble with self-help skills, like clothing and personal hygiene. I hear on many autism parent blogs that their child cannot bruth their teeth independnently, is incontinent at an age where accidents are no longer normal, etc. These are obvious self-help difficulties, but there are many more subtle problems with hygiene that even many more capable adult swith autism deal with.

First, many autistics are unaware of the social rules of hygiene. I remember my sister gave me deodorant for my fourteenth birthday and I still didn’t get the hint. I didn’t have an aversion to grooming as much as I was unaware of the changing rules that came with puberty. Similarly, I remember going to the school doctor at age fifteen and, when being asked to undress, realizing I’d forgotten to put on a bra. It is important, when teaching autistic children and teens about hygiene, to explicitly talk them through the changing norms that come as your child ages. Just because your teen boy knows how to work a shaving tool, doesn’t mean he knows or remembers when to use it.

Another problem in self-care may be an autistic person’s sensory aversion to certain tastes or textures, such as that of certain clothing, shampoo or toothpaste. With regard to clothing, comfort goes before style. It’s okay to tell your child that children aged twelve don’t usually wear sweat pants, but don’t ridicule them or try to force them to wear jeans if they’re uncofmortable. If your child is bullied, that’s not their fault even if you as the parent too see them as an easy target. Don’t make it worse by blaming yoru child.

Whn it comes to hygiene, sometimes comfort has to go. I for one refused to use toothpaste until I was eighteen, because even the kids’ toothpaste had too sharp a taste for me to cope with. I started usign toothpaste only because having the dentist need to fill seven cavities was worse. A few years ago, I again developed a problem with toothbrushing that I still haven’t gotten over.

Lastly, this may seem a bit TMI, but please do teach your autistic preteen girl about menstruation. It can be a very scary experience having your body change in general, and menstruation is overwhelmign to many NT women. Therefore, it’s logical that it causes great distress to many autistic teens. Preparing your teen for what will come can be done using simulation, such as with red wine on a pad. That’s what some kids in my sister’s class did when doing a presentation on puberty. Again, remind your daughter to take pads with her at all times. If menstruation is too overwhelming, your teen girl may consider birth control. Most birth control pills cause lighter, shorter, more regular and less painful periods, while some birth control methods eliminate periods completely.