“My burnout started at age 45 and ended up in complete collapse at age 47. My coworkers thought I was the same as usual; but my body was going through literal hell from not being able to relax. I often wished I could run screaming from the building, but I felt like I had no option.
I think one thing that may be different about a person on the spectrum going through burnout, is they may have learned a social facade that can be carried into periods when they are horribly stressed.” ~ Katie Mia
What Is Autistic Burnout?
It’s a term that I’ve heard come up in reading many different articles and forum posts.
Karla’s ASD Page has a picture that illustrates some of the symptoms of burnout:
- Late-onset loss of functioning due to sustained monumental efforts
- Happens to MANY young ASD adults and many more all the way up into 50-60 years
- Often directly related to failing at ‘fitting in’ with NT social skills despite faking it all the time to make it
- No ASD (autism spectrum) book or NT (neurotypical) professional references Autistic Burnout. Only ASD adults talk about it.
3 Reasons Why We Need to Be Talking About Autism and Burnout
#1 So That You Realize You’re Not Alone
I’ve run and participated in a lot of counseling groups.
So many people are amazed when they hear that they are not the only ones struggling with a particular problem.
“I thought I was the only one!” is something many participants say.
When they find out their problem is not unique, they draw comfort from knowing there are others like them.
You may feel discouraged and critical of yourself, wondering why you no longer have the energy or motivation to do what you’ve been doing, whether at work or in your personal life.
Well, you don’t have to be alone anymore. I’ll share articles that have a lot of resources and links to other autistic writers’ stories so that you can learn about this phenomenon called autistic burnout.
#2 So That You Can Recognize The Signs
Amethyst Schaber made this very helpful video to describe autistic burnout.
Watch this video for a detailed description of causes and “fixes” for autistic burnout.
I’ve taken some notes underneath the video.
You may be developing autistic burnout if:
- you feel like you have ever-increasing demands in your life
- your brain is getting exhausted and seems to stop processing sometimes
- you feel like you’re getting “more autistic” (when you’ve actually been autistic all your life)
In children, autistic burnout may show in some of the following symptoms:
- increase in the number of meltdowns
- physiological fight or flight response
- perhaps the child is going through big changes (starting school, having to enter new therapy)
- their mind and body are so tired and exhausted, that they no longer have the energy to use the skills that they have
- they can appear to be a lack of motivation
- they may have memory difficulties
In adults, autistic burnout may look as follows:
- feeling even less understood
- autistic burnout permeates every area of your life
- it results in a sensory shut down and being unable to process information
- the transition from high school to college can be tough (more demands, less predictability, expectations to pass, the expectation to look neurotypical, not stim)
- being neurologically something you are not is exhausting
- it can be shameful or embarrassing to admit to burnout
#3 So That Non-Autistics Can Develop Better Empathy for Autistics
Back to Karla’s ASD picture.
Here’s what Karla says autistics need:
- Knowing basic polite skills
- Friends who “get” them
- Education, awareness, and advocacy
- Vocational training in a strength area
This list makes sense! Yet non-autistics can have an astonishing lack of understanding and empathy when it comes to understanding autistics.
As Ryan Boren writes in his article about Autistic Burnout,
“Empathy is a two way street. Part of the stress of burnout is a lack of empathy and understanding from neurotypical society.”
Parent, teachers, counselors, boyfriends, girlfriends, sisters, and brothers, let’s educate ourselves about autistic burnout by reading the many resources in Ryan’s article and others which I will list below.
A Call to Action:
It helps to talk to other autistics and to learn from their experiences.
Autistic Burnout forum thread discussion on Wrong Planet
photo credit: Riccardo Mion
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