Support safe unmasking
Lots of autistic people mask their autistic traits to fit in socially, or to keep themselves safe. But masking autistic traits a lot of the time can be really bad for your mental health. Here are some ideas about helping your girl drop her mask, if she feels safe to.
Extract from ‘Autism and Masking – How and why people do it, and the impact it can have’. Dr Felicity Sedgewick, Dr Laura Hull and Helen Ellis - 2022.
"If it is an option that you and your autistic family member are comfortable with, it can be a good idea to tell wider family members about their diagnosis. While some people may not be supportive at first, research shows that disclosure often leads to more acceptance and better attitudes over time.
It can be an opportunity to educate these family members about autism in general and about the specific needs of your autistic child. Preparing other people for what to expect can be just as important in reducing negative interactions as preparing an autistic person to reduce their anxiety. Over time, this could lead to better relationships for the family as a whole, as it reduces awkwardness or reticence when talking about family life.
When they’re just not up to it
Listening to autistic people about what they find difficult and when, and responding to those needs, is central to helping them feel comfortable and able to drop the mask. Even for parents or siblings who know an autistic person really well, it can be difficult sometimes to spot the signs that they are struggling, although you are likely to know these signs better than many other people in their lives.
Reassuring someone that if they are feeling overwhelmed, or need to leave, or change something about the environment, then this is okay, and they can and should tell you so that you can help, can build a track record of them knowing that their experiences will be respected so they can drop the mask.
If you are in a situation that is more difficult for you to change or control (say, out of the house, or in a larger or more formal social situation) then establishing codewords that they can use to let you know that they are finding it difficult can also be useful. Having codewords, using them, and responding actively when they are used again helps build that understanding that you will do what you can to make them comfortable to the best of your ability at the time.
Ways to make your family a safe space to drop the mask
These will differ for every family. Good communication is central (and this does not just have to be verbal – responding to behavioural cues from your autistic family member is also crucial). Building an environment where they know that they are valued for the person they are, that being autistic is not a bad thing, and that they can be proud of their strengths and supported in their difficulties – all of this will make your family feel like a safe and accepting space where the parts of the outside world that are too difficult don’t have to apply.
Doing this can also help to make the outside world easier, as having a secure base to return to at the end of the day makes it easier to cope with the challenges. Similarly, normalising conversatations about why people do things that might be confusing can help build social insight and skills that your autistic family member can then then use in their other interactions. "
Explore more on this site:
More about masking: The Costs of Camouflaging Autism - Spectrum