*This started out as a freelance piece I was commissioned that was rejected; a few changes have been made since. *
One of the hashtags that has been dominating my Twitter feed this week is #TakeTheMaskOff. One of the hallmarks of Autism is “Masking”. It’s kind of like taking on a hypotetical mask, that of what would be called ‘normal’, in order to ‘fit in’. This can be physically draining at times, as it surpresses hallmarks of the condition.
The hashtag is designed to give Autistic people on Twitter a platform to talk about masking, while educating neurotypical people about what masking is, why autistic people do it, and the impact of not being able to mask.
As someone on the Autism spectrum, ‘Masking’ has been one of my key hallmarks. Some research has also suggested that it’s more prominent in girls, making Autism harder to diagnose. (It was even mentioned on The High Low podcast recently.) When a classmate found out I am Autistic, she did not believe me: “Really Lydia? You’re Autistic? No!” That scenario has been replicated over and over, with people thinking I am “normal”.
Initially, I had a problem with #TakeTheMaskOff. Masking is incredibly hard to stop-and it often makes me feel terrible when I attempt to stop.
When asked how he came to co-found the hashtag, and what was the idea behind it, Kieran Rose said: “We shouldn’t need to so totally suppress who we are, to the point where late-diagnosed people literally fall to pieces after diagnosis, because they realise much of their life has been spent holding themselves in; where Autistic children can’t cope in school because the environment is like torture, so they end up burning out and self-harming or committing suicide; where Autistic people can’t get jobs, or get pushed out of jobs because they disclose that they are Autistic. All of this is now being back(ed) up by research.”
The response to the hashtag seems positive on the whole, with the occassional dissenting opinion.
@JonSM99 wonders whether it does more harm or good, whilst others describe it as a good idea, as well as being informative. @HJ_Ellis tweeted “I think it’s an interesting concept but it puts a lot of pressure on those of us who have integrated our mask so deeply into our work lives that relaxing it is incredibly stressful. My mask doesn’t get “taken off” it falls off through sheer tiredness or it shatters on meltdown.”
Kieran Rose notes these concerns, though, adding that it’s important to know that stopping maskingf is not safe for some people; the hashtag is just to encourage discussion.
@adrianalwhite says “I love it. I’ve been using it myself. I’ve also been impressed by the diversity of perspectives the movement has inspired. We’ve had people of color, parents of #autistic adults, and neurodiversity critics sharing their views on autism and masking, and it’s been very informative!”
Dan Jones, an autistic Youtuber and best selling author, had the best response perhaps:
“As mentioned by @KieranRose7 it isn’t an instruction, but it does read like one when in isolation from any context. It’s important that people are aware of masking & of masks slipping. (1/2)
(2/2) It’s irritating when people say ‘you don’t look autistic’ & you think ‘you’ve no idea what is going on behind the scenes and how much hard work this takes to hold it all together and process the world etc…”
Personally, I think it’s a brilliant hashtag, and it goes towards building a platform for #ActuallyAutistic people to feel safe. While there may be a problem with the actual hashtag and being interpreted literally, this could be rectified by sharing campaign material more widely.
But then again, it’s already a success. With a reach of over 100,000 accounts on Twitter, #TakeTheMaskOff has reached people as far as Brazil, Hong Kong and Australia. To find out more, visit Kieran’s website.