Today, we begin our series on autism and trauma. After talking with my neurodiverse clients and fellow therapists, who happen to be experts in trauma, I felt it was necessary to write about autism and trauma. Today, I will talk about trauma and masking.
There is a strong correlation between autism and trauma. In fact, research indicates that trauma can actually make ASD symptoms more challenging to live with. For example, if an individual with autism experiences trauma and bullying growing up, they are likely to have social anxiety and become easily overstimulated in social situations. This, in turn, can cause autism meltdowns, anxiety, and depression.
What is Masking and what is its relation to autism and trauma?
Masking and camouflaging are terms used to describe neurodiverse individuals who seek to hide or minimize their autism traits to fit in with the neurotypical world. Individuals with autism, especially ones who have a history of trauma, frequently feel they need to mask their ASD traits in order to fit in. It helps them feel safe from further acts of aggression or misunderstandings. In several situations, masking can actually help an individual with high-functioning autism be successful. For example, masking can help a high-functioning adult with ASD get a job, date, deal with family members, or make new friends. But, in the end, masking and hiding your true self can really take a toll on someone with autism.
The need to mask your autism may be caused by the trauma you have experienced.
Ultimately, masking or camouflage means hiding who you are in order to fit in. When you experience trauma and/or rejection for being who you truly are, it’s common to think you need to hide these traits to survive. After all, bad things have happened when you didn’t. But, over time, this act of self-preservation leads you to doubt. It causes you to doubt your self-worth and question whether you are “good enough” or worthy of affection.
Being forced to hide who you are and having to figure out if it is safe to be yourself in a given setting is exhausting. Furthermore, this hypervigilance can be extremely anxiety-provoking and lead to a great deal of self-doubt. Social situations, especially new social situations, can be extremely stressful. If you’re struggling with social anxiety, you may simply find it easier to avoid social situations altogether. But, this causes isolation and loneliness.
Masking leads to anxiety, depression, and loneliness
After years of masking, you may often feel like you are broken or not good enough. It’s almost like you’re an alien who is stuck with humans that are unpredictable and make no sense a lot of the time. This alone is traumatic. Just walking out your door and engaging in everyday life can feel like entering a war zone. Rather than physical harm, you are dealing with emotional harm. You don’t know if you’ll be treated well or negatively misperceived, disrespected, rejected, or abused.
There are many different types of trauma, but how it impacts someone with autism is profound
People with autism experience trauma from a variety of situations. For example, they may experience name-calling, bullying, being taken advantage of, feeling isolated and rejected, and being invalidated by family or friends. These are just a few specific situations that are traumatic. But, the reality is that just a simple social interaction with a neurotypical can be traumatic when you’re on the autism spectrum. It can trigger feelings of not being good enough, stupid, or worthless. Over time, this trauma may cause you to feel hopeless, numb, and have negative thoughts about yourself, other people, and the world.
Being autistic in a neurotypical world can feel like being an actor on a stage without a script. Everyone else knows what’s going on and what to do or say, but you do not. You work hard to come up with a script for every situation. But, no matter how hard you try, sometimes you still get it wrong. Unfortunately, when you get it wrong, there can be dire consequences. You might lose your only friend, you might be bullied, or lose out on a promotion. You could be misinterpreted or judged negatively. People might assume you have bad intentions or are not very nice. This can really hurt your feelings because you are not at all the person they perceive you to be. To be chronically misunderstood and misjudged is traumatic.
The effects of experiencing trauma when on the autism spectrum are often long-lasting.
I’ve had clients talk about how they try so hard to learn and follow social rules and fit in. But, just when they think things are going well with someone, something goes wrong. Their love interest or friend ends up ghosting them.
This can be traumatic. When this happens, they can become fixated on why it ended. They spend a lot of time trying to figure out what they did wrong, second-guessing themselves, and trying to figure out how they can fix it. They ruminate and get stuck in this loop. It becomes all they can think about, and this makes it hard to function. They doubt themselves, criticize themselves, and feel horrible inside. A part of them might even feel hopeless because no matter how hard they try, social interactions can go poorly. Or, they lose hope in developing future meaningful relationships after experiencing such trauma and exerting so much emotional energy on figuring out what went wrong.
Autism Therapy for Trauma
Ultimately, if you’ve experienced trauma and feel you need to mask your ASD, that’s a sign you would benefit from autism therapy services if you’re not already receiving them. Individual autism therapy and autism group therapy or social skills groups can be very beneficial in coping with past trauma and learning useful skills to move forward in your life. At Open Doors Therapy in California, we have a team of skilled autism therapists who are experts in navigating the complexities of living life with neurodiversity. Right now, we’re offering all our autism therapy services online to California residents. This makes it even easier to get support because you don’t have to leave the comfort of your own home!
Begin autism therapy in California:
We offer a variety of autism therapy services at our autism therapy clinic to help neurodiverse individuals and their families thrive. We can help you cope with the effect trauma has had on your life so you no longer feel like you have to mask your awesome and unique personality and your neurodiversity. To begin autism therapy in California, please follow these steps:
- Contact us for a free 30-minute phone consultation using this link. You will meet with one of our autism therapists.
- Like us on Facebook. On our page, we post useful information about our autism therapy clinic.
- Sign up to receive our newsletter.
Autism Therapy Services offered at Open Doors Therapy:
Our autism therapy clinic located in the South Bay Area serves teens and adults on the autism spectrum. We help high functioning individuals who identify as having Aspergers, high functioning autism, undiagnosed autism traits, and their families.
Right now, we are providing all our autism counseling services online. Our autism therapists offer a variety of autism services including individual counseling for autistic teens and adults, parent counseling, and group therapy. Also, we run several different social skills groups for neurodiverse working professionals, college students with autistic traits, gifted youth & caregivers, autistic adults, women who identify as neurodiverse, a summer social skills college transition training program for youth transitioning to college, teens & caregivers, and a mothers group. Contact our autism therapy office for more information on our services or to schedule a consultation.