Book Review: Unmasking Autism

Book cover: Unmasking Autism by Devon Price

Unmasking Autism by Dr. Devon Price explores masked autism, which the author describes as any presentation of autism that isn’t consistent with stereotypes or the standard idea of autism in most diagnostic tools, as well as “any Autistic person whose suffering wasn’t taken seriously for reasons of class, race, gender, age, lack of access to health care, or the presence of other conditions.” The author is a transgender autistic person and a social psychologist.

The author writes that he firmly supports self-determination (a term he prefers to self-diagnosis), adding that “self-definition is a means of reclaiming our power from the medical establishment.” I liked this, especially given how much of a production it is for adults to get an autism assessment. He capitalizes Autistic when referring to the cultural group, in the same way that Deaf is capitalized to refer to a cultural community.

The author explains some of the differences between autistic and neurotypical brains. He writes about the “typical” idea of autism and how many people don’t fit that stereotype (including, for example, extraverted autistics). He also explores the female autism stereotype, which isn’t actually limited to females at all, as well as the experiences of transgender, nonbinary, black, and brown autistic people. There’s a discussion about conditions that commonly co-occur with autism and conditions that autistic people are frequently misdiagnosed with, like autistic females being misdiagnosed with cluster B personality disorders like borderline PD.

The book explores why people mask, how people learn what to mask, and what kinds of masking strategies people may use. Masking is described as “a complex system of behaviors, performances, and even life decisions. It follows then that unmasking Autism goes a lot further than just lowering our inhibitions. It means rethinking the entire shape of our lives.” The author likens being a masked autistic person to being in the closet about being gay or transgender. The chapter devoted to the costs of masking includes a discussion of common problematic coping strategies people may use to manage in a world that’s not designed for them, such as alcohol/drug abuse, disordered eating, dissociation, and fawning.

While the first half of the book looks at the masks that autistic people wear, the second half is devoted to how to unmask and build an autistic life and autistic relationships. The author writes, “Refusing to perform neurotypicality is a revolutionary act of disability justice. It’s also a radical act of self-love.” There’s a discussion of things to consider with regards to self-disclosure, and the author recommends various online self-advocacy spaces.

The book talks about the importance of special interests in well-being, and identifies geeky subcultures and fandoms as spaces that tend to draw a lot of neurodivergent people. Ideas are provided for divergent-friendly design to accommodate people’s sensory sensitivities.

The author offers ideas for creating a more neurodiverse-friendly world, including expanding legal protections for disabled people, broadening cultural norms, expanded public and professional education on neurodiversity, and universal health care and basic income. He writes, “By reworking society to make it more flexible and accommodating of difference, we can improve the mental and physical health of all people. In this way, unmasking is a political goal.” He also points out the harm done to autistic people by applied behavioural analysis (ABA), an approach that attempts to suppress autistic behaviours like stimming.

The book explores the difference between a medical and social model of disability, with the latter identifying society as the source of the problem rather than the individual with the disability. “A world that allows all Autistics to safely unmask is a world where anyone with strange interests, passionate emotions, environmental sensitivities, social quirks, or other differences is still seen as worthy and whole.”

I found this book to be really effective at creating a nuanced picture of autism. I think it would make a really interesting read both for autistic people and for friends/family members of autistics. I liked that it was written by someone who is actually autistic, and proud to be autistic, at that. The book includes lots of practical tips to support autistic folks in functioning in a world that wasn’t designed for them. I suspect that readers who are somewhat reticent about unmasking will feel better about doing so after reading this book. Overall, I was really impressed.

Unmasking Autism is available on Amazon (affiliate link). You can find the author on Medium.

I received a reviewer copy from the publisher through Netgalley.

You can find my other reviews on the MH@H book review index or on Goodreads.

21 thoughts on “Book Review: Unmasking Autism”

  1. Isn’t this stuff interesting?? The whole picture and shift that the Neurodiversity movement offers us in mental health is a fantastic direction for us to take in treatment with folx. Even conditions like OCD, ADHD, Tourette’s, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Trauma, and all sorts of other conditions are included under this umbrella. My point of view is that we all have some sort of Neurodivergence that makes us unique. If anything, Neurodiversity has opened up the conversation of mental health and shown that we still have quite a bit of work to do! I’m glad you liked the book, Ashley 🙂

  2. Thank you for this Ashley! I’ll have to check it out. My youngest is autistic and I’m looking for ways to better understand her. I also work with a number of autistic folk, so again this looks like it’ll be really useful.

  3. Great review! I’ll add this to my reading list for sure. I didn’t know women were commonly misdiagnosed with personality disorders, and agree the notion of self-definition is better.
    I’m not sure if I’m autistic. I *get* a lot of people with autism, though. They usually are my kind of people, and I’ve always been able to connect with the children I used to work with. Maybe I’ll gain a better understanding after reading this book. I’ve never wanted to talk to a doctor about it.

  4. I am so glad you recommended this book. I bought the audio version because my son is autistic and I’ve come to learn that I am as well and simply ‘masked’. It’s so enlightening and things make so much more sense now.
    Thank you for doing your book reviews like this one, I’m so glad I ended up buying it. You really have no idea ❤️

  5. Does the book at all address people (like me) who exist with a formidable combination of Autism Spectrum Disorder, high sensitivity and adverse childhood experience trauma, the latter which is in large part due to the ASD and High Sensitivity? Or is it similar to The Autistic Brain?

    I read The Autistic Brain, but it fails to even once mention the real potential for additional challenges created by a reader’s ASD coexisting with thus exacerbated by high sensitivity and/or ACE trauma. [As it were, I then read a book on adverse childhood experience trauma that totally fails to even once mention high sensitivity and/or autism spectrum disorder. This was followed by a book about highly sensitive men, with no mention whatsoever of autism spectrum disorder or adverse childhood experience trauma.]

    Perhaps needless to say, it would be quite helpful to have a book(s) written about such or similar conditions involving a tumultuous combination of ASD and/or ACE trauma and/or high sensitivity, the latter which seems to have a couple characteristics similar to ASD traits.

    I therefore don’t know whether my additional, coexisting conditions will render the information and/or assigned exercises from such books useless, or close to it, in my efforts to live much less miserably. While many/most people in my shoes could/would work with the books nonetheless, I cannot; I simply need to know if I’m wasting my time and, most importantly, mental efforts.

    It’s no secret that ACE abuse/trauma is often inflicted on autistic and/or highly sensitive children/teens by their neurotypical peers, so why not at least acknowledge it in some meaningful, constructive way? While I haven’t read Unmasking Autism, I have read The Autistic Brain, which fails to even hint at this very plausible potential.

    1. I haven’t read The Autistic Brain, so I’m not able to contrast the two, but this book talk about the issue of trauma and acknowledges how little research has been done on the issue. It talks about sensitivity, mostly in terms of sensory sensitiviity, but it does also speak to emotional sensitivity as well.

  6. There is a lack of diagnosis for many reasons. Some the primary care doctor thinks he knows it all and says the person is not in the spectrum. Meanwhile they are not qualified to make that determination. They refuse to refer to a specialist. Most insurances would not cover the testing for Autism and if you are of limited means that may make it a difficult decision if someone is on one end of the spectrum. I think in general there is a lack of diagnosis- women who don’t fit the mold , etc.

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