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.
I received a reviewer copy from the publisher through Netgalley.