Neurodivergent individuals, whose neurological development and functioning differ from what is considered typical or normal, face difficulties in explaining their challenges to neurotypicals. Unfortunately, the word “neurodivergent” is not a common term, and only now are schools beginning to teach it, if at all. Conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, or Tourette’s syndrome are examples of neurodivergent conditions. These are conditions, not illnesses.
One of the main challenges neurodivergents face is that neurotypicals struggle to understand their experiences. Neurotypicals may find it hard to empathize with neurodivergents because they don’t experience the same challenges. This lack of understanding can lead to exclusion, discrimination, and stigma. However, it’s crucial for neurotypicals to understand neurodivergents to make the future a more inclusive society. By recognizing and accommodating neurodivergent individuals, we can create a world where everyone can thrive.
Late-diagnosed neurodivergent individuals, particularly those with autism, may struggle with long-term effects due to a phenomenon known as autistic masking. Autistic masking is when an individual with autism learns to hide their autistic traits in order to fit in with a neurotypical society. This can lead to a range of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Late diagnosis can also mean that individuals miss out on early interventions and support, which can have a significant impact on their development and quality of life.
It’s important for society to recognize and support neurodivergent individuals, regardless of their age or diagnosis, to ensure that they have the best possible chance of living fulfilling and happy lives. Neurodivergents with lived experience can provide valuable insights into what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to accommodations and support. By involving neurodivergents in the development and implementation of services and treatments, we can ensure that they are tailored to the needs of the community they are meant to serve. This can lead to more effective and inclusive services that benefit everyone.
Understanding autistic masking in adults is in its early stages of learning its full effects on someone’s mental health. While research has shown that masking can lead to a range of mental health conditions, there is still much to learn about the long-term effects of masking on individuals with autism. It’s important for researchers and healthcare professionals to continue studying this phenomenon to better understand its impact and develop effective interventions and support for those who have experienced it. By recognizing and addressing the challenges of autistic masking, we can better support neurodivergent individuals and improve their overall well-being.
Here are some challenges and difficulties that autistic masking can come with –
1. Exhaustion and Burnout: Autistic masking can be mentally and physically exhausting, leading to burnout. For example, an autistic person may force themselves to make eye contact, mentally rehearsed conversations, suppress their stims, and mimicking neurotypical behavior for extended periods of time, which can be mentally draining.
2. Social Isolation: Masking can make it difficult for autistic individuals to connect with others and form meaningful relationships. For example, an autistic person may struggle to express their true thoughts and feelings, leading to misunderstandings and a lack of social support. However, this can also have the opposite effect and the autistic Individual can be overly verbal which can lead to social awkwardness.
3. Anxiety and Depression: Masking can also contribute to anxiety and depression, as autistic individuals may feel like they are constantly pretending to be someone they’re not. For example, autistic people may feel like they have to hide their true selves in order to fit in, which can lead to feelings of loneliness and despair.
4. Difficulty Advocating for Themselves: Masking can make it challenging for autistic individuals to advocate for their needs and rights. For example, an autistic person may struggle to communicate their sensory sensitivities or other challenges, leading to misunderstandings and a lack of accommodations.
5. Imposter Syndrome: Masking can also contribute to imposter syndrome, as autistic individuals may feel like they are constantly pretending to be someone they’re not. For example, autistic people may feel like they are not truly “autistic enough” because they are able to mask their symptoms in certain situations.
6. Sensory Overload: Firstly, masking can involve suppressing or hiding sensory sensitivities, which can make it more difficult for autistic people to manage their sensory input. For example, an autistic person may force themselves to tolerate a loud environment or bright lights in order to fit in, even if it causes them discomfort or pain. This can lead to a buildup of sensory input that can eventually become overwhelming and lead to sensory overload. Additionally, masking can be mentally and physically exhausting, which can make it more difficult for an autistic person to cope with sensory overload. If an autistic person is already experiencing burnout from masking, they may have less energy to manage their sensory input, which can make sensory overload even more challenging to deal with. Overall, masking can make it more difficult for autistic individuals to manage their sensory sensitivities, which can contribute to feelings of overwhelm and burnout.
Autistic masking can also lead to PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) because it involves suppressing one’s true self and constantly pretending to be someone they’re not. This can be a traumatic experience for some individuals, especially if they have faced negative consequences for being their authentic selves in the past. The constant pressure to mask can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and burnout, which can further exacerbate the risk of developing PTSD. Additionally, if an autistic person has experienced bullying, discrimination, or other forms of trauma, masking can serve as a coping mechanism to avoid further harm. However, this can also lead to a cycle of trauma and avoidance that can contribute to the development of PTSD.
Neurodivergent individuals are more likely to experience discrimination and stigma. A survey by the National Autistic Society found that 28% of autistic people have been asked to leave a public place due to behavior associated with their condition, and 70% of autistic people feel socially isolated.
Through personal experience and research, I know that neurodivergent individuals face significant challenges in explaining their experiences to neurotypicals, and it’s crucial for society to recognize and support them. I feel it is vital to include neurodivergents in the development and implementation of services and treatments, we can then ensure that they are tailored to the needs of the community they are meant to serve. A lot more research is needed to better understand the long-term effects of autistic masking and develop effective interventions and support for those who experience it.
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