The Masking Theory of Flat Affect on the Autism Spectrum

One of my theories of flat affect on the autism spectrum is our attempts at masking our autistic traits through emotional suppression.

Flat affect includes an expressionless face, a flat tone of voice, and a lack of body language and gestures.

I remember that when I was walking to take the bus seven years ago, I showed that I was happy and a lady asked me whether I was okay.

This is one example of why autistic people feel the need to hide what they’re feeling. If it causes flat affect, it’s like making a poker face.

Even if we learn how neurotypicals react and copy them, we could still come across as robotic or scripted as people pick up subtle social cues, so unmasking autistic traits could be a solution to this issue.

Some of the ways we stand out when expressing autistic traits include:

  • Producing atypical facial expressions. Alexithymia could be one explanation. For example, confusing a smile of victory with a friendly smile.
  • Stimming when expressing emotions such as happy hands flapping and rocking while others tap their feet or dance while enjoying music.
  • Having special interests, which look more like an obsession than a hobby. When we share special interests, we naturally have improvements in eye contact and flat affect

Masking can cause flat affect

Because autistic people often feel the need to fit in, masking may contribute to flat affect.

What are your thoughts about this theory? Please share by commenting below!

Learning Social Skills from the CEO of the Sluis Academy as an Autistic Adult

Many of you may know that as someone on the autism spectrum, I needed to improve my social and communication skills, so my parents decided that I should try out some sessions with the CEO of the Sluis Academy.

A BCIT alumni introduced him to my parents while networking.

For the introductory session, he came to my home. He taught me what to do when socializing. I learned that when socializing, we should gradually introduce something we want to talk about rather than be too abrupt. He reminded to keep my back straight and have eye contact.

One technique of eye contact involves looking near the person’s eyes, but not directly at their eyes. Autistic people often find this method more comfortable.

I had at least a Skype session after classes while I was studying at BCIT.

For one of the sessions, we went to a restaurant, practising what I learned by interacting with the servers there. It’s one thing to know how to socialize, and another to be able to socialize properly in real-life situations.

He gave me tips on how to do small talk, and when I drift, he gently pointed it out by gesturing. I liked his method because it’s much easier to correct problems early before they become habits.

Many, if not most, of us would benefit from getting feedbacks from other people. Encouraging feedbacks are especially effective!

For the later meetings, I practiced job interview skills with sample job interview questions.

Updates on my Employment

After almost a year of getting support for employment, I was hired to work doing vehicle upfitting.

If you know me on social media, you’re probably aware that I’ve been sharing autism posts, which is an easy way of supporting those on the spectrum.

I was getting job search support from Jobs West and other organizations that support autistic people.

Some positions I applied for include Bike Mechanic, Electronics Assembler, and Programmer.

I showed my job coach some of my electronics projects and they included some of them in my portfolio. Sharing our hobbies is one way of showing your strengths and interests. If we can’t do something, we should find alternatives to make it possible instead of giving up.

sunrise simulator image
Custom made sunrise simulator without its diffuser.

Sharing hobbies can help you find a job. For example, while I was waiting for bike service at a local bike shop, I demonstrated my bike setup with electric horns to a bike mechanic and he wanted them on his bike. Shortly after, I got hired on the spot for a summer job!

During the fall,  I volunteered at Bike Kitchen for a while.

Around December, I accepted the vehicle upfitter job position. Once in a while, my job coach kept in touch with me.

tool box
My toolbox at work.

It’s now almost a year of working there.

Updates on Using Noise Cancellation for Sensory Overload at Work

I’ve been using noise cancellation to concentrate better at work and would like to give an update about it.

Doing my best at work was important so I had to do what I can. I even went as far as wearing both earmuffs and ear plugs.

Around this August, I reconfirmed my need for hearing protection. My supervisor noticed that I was distracted by background music. That day during lunch, I wrote a letter, showing that I needed it.

After lunch, I timed how fast I could work. For one task, I usually complete it in 45 to 60 minutes wearing earmuffs only. After wearing dual protection, I cut it down to under 25 minutes, which puzzled my supervisor!

One issue with regular ear plugs is that you can only wear them comfortably for so long, so I experimented with custom-fitted non-vented ones from Nextgen Hearing. My understanding was that the performance gains are well worth the extra cost. During the custom-fitting process, they put silicone in my ears to get an impression.  The ear plugs arrived in almost a month.

Once they arrived, I tried them out, and the good news was that I could wear them all day.  However, there were excessive vibrations from simply walking, so I went back to disposable earplugs.

So far, I have other options, including turning down the music and only wearing them when the task requires more brain power.