My daughter knew how to fit in from a very young age. This is one of the many amazing things my daughter can do. I can talk positive about all of this now because I have so much information and my daughter can now communicate a lot of her feelings. Also, we see a very amazing autism team at our local children’s hospital. But trust me; up until this year things were still extremely hard to understand, and very overwhelming for my daughter and our family.
So what is social masking? Social masking is where a person, like my high functioning autistic daughter, can “act” and make themselves fit in. It is not forced, and looks very natural. Which is the goal. Girls are amazing at observing and seeing how people act in a social setting. My daughter knew there were expectations, socially, so she would watch and observe what others did, and she did that too. This is why she was so successful in daycare. She took on the role of a teacher. This is what she also did in school, however, when the school friends turned a certain age they did not appreciate Bailey’s leadership qualities.
My daughter would mask herself whenever she had a play date, out with a family member she wasn’t close with, or social functions. I would be extremely nervous if my daughter was going somewhere without me just because her behavior was so unpredictable. However, I only received amazing compliments when she would return home. She knew how she was suppose to “act” while she was out of the home, and she did it. But it took a lot out of her. This was extremely confusing at the time, and this is where a lot of negative comments about my parenting would come in. I heard, “She acts perfect with me.” Meaning… I must let her get away with everything because she was great when out. I couldn’t have possibly done anymore with my daughter, I didn’t know why this was the case, it just was. I didn’t have answers for people. And I knew I was being judged. Either I would hear it directly from someone, or hear that there was talk about my parenting.
Social masking took everything out of my daughter. I know this now. But for 6 years, my daughter used social masking as a way to have friends and fit in- do the “normal” things kids do. But it was confusing to others when she would be wild at home and calm out of the home. When my daughter was finished with a play date, or came home from school-it was a nightmare. Looking back, knowing what I know now… it is so heartbreaking how hard she had to work to fit in. She would have migraines after playing with friends or being in school; come home and explode. She had to hold herself together for so many hours during the day. She would still experience sensory issues, people were extremely hard on her, all of this she had to keep inside until she got home. To her safe place. At home, she could explode. She knew her parents would love her no matter what. She is a social masking pro now, and she is getting really good at controlling her emotions. She learned to do a lot on her own because she was not diagnosed until age 8. It amazing me how smart and resilient my daughter is. I think things are challenging for me, as her mother, (which they are), but I can’t even begin to imagine how she feels on the inside. She once told me it felt like there was a storm inside of her (before she was diagnosed). I feel like that is an amazing description because when she explodes- it is one of the most terrifying, draining experiences I have ever had. I couldn’t even begin to comprehend what all of that would feel like, holding it all in when gone from home. My daughter is the strongest person I know.