Removing the "mask" as a neurodivergent woman
[Note: Although I use gender-specific language in this post, the content also applies to people who are assigned female at birth (AFAB) and those who identify as LGBTQ2IA+. The intersectionality of gender/sexuality and neurodiversity adds extra complexity that will be the topic of my next blog post.]
Imagine having to pretend you're someone that you're not all day, everyday to try to fit in. Or working so hard to not seem different or weird. It would be exhausting, right?! Some of you know this struggle well. It's such a common experience that there's a name for it - masking. It happens often for Autistics and is quite common for ADHDers as well, especially women.
Women in general are socialized to be quiet, nice, go unnoticed, and to put others' needs above our own. From a young age, it's impressed on girls that socialization with other girls is important, and there are a lot of unspoken rules of how this socialization is supposed to happen. If this doesn't come naturally to you, you have to work really hard to try to fit into this world. Girls and women are 3-4 times as likely to mask or camouflage their autistic or ADHD traits. It's also more common for girls and women to develop "socially appropriate" special interests, which can go unnoticed.
Here are some more stats for you: it's estimated that 50-75% of girls and women with ADHD are undiagnosed and only 20% of autistic women received a childhood diagnosis. Women, particularly mothers, are the fastest growing population to be diagnosed. Why mothers? Because their kids are being diagnosed and they are seeing the signs in themselves. For many women, receiving an adult diagnosis can be life-changing, providing validation and a name that encompasses things they might have struggled with throughout their lives.
However, just having a name for what you're experiencing unfortunately doesn't allow you to just throw away that mask you've been wearing your whole life! It can take time to re-learn your natural tendencies and feel comfortable being your true self. This is a process we call unmasking, and it can be very emotionally draining. Accepting and embracing your identity as a neurodivergent woman is a vulnerable process but can also be so empowering, especially if you are parenting neurodivergent kids and you want to be the role model for them that you feel you never had. If you're looking for support in this process, please reach out. I'd love to guide you through unmasking and re-discovering your identity.
Curious about whether you have been masking? Take the CAT-Q here: The Camouflaging Autistic Traits Questionnaire (CAT-Q) | Embrace Autism (embrace-autism.com)