The Price Of Autistic Invisibility
The invisibility of Autism in adults is such that many don’t even recognise it in themselves until their 30s, 40s and beyond. It took me until I was 48. Until then, it simply didn’t occur to me that being Autistic could be the explanation for the vast and disparate collection of challenges I faced in my life. Learning about the lived experience of Autistic writers and advocates and many Autistic people in online forums broke through the stereotypes and allowed me to see myself.
In all our diversity, one thing that seems to unite late-diagnosed Autistic people is a profound sense of being different to those around us without knowing why we are different. In the absence of an alternative, we have shoehorned our way into lives that appear ordinary, often with conventional markers of success — jobs, qualifications, property ownership, relationships and children. We learn to perform our best versions of normality despite feeling that it is going against the grain and forever doubting if we are pulling it off.
But we’re not coping so much as giving the external impression that we are.
While many of us may be seen as quirky, awkward or just a bit odd, for the most part, masking enables us to blend in with the crowd. So much has been written about masking from so many different perspectives that it is difficult to sum it up in a neat definition. I see it as a process of contorting my way of being to fit into a world built on neurotypical ways of being. For much of my life this process has been unconscious, driven by the need to fit in and get on with the business of being normal.
Our invisibility both serves us and imprisons us. Masking is considered a “coping mechanism”; a set of tools that facilitates access to opportunities, achievement and acceptance. Having the resources to mask is a privilege that not all Autistic people have. But we’re not coping so much as giving the external impression that we are. The better we are at pretending to be like everyone else, the greater the gulf we need to bridge when we try to explain why so many things are harder for us.
Narratives around disability are grounded in…