The struggles of women who mask their autism
And many said they have played so many roles to disguise themselves through the years that they have lost sight of their true identity.
Igelström says some of the women in her study told her that suppressing repetitive movements feels “unhealthy” because the stimming helps them to regulate their emotions, sensory input, or ability to focus. Camouflaging feels unhealthy for Lawrence, too.
She has to spend so much effort to fit in, she says, that she has little physical energy for tasks such as housework, little mental energy for processing her thoughts and interactions, and poor control over her emotions. The combination tips her into a volatile state in which “I am more likely to experience a meltdown or shutdown,” she says.
Lawrence says that if she’d been diagnosed as a child, her mother might have understood her better. She might have also avoided a long history of depression and self-harm.
“One of the main reasons I went down that route was because I knew I was different but didn’t know why—I was bullied quite badly at school,” she says.
The vast majority of women diagnosed later in life say that not knowing early on that they have autism hurt them. In a small 2016 study, Mandy and his colleagues interviewed 14 young women not diagnosed with autism until late adolescence or adulthood.