Masking, funny old concept really, a concept where people are known for ‘holding it together’ to fit in, in environments that they’re uncomfortable in.
As a neurodivergent adult, I still mask, with one of the biggest places I mask, being the school playground when collecting my youngest. The irony of this is next level, as the playground is where I probably learnt the biggest need to mask as a child too.
Masking is a skill learnt by many, to fit in, not stand out, please others, and appear ‘normal’ what ever that is.
Although masking can have its advantages such as making others happy with you, and fitting in, there are also huge disadvantages such as exhaustion, low confidence and low self esteem and emotional distress.
Adult or child, if you’re masking all day, there is a high probability of emotional collapse when in your safe space, and that’s exactly what happened today for my youngest.
She is on the pathway for an autism and adhd assessment, we’ve seen the signs since a toddler, nursery staff noticed some symptoms, as did her foundation class teacher, but generally speaking she does ok, with anxiety being her biggest hurdle. This was until she started year one in September, this is when reality struck, her behaviour changed, she stopped being able to sleep, her anxiety increased, she became even more rigid and she levelled up her masking ability in school.
Levelling up her masking ability in school, resulted in the levelling up of her after school booms too.
I collected her after nightowls this evening, not even an hour ago, she came out bouncy, and what looked to be a great mood, but I quickly noticed that she couldn’t stop talking the entire way home (10m walk) sign number 1. As we walked in the front door I saw her face, the wired eyes sign number 2, then she spotted the pot of Halloween sweets and asked for a spider sweet, I said no as dinner is ready but she could have one after……..
………BOOM that was it, 15 minutes of pure self destruction, the living room got it, the sofa got it, I got it! Nothing was going to calm her, It was one of those days where I just needed to let her release all that tension and emotional energy that she has been holding onto today.
Eventually she allowed me close enough, we cuddled on her terms and blocked out other sensory input by closing our eyes and wearing ear defenders.
To an outsider, she looked like she was having a massive tantrum over not being allowed a sweet before dinner. If I wasn’t well versed in this from my work but more so from my second born who was the king of Afterschool booms, I probably would have thought she was being a spoilt madam too.
But I knew the sweet was just the final thing she could deal with today.
We had a lovely dinner and she was allowed her spider sweet after BUT guess what, she didn’t even want it after all that, however post pudding of choice, we sat down and drew a volcano together, we placed ‘not being allowed a spider sweet’ at the top of it and then worked out what had been heating up her volcano today.
She is just 5 years old, we haven’t done the volcano exercise before, but she got it, she understood it, and shared with me some of things that were ‘to hot to handle’ today and heated her lava.
no punishment, no shame, just a tool to help with understanding why she feels these big emotions at times and how we can cool down the lava so she doesn’t have to feel these big emotions so deeply any more.
Why am I sharing this? Because I want you to know, you’re not alone. I want you to know that I get it. I want you to know there is no judgement here.