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What is masking in ASD, and why is it important?

I had a frustrating experience this week, and so i thought..... I can't be the only one, right?

I completed an assessment with a young boy who, on the face of it, would strike you as a quiet, emotionally intelligent, aware and industrious young person...... Great.

Except it wasn't. not for him.

His awareness of issues beyond his immediate world (the energy crisis, the cost of living etc) on top of normal developmental transitions, challenged all of his needs for certainty and predictability; they created an anxiety so acute that he regularly engaged in habits and rituals that he believed would prevent bad things from happening. Something we would call Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

He'd already done some great work on his OCD, and come to realise that the habits and rituals weren't stopping things, they were just taking his time and energy and arguably increasing his anxiety. So he stopped. But his anxiety is still there.

When we talked more, we realised together that it's been there for some time; that he regularly looked to create systems and organisations in his life to make things more predictable, and this calmed him. That whilst socially acceptable, his love of sports had given him an almost encyclopaedic knowledge that he revelled in and that set him apart from his peers. That although he loved having friends, he became quickly overwhelmed in group conversations, crowded places, and anywhere else that he struggled to make sense of.

Now just reading this, you would think that there are clearly some Autistic traits here. Except to see him at school, unless you know that ASD exists on a spectrum and that masking is real, you could just see him as a sensitive, introverted boy. This is a problem. If schools fail to recognise how young people can mask autism, we run the risk of ensuring that people have the support to access the curriculum and continue to gain a sense of achievement, rather than not being able to demonstrate how well they know a topic, just because the marking scheme is looking for a set, simple answer. We run the risk of insisting that young people are always outside with others at breaks, rather than respecting their need to reduce the sensory stimulation for a while. We run the risk of damaging someone's self-esteem because they think there's something wrong with them, just because their brain works in a different way

Have you experienced this? Talk to us..........

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