Accommodations ADHD Adulting Autism Neurodiversity

Neurodivergent masking: What is it, why we do it, and unorthodox advice on how to cope.

neurodivergent masking

Neurodivergent masking is a term that refers to the way in which people who are neurodivergent may hide their symptoms in order to fit in with society. It’s something that most, if not all, neurodivergents are intimately familiar with after years of being told that they are so different from the norm even though both neurotypical and neurodivergent people are all part of neurodiversity. For myself, as a late diagnosed ADHDer (and self-diagnosed autistic), I realized that there is so much that I have learned through analysing all the ways that the majority would act and how I differed. And through this data collection (because it is data collection), I then did my best imitations in the hopes that I’d stop being treated as “abnormal”. Even though there is a high likelihood that other neurodivergents were within the majority that I was witnessing, because they were also trying to conform the best way they knew how (read: mask).

It wasn’t until I started going through skills regression that comes with unmasking (which will be in a different blog) that I realised how many of my behaviors were masking behaviors–including the behaviors that I’d primarily reach for to deal with burnout. It became even more clear that masking itself was important to discuss because it can help us understand why some people seem fine on the outside but are struggling in ways that are not so obvious since the world is created around neurotypical behaviors. It can also help us better understand how we might be inadvertently asking someone to mask to make us feel more comfortable.

Defining Neurodivergent Masking

Neurodivergent masking is the act of hiding one’s traits that are a part of their neurodivergence in order to fit into society. This can be done for a variety of reasons, but it is often a way for neurominorities to avoid discrimination and stigma. While there are many ways that an individual might choose to mask their condition, there are some commonalities among them:

Impact of Neurodivergent Masking on Mental Health

Masking is a double-edged sword. As Beth has succinctly stated, on the one hand, it is linked various detrimental effects like

But on the other, the consequences of unmasking can make it feel even more impossible for neurodivergents to choose to be themselves. Unmasking can cause us to be denied permanent residency in ‘progressive countries’, like Australia and New Zealand, or to incur draconian and inhumane treatment. Further, neurodivergents of color are disproportionately affected. In fact, as we’ve recently seen, the consequences of unmasking are disproportionately deadly for Black autistic people.

Dealing with Neurodivergent Masking

It’s hard to write about how you “should/could” deal with masking when it’s a survival technique that neurodivergents employ to make it to tomorrow in a world that prioritizes and privileges neurotypical people. Really, the responsibility of “dealing with masking” should be for neurotypical people to learn how neuroconformity hurts all of us—because even neurotypical people cannot sustainably exist within neurotypical standards on a consistent basis without shame-induced behaviors.

And, since there are so many detrimental effects to unmasking, I can’t suggest that you unmask when it is clear that a lot of times it isn’t safe to do so.

Instead, I’m going to encourage you to:

  • Seek support from friends and family you trust when you need to unpack the daily harm that you navigate
  • Practice self-care whenever and wherever you can. Need to stim but it’s not safe to do so? Find a place where you feel safe enough to do so. Need to be left alone for a few hours after a long day just to decompress? Put up a sign saying ‘do not disturb until (insert time here if you rely on someone caring for you)’ and be alone to your heart’s content.
  • If you feel safe to educate neurotypical people who may or may not be your friends about the harmful effects of masking, definitely do so and let them know that they also have a responsibility to make this world a safer place.
  • Find and connect with other neurodivergents who accept you for who you are so you can have safe spaces to be yourself. No neurodivergent person is the same as the next, so this doesn’t mean that you might not butt heads with another neurodivergent person. But, by finding community that is actively working on creating safer spaces for each other, it might help you to feel nourished, seen, and whole.
  • Finally, accept your own self. It’s not always safe out there, and it can get really hard not to internalize ableism. But, the world is already an unsafe place for us—we don’t need to be unsafe to ourselves too. Challenge that inner critic that is just reinforcing neurotypical norms wherever possible. And if you need extra support or guidance (beyond loved ones and your community), consider hiring a coach or seeking therapy if it is financially accessible.


Neurodivergent masking is a serious problem that affects many neurodivergent people. We do it for survival, we do it in the hopes that we’ll be understood, and for a whole host of other reasons. Our masking can vary from our vocal intonations to the way we write, and everything in between. While it’s also unsafe to unmask, we can at least find ways to cope with having to mask—and remind neurotypicals that they, too, have a responsibility to ensure that this world is a safer place for neurominorities.

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