“I’m not weird!” You stammer. “I’m normal! Look! I go to great lengths to make sure my tastes, expressions and behaviors fall within one-point-five standard deviations of normal across at least 23 different dimensions (32 at work, 67 around my extended family)!”
Masking is the practice of performing a neurotypical identity. ND people mask for a variety of reasons, but most of them aren’t awesome. Generally the story is we get bullied by our peers and punished by our carergivers until we learn to present as “normal”.
Some of us “Get It” right away and build rich, complex masks from childhood. We learn to put on our “normal” face, and sometimes we spent years or decades wearing it without even realizing that there is something under it.
Others of us never quite get the hang of it and can’t mask our neurodivergence at all. We get bullied as kids and quietly accept a second-tier life as adults where we’ll never quite be taken as seriously as other people.
Most ND people probably fall somewhere in the middle, but no studies have been done on this to my knowledge. The people who I really want to reach most are those who have been masking their whole lives and who as a result may not even realize that they’re different.
That life has its advantages over unmasked neurodivergence, but it comes with its own challenges.
Either way, the suicide rate is about 7x the normal population among autistic people, and we often die young due to heart failure due to stress. Our life expectancy is about 59 on average. There’s plenty of good reason to think that this ghastly figure will improve as the neurodiversity movement grows and more of us learn to accept ourselves earlier in life — but it’s pretty grim right now, and a lot of that is because many of us are undiagnosed and masking our way through life.