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When I Realized My Daughter on the Spectrum May Mask How She's Feeling


My daughter was diagnosed with autism when she was 9 years old. I’ve learned the way my daughter acts and the way she is feeling do not always match. She can be extremely good at hiding and concealing how she is feeling in public, often, I presume, in order to fit in.

Prior to my daughter’s diagnosis, I read many articles about girls on the spectrum masking their difficulties. In reading these articles, I could understand masking as a concept, but I didn’t really understand what it must be like for someone to continually hide how they feel.

I remember when I got my first glimpse of my daughter’s ability to mask. It was during an examination by the pediatrician when she was 9 years old. It was the first time I consciously witnessed my daughter clearly feeling differently from how she presented.

My daughter sat in the pediatrician’s room looking calm and compliant. The pediatrician lifted a stethoscope to her chest to give her an overall medical exam. As soon as she listened to my daughter’s heart rate for a couple of seconds, the pediatrician pulled her stethoscope away saying, “It’s OK. This is something used to listen to your heart. There is nothing to be afraid of.”

My daughter’s heart rate was elevated, but when asked how she was feeling, she replied with her stock response, “I’m fine.” What seemed unusual at the time was my daughter did look absolutely fine. If it wasn’t for her heart rate being taken, I would never have known she was experiencing anxiety.

This experience taught me so much about my daughter. It taught me she can be amazing at hiding her anxiety, and secondly, I cannot always trust her stock response of “I’m fine.” It led me to learn that sometimes her behavior may be coded and I have to look a little deeper in order to see how she is truly feeling.

Today, we grow and learn together. I can still see my daughter pretending to be OK when she isn’t feeling well. But we now work on ways to express our emotions together, and we talk about why it is important to let other people know when we are not feeling OK.

I think everyone can mask their true feelings on occasion, but for it to be part of your day to day must be exhausting. I know my daughter may find it difficult to express how she is feeling. But I hope with time, practice and support, she will be able to express herself to those she trusts and ask for help when she needs it.

Image via Thinkstock.

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