Authenticity in Translation from Flanagan Leadership Group at

Authenticity in Translation: The Role of Masking in Neurodivergent Communication

One common characteristic of people on the autism spectrum is masking. According to Dr. Hannah Belcher’s article on the National Autistic Society website, masking can involve suppressing behaviors such as stimming or intense interests that others may find “weird.” It can also mean mimicking the behavior of others and developing social scripts to navigate social situations. Although it is natural to want to fit in with social groups, for autistic people, this can take them far off the path of “just being ourselves”. In fact, many autistic individuals may not be consciously aware of their masking behaviors, making them feel like they are pretending to be someone they are not.

Recently, I read a Facebook discussion about the unpleasant feelings triggered by the conscious realization of one’s masking behaviors. One member of the group had just been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and was learning about masking for the first time. For autistic individuals, the internal incongruity of masking behaviors can feel like conscious deceit, making them feel like they are lying. Discordant emotional states can be far more excruciating than physical pain, and feeling like they are being dishonest can be especially unbearable. However, masking their true nature still feels necessary for life to flow smoothly. So how do autistic individuals reconcile this internal conflict?

Although my inkling that I might be autistic is a recent development, I have always known that I was “weird.” Throughout grade school, my classmates frequently told me, “You’re weird.” However, they offered no helpful insights beyond that. I struggled my whole life to figure out social rules, but I eventually learned enough to “fake it”. In my 30s, I did some personal growth work around discovering my core values. Authentic self-expression was important to me, but so too was purposeful action, compassion, and being of service to others. I modified my core value of authentic self-expression to purposeful self-expression, discovering that my core value to be of service to others outranked being fully myself in every moment.

Related: What is Neurodiversity?

Authenticity in Translation from Flanagan Leadership Group at

Coming from a desire to be of service to others protects me from all manner of anxiety. When I first started teaching workshops and doing public speaking, I was nervous and uncomfortable. I hyper-focused on getting every thought out and making sure I said every bullet point on my notes. However, their energy was being focused not on my brilliant messages but on how awkward my presentation was. After studying audience responses to other presenters, I realized that the importance of ensuring the audience felt comfortable and didn’t feel pity was above the importance of saying everything I planned on saying. I placed the importance of ensuring the audience felt comfortable and didn’t feel pity above the importance of saying everything I planned on saying. To this day, when I present, I remind myself to be relaxed so I can make sure I don’t cause discomfort or draw sympathetic responses to my inside vulnerability. I act relaxed for them. I am not relaxed. I fake it because no one is harmed by my masking, and the greater good is served by my sharing my gifts in a way that doesn’t distract the focus of my audience. People often comment about how confident I am as a speaker. On these occasions, I quite transparently tell them, “Oh no. Not at all. I am very nervous inside when I speak. I have just learned that my nervousness is distracting, so I pretend not to be nervous for my audience.”

Related: Reunion Grief and ADHD

Perhaps “masking” is not the correct word to describe this sort of modulated expression. It’s not that I am being inauthentic or deceitful. Instead, I am using a filter, a translator of sorts. To give a metaphor, I don’t speak Spanish very well. My true tongue is English. When my family lived in La Paz, Mexico, I tried to use Spanish as much as possible so that I could be understood. Using Spanish was not a lie, but rather an adaptation that made everyone’s lives easier. Similarly, I choose to communicate with neurotypical people in a filtered way that is most effective for them to understand.

I am not being deceitful; quite the opposite. My behavior is driven by my core values of service and compassion. My heart’s desire is to communicate in a way that helps others feel comfortable and leads to a purposeful understanding of my ideas and wishes. This modulation allows me to connect with others and give them a gift of authentic communication.

Like speaking a foreign language, this communication style can be exhausting, and it’s important to take ample breaks to preserve inner sanity. However, communicating in a way that allows others to connect is a gift that we can give authentically.

Related: 4 Ways to Embrace Neurodiversity in the Workplace

In conclusion, the filtered communication style that some autistic individuals use should not be seen as masking or being inauthentic. Instead, it’s a way of adapting to the needs of others while still staying true to oneself. By understanding and accepting different communication styles, we can create a more compassionate and understanding society for all.


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