Masking - Nevaeh's Experience
Nevaeh, Autism Unlimited’s Young Ambassador, is a very talented singer and songwriter who rose to fame after accompanying X Factor star Sam Bailey on tour. She is also autistic, which makes her feel unique – and masking has always been a big part of her life.
She describes masking as ‘an everyday norm’ which she practises every single day at school as a way to avoid being judged for her differences. It’s an attempt to blend in with the crowd instead of standing out.
She said: “It’s like a natural thing for me, I don’t do it on purpose, it’s kind of like I’ve always done it.”
Masking can become an automatic response, which means individuals may mask without even realising that they are doing it.
Nevaeh looks to her surroundings or friends and copies their mannerisms, including the way they stand and speak, to present in a similar way and meet neurotypical norms.
She added: “It’s kind of like I’ve put like an actual mask on, I’m pretending I’m called somewhere else, it’s like at school and then at home, like I’m someone, not completely different, but not the same.”
Many young people will wear a mask and suppress certain behaviours at school, and then drop the mask when home. They may feel safer at home and more comfortable expressing their anxieties in a place where there aren’t the same social demands and expectations.
She continued: “I feel like at home I don’t mask because I’m in a safe environment. It’s a place where I can be myself. Nobody’s judgemental.”
After being perceived as different and struggling with bullying in Junior School, the need to conceal her traits intensified. She felt like she had to hide who she was to fit in with her peers, pretending to be someone else entirely.
Schools can be challenging settings, with their own set of social expectations. Autistic students may mask their differences to avoid bullying and judgement – concealing parts of their personality and interests.
Masking may offer a sense of security, but is draining and takes a great toll on self-esteem. It becomes more difficult when other students at school don’t see how exhausting it is, which can be isolating and add to the stress.
On a positive note, the SEN support from her school has been nothing short of amazing. The understanding from some of the teachers has made such a difference to her experience, nurturing an environment where she can open up and make her needs known.
Creating supportive spaces where autistic people can be themselves without the fear of negativity is an important way to improve wellbeing and reduce the need to mask. Accepting people as they are and with their differences means neurodivergent individuals can feel more comfortable in their identity.
Nevaeh concluded by saying: “I just believe that everyone should be treated the same no matter what.”