What is Autistic Burnout?
Autistic burnout can be described as a state of physical, mental, or emotional exhaustion that reduces an autistic person’s capability to deal with stressful situations, sensory input, and everyday life. It can make it very difficult for a person to navigate in a world that tends to be tilted in favour of the neurotypical.
Fatigue and burnout are common among people of all backgrounds, disabled or not. However, having ASD makes it much more likely to occur, with all the stresses of social interaction, sensory overload and just the general anxiety of everyday life. Those with ADHD can experience physical pain, an increased likelihood of meltdowns, increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli and even the body shutting down.
Autistic burnout can come on suddenly and surprise those who are not expecting it. Yet, what cannot be seen is the underlying accumulation of stress and pressure it takes to tip someone over the edge.
What causes autistic burnout?
What causes autistic burnout is different for everyone, and still not completely understood. There are, however, several triggers that are generally agreed on by the autistic community. For example, autistic masking and burnout are often linked. These also include:
- An overload of sensory stimuli, such as loud noises, distinct and strong smells, bright lights, or uncomfortable textures
- Supressing stimming behaviours
- Dealing with social situations
- Masking autistic traits to appear more normal to others
- Not meeting perceived expectations of themselves in the eyes of others or society in general.
- Changes in routine, like a change of job, different shift patterns, or simple changes in day-to-day life
- Overcommitting to something/Overstretching oneself
What are some Autistic Burnout Symptoms?
For me personally, I find overstretching to be the biggest reason for burnouts in myself. As a person who can struggle to stop doing something I enjoy, for example, I can listen to music for hours after I plan to stop, this commonly leads to me having a constantly changing sleep schedule. The constant changes that that can produce in my routine can leave me feeling on edge, upset and angry. Depending on how fast I can fix my sleep, this can lead to me feeling tired, burnt out and apathetic to myself and to the world around me.
Like as autism means something different to every individual, not all people are affected by burnout in the same way.
What does Autistic Burnout feel like?
From our Directory Team leader Jonathan;
“Burnout leaves me both physically and mentally drained to the point where I am unable to function. All I want is to be left alone until I recover. Because of this I feel useless to those around me”
As for Max, he describes it as being a fog:
“To me, burnout is like a fog. I can see it from a distance, but it can creep on me, and I can get lost in it. It often comes from my feelings of social anxiety or when I feel under pressure, such as interviews. This can feel quite frustrating, especially when I want to socialise but find myself in loud or busy spaces, such as bars.”
How do I deal with Autistic Burnout?
The best way to counteract burnout is just to be yourself. As a lot of the causes stem from trying to mask one’s autistic traits, the best solution is to find a space to be able to relax, unwind and ‘unmask.’ Being able to regain your acceptance of being autistic, being able to recognise that being neurodiverse is what makes you what you are, engaging in your interests and isolating yourself away from others for a time are things which can help to reenergize and revitalize people who are suffering the effects of burnout.
For more information on autism burnouts, you can also visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/autism/support/