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Masquerade – The Pitfalls of the Masked Autistic

Written by: Alsie Gray

It was always clear I was different when I was younger, but never why. Call me a little quirky, quiet but won’t stop the chit-chat around the right people, and mostly enjoys keeping to herself type. I had behaviours that stumped your typical teacher but no, it wasn’t autism. She’s just too good to truly be autistic, right??

Girl with face and hands against aquarium glass

Can’t be right.

Cue the lights. It was a trick all along.

Autistic females can be pros at “faking it till we make it” - aka masking. Since girls are often more social creatures, the pressure to find a spot for yourself in the social circles of our community can be strong. Without a space in the social sphere, we have nothing.

I remember getting in trouble for things I had done as a child and noting it for next time. Some behaviours were met with instant disapproval. To my confusion, but you moved on. You cried yourself to sleep that night, adjusted a new mask and set up a new set of white lies to cover yourself with. No one could know. It was an obsessive act of people-pleasing, but I didn’t know anything else. The only other option was living in rejection and embarrassment.

I was a shy girl, but I always seemed to find myself around the classroom. My little set of friends in primary school were usually the social rejects themselves. Girls that cared, girls that I would play silly pretend games with while the smug girls looked on in disgust. But we didn’t care. We had each other and we were having fun. We told them to go away while we continued our fantasies of being leopards living in the jungle. That was all that mattered.


The sad thing is the better I got at seeming normal, the smaller the likelihood of getting a diagnosis became. I was so acquainted with my own mask, my mother’s attempts at getting me diagnosed at the public clinic were met with confusion. “She’s fine, she’s just a little shy.” I could do as I was told and play the right cards in front of adults because I was so afraid of getting in trouble. That was the main thing I seemed to stumble into and I was tired of it.

The cost of taking it any higher was too expensive for my family, so that faded away.

Now, here’s where the problems stand: masking is exhausting. You are constantly trying to read the room and adjust. I would always come from school absolutely shattered. My bedroom was my safe place, at the other end of my family’s home. Peaceful, and full of my favourite things – my books, my bed and my pink mini CD boom box. I could spend hours in it, much to my parents’ dismay.

Through masking, I lost a lot of myself. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that so many of my decisions orientated around how that would look to my peers. I couldn’t just pick a career as a teen because of how it might make me look, and I was always concerned about knowing I would be able to handle it. Anything that broke my mask and revealed my weaknesses was dangerous.

I never cried in public. I couldn’t explain what was wrong because it was always just everything crashing down at once. And to my teachers and fellow students, it seemed out of the blue. We all know now that it was because the world was just becoming too much.


When I turned 20, I finally found out I was autistic, but at a big loss. I was already partway through a Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science, something I was very passionate about. On top of that I was juggling a part-time job at a fast food joint, which also, I was a bit over my head with.

I was fumbling the course entirely. I was absolutely losing my mind, my sense of everything. Adulthood was not proving to be something I could mask my way through, and the cracks in my persona were getting deeper. I’d never gotten myself in this deep and yet I kept pushing because as always, I was sure my stubborn self could make it work.

But no. Not this time.

I went well over my limits, setting off the hugest bought of burnouts and meltdowns I had ever seen. I had to dial back on everything. I quit the course, and cut down my work hours to a couple days a week for “mental health reasons.”

It was the best and worst thing that ever happened to me. It forced me to reconsider everything I knew about myself and everything I wanted from life. My mum confirmed that she’d suspected I was autistic all along, but getting a diagnosis for a little girl in the 2000s was incredibly difficult.

I taught myself self-care, took some time for therapy and taught myself everything I could about Autism. It made sense. It felt like my entire world came together. I started doing things for me and not just for others. My career stayed on the back burner. We could figure that out later.


Be yourself. Take care of you, because only you have the power to do it well. The rat race will do you no favours and ask you for more. The best thing to do is follow what you want out of life.

And take down that mask every now and then.


Written by: Alsie Gray

Alsie Gray is a 24-year-old from New Zealand. She writes about Life, Society, Mental well-being and Autism. She hopes to inspire and make people think. You can read more of Alsie’s writing here.


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