When I can't figure out how to follow directions, I look disabled. I know I do.
When I use the walls to help me keep track of where I am, I look disabled.
When I can't figure out what has happened if things have moved from where I expect them. When I can't keep my body still no matter how hard I try. When I use an electronic voice to talk I look disabled.
And I mask.
Some of my doctors assume I only use AAC because of autism. Others, assume it is only because of my migraines. I can show up in the emergency room with people I've never met before, and have them assume the reason I'm using AAC is due to chronic pain, because they notice my pain before my autism even when I am using AAC
So yes, I mask. I mask for my safety. I mask for the safety of others I care about. And nobody will ever assume I am neurotypical. Nobody will ever assume I am abled. But they will overlook autism, because they choose to, because I can make it so that people notice other disabilities first (and because others will similarly do this to me, applying a mask to me when I am not masking because they don't want to see me as autistic even if I am handflapping and otherwise stereotypical).
I mask, because I need to. And no descriptions of masking that I see will describe me. Because they assume you try to look neurotypical, that you can try to look neurotypical, that you want to try to look neurotypical, that you can look neurotypical enough to get away with existing and survive in that manner.
And I can't. I look disabled and I look neurodivergent. I know that. So I mask my way. My mask is pain, not neurotypicality. My mask is not pretending I am someone I am not, but being open and loud, and overshadowing myself.
I've found that so many people don't want to think about the idea of people being multiply disabled, to the point of if they notice one disability, they erase all others. If you are autistic, you are only autistic. But if you are otherwise disabled, that is similarly the only disabilty. Changing what disability aides I use, people instantly change the ways they dehumanize me. I can't be the person who needs all of these. I can only be what is there in that moment, and dehumanized as such.
And as such masking, can involve this choice of how you are seen, which is that one and single disability that anyone will acknowledge. Choosing to be actively visibly disabled, forcefully so. And in ways that are going to be less stigmatized than being autistic is.
It is dehumanizing to be unable to be me. But it is also safety, to be seen as using AAC because of migraines, to walk into walls using crutches, or to be unable to find anything because my brain doesn't understand how to visual process anything that's changed and have tinted lenses mean I'm treated better.
It's dehumanizing to be erased, but it's also safety to hide, even when that hiding is hiding in plain sight, doing exactly the same things, acting exactly the same ways, and only having the assumptions other people make change.
And that, safety, that can be lifesaving.
I mask. And my mask is most often chronic migraines.