Catrina Lowri portrait

Written by Catrina Lowri

Catrina Lowri is the founder of Neuroteachers and a neurodivergent teacher, trainer, and coach. As well as having 22 years’ experience of working in education, she also speaks as a dyslexic and bipolar woman, who had her own unique journey through the education system.

Early in my teaching career, I got good at masking. I felt I needed to do this because, at that time (late 90’s/ early 00’s) there was little understanding of neurodiversity. I’m dyslexic. I hid this because I’d get questions like ‘But how can you teach spelling and reading?’ I’m also bipolar. I didn’t know this at the time, even though I’d been in a secure ward. I wouldn’t get diagnosed until I was 10 years into my career. At the beginning I hid this unknown mental health issue because of the shame I felt. I learnt to mask so I could survive working in schools designed for neurotypicals.

The term ‘masking’ originates from the autistic community, but my straw poll of ND friends and family tells me that we all do it. This involves studying the neurotypical people around you and acting like them, whilst also hiding our ND in plain sight. It can be incredibly damaging. Masking takes a huge amount of energy.  There is a possibility of fatigue. This can lead to burnout. Dropping the mask in such a fashion can be traumatic.

For more information, please read my blog here

Even though I have understood masking for years, I didn’t consider that it applied to me until, after 19 years of success, it all unravelled. 

Carrying the mask requires perfect conditions; I control my sleep, have cut out all alcohol and caffeine. I draw boundaries around my working life so I can fully concentrate on it. This means I don’t indulge in trivial social interactions because I just can’t. If I do, I burn through the energy I need to do my job, which is what I’m paid for. Teaching is a social job. I use what little ‘social’ I must, to build relationships with the children and their families.

That doesn’t mean I don’t make friends at work, I do, I just need them to understand that I can’t/ won’t take part in the following activities.

  • Banter, small talk, watercooler chat
  • Group jokes/ threads about your pets/kids or memes shared via email or the office chat facility
  • Any Christmas do\ Secret Santa\ carolling\ staff pantomime
  • Going to a pub/ café for lunch during school hours

It’s not unreasonable to ask that I have 20 minutes out of the day, to sit quietly in the office and eat my lunch, without having to interact with anyone. I need decompression time to deal with the demands of your neurotypical world.

I’m not being weird or stuck up. I’m not a recluse or a nutter. I’m neurodivergent and I need to be allowed to remove the mask for a short while, so that I can do my job.