Autistic Burnout

Understanding Autism
Autistic Burnout
Causes, symptoms, recovery
Defining autistic burnout
“Autistic burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic life stress and a mismatch of expectations and abilities without adequate supports. It is typically characterised by pervasive, long-term (3+ months) exhaustion, loss of function, and reduced tolerance to stimulus.”
– Raymaker et al, 2020

Common causes of autistic burnout
• Overwhelming accumulation of life stressors, including
o Camouflaging, masking, or social assimilation strategies
o Sensory stimuli
• A lack of support structures, meaning there is no relief from overwhelming pressures
• Life expectations begin to outweigh what one is capable of dealing with, and burnout occurs.

Warning signs of autistic burnout
• A growing feeling of lethargy
• Increased irritability
• Increased anxiety
• Increased over- or under-sensitivity to sensory stimuli
• Increase in shutdowns and social withdrawal
• Increase in frequency/severity of meltdowns
• Decrease in verbal language use
• Decrease in written language use
• Decreased ability to self-regulate emotions
• Decreased ability to effectively communicate needs
• Decreased motivation
– Autistic Burnout by An Autistic Advocate, 2018

Warning signs of autistic burnout
• Slowed thoughts
• Brain fog
• Forgetfulness
• Memory loss
• Decreased ability for cognitive flexibility
• Feelings of extreme overwhelm
• Increase in guilt
• Increase in executive dysfunction
• Increase in demand avoidance
– Autistic Burnout by An Autistic Advocate, 2018

Symptoms of autistic burnout
“If you’ve ever had a problem with a computer and it’s had to go into safe mode – that would describe what happens to the brain – it runs on limited function, not all services are available.
– An Autistic Advocate, 2018”
Your body & mind entering burnout is a coping mechanism designed to reduce the expected load that is placed on you. It reduces the load by effectively shutting down.
This can lead to a complete inability to function or to tolerate stimuli. This typically has negative consequences for physical and mental health, independent living, and employment. Burnout can lead to feeling or acts of suicidality, and often results in hospitalisation. (This is how many late-identified autistic adults get diagnosed.)

Recovery from autistic burnout
• Rest is required to pay back the energy debt that was created by the accumulation of stresors.
• Rest can be required for weeks, months, or even years depending on the extent of the burnout.
• Burnout can be very difficult to recover from, especially when society demands that one must return to school or work
• Remember: be kind to yourself, and you aren’t alone.

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