Student-led panel discussion on social masking featuring, from right to left, Dr. Lori Allen, AFA Vice President Bruno Tarancon, AFA Secretary Alivia Wunderlichhowell and other members of the FSL community.

On Wednesday April 17th, Advocates for Autism (AFA), Full Spectrum Learning (FSL) and the Eriksson College of Education hosted an event in the Morgan University Center that centered around the discussion of social masking and how gender impacts masking in autistic individuals. There was a student-led panel, all members of the FSL as well as free food and free fidget toys provided.

The presentation featured a talk at the beginning from Dr. Lori Allen, who works in the Department of Education and had previously focused on autism for her studies in her undergraduate. She spoke on the difference in masking between men, women, transgender and nonbinary people. Dr. Allen also dove into why autistic women (and nonbinary people who were born female) are severely under diagnosed in the medical field—women are taught from childhood to be more empathetic and sociable. 

After Dr. Lori’s talk, the AFA conducted a student-led panel of members from the FSL program. All of the students spoke on their experiences of social masking, how it has impacted them socially, mentally, and educationally and how masking looks different between the genders. 

AFA is a student-led organization at Austin Peay State University that creates a welcoming environment for students with an official autism diagnosis or students who closely relate with autistic characteristics who may not have a paper diagnosis. They also welcome students who are allies and want to learn more about autism awareness.

FSL is a program led through the Eriksson College of Education that tailors to the needs of autistic individuals on campus. It was made to increase the quality of schooling for students with autism by assisting them and providing them with a safe environment. 

AFA and FSL have been working to spread real awareness about autism at APSU and have planned events like this to provide more information. Their events are open to everyone— those with an autism diagnosis, those who have yet to receive a diagnosis and/or anyone who wants to learn more about how they can assist their autistic peers in a learning environment.