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Sunday, Jul. 05, 2020 - 11:44 a.m.

Since I have free time, thought I’d write about masking a little bit. The subject has come up on my FB wall lately. A couple very thoughtful parents of autistic children, who are the furthest thing from Autism Moms, have still said, yes but....and given some examples of situations where their kids’ natural habits infringe on other people’s own autonomy or sensory issues. Society won’t bend for them. They may even be in grave danger as they grow older if they can’t mask sometimes. And certainly we have these issues in our house. You don’t get to teach autistic kids they can do whatever they want and that accommodation means everyone has to put up with it all the time. What is masking, then, and what is reasonable accommodation? What are reasonable accommodations that autistics should make for neurotypicals?

And I’m here in this environment where I have to mask SO MUCH. So I’m gonna think about it a bit. Admittedly I don’t have the raw unusualness of a child autistic. My issues are not those of a 7 year old. Maturing means learning to mask to some degree, doesn’t it? But still.

I don’t want to converse. I would prefer to be alone. Being alone as much as I would like to be will lead people I care about to think that I don’t care about them. Simply explaining that I do care about them but prefer not to be around them much is too hard for them to understand. Caring is embodied in actions, interactions. Not an attitudinal state. It’s true if someone said they cared about me but never wanted to be around me, I would have questions. Of course it’s not never. It’s “when I want to”. No one questions a cat for doing this.

The conversing. I am not interested. I have to pretend to be interested. For long periods of time, over and over, and on someone else’s schedule, according to their whims and their needs for socialization. Pretending to be interested is hard because I have to actively remember not to stare off at the wall, to nod, make appropriate facial expressions, to try to think of things to say.

This is a thing that happens to many people. Everyone has been bored by someone’s conversation at some point. Often regularly.

I think a difference is the amount of effort involved in maintaining the conversation. Most people don’t have to pay conscious attention to their facial expressions at all times.

And the types of conversation that I find difficult to engage in are things many others would find normal and enjoyable. I have a narrower range of topics I genuinely enjoy.

Also I get the sense that for most people, the blame is squarely on the other person. That person is a bore, that person won’t shut up. When you’re a masked autistic, you’ve learned that the problem is YOU. Because you might recognize that this is a thing people do, this conversation is expected and is supposed to be normal and enjoyable and maybe the person talking to you is well liked and a competent conversationalist, but instead you are struggling and miserable, hyper aware of your discomfort and effort. YOU are not supposed to be feeling this way, you are supposed to be relaxed and enjoying this person’s company. Instead you are a ball of pent up energy, fighting the desire to flee, to just get up and leave. You know you’re not supposed to do that. You know it will hurt their feelings or leave them disliking you. They’re following the rules, you are not, or maybe you are trying and maybe you’re doing it well but it’s a constant struggle when you’ve been lead to believe it should not be. The longer it goes on, the harder it gets, the louder the volume on these feelings.

For me, sometimes I’m reduced to tears from the effort. And it just keeps happening. According to someone else’s whims and sensibilities. It wears on you, the effort, the sense that there’s something wrong with you.

The sense that there’s something wrong with YOU— that’s what’s been instilled from day one, when you’ve been chastised for walking away, for visibly losing attention, for “daydreaming”, told you should spend less time alone, told you should make more friends, “didn’t you enjoy...?” or passive aggressive “I bet you wish I would shut up” or “are you listening?!”. Death by a thousand cuts.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to say, “I don’t want to talk any more” and leave? And not have it taken as an insult? It would. Can people say this to me when I’m talking? Absolutely. My fellow autistics do exactly this and it’s totally cool. We understand one another.

It seems like it should be so easy.

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