Not invisible on World Autism Awareness Day

Published on 2. April 2024

In 2007, the United Nations designated 2 April as World Autism Awareness Day to affirm and promote the full realisation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for autistic people on an equal basis with others. Under this year's motto "not invisible", we would like to draw attention to the more than 800,000 autistic people living in Germany alone.

Autism is considered an invisible disability because it cannot be recognised by obvious physical characteristics. However, a closer look reveals that autism is also invisible because many autistic people put a lot of energy into "masking". Masking means adapting to the conventions and norms of interpersonal interaction with neurotypical people and suppressing their own autistic behaviour - often beyond their own limits - in order to be perceived as neurotypical.

This includes, for example, consciously forcing eye contact or socially expected responses in face-to-face interaction as well as suppressing stimming, e.g. flapping with the hands, rocking movements and much more. Stimming serves to reduce stress and process emotions and therefore has an important function in everyday life. Many autistic people learn the skill of masking in childhood and adolescence. They have learnt that as seemingly neurotypical people, they are more likely to be socially accepted and can participate in social life.

For autistic people, a barrier-free environment is characterised, among other things, by the fact that no masking is required - e.g. to keep a job - and in which any person is accepted without judgement as they are, without having to explain themselves to others.