Although autistic burnout is something that is not well researched in academia, it is something that has been reported by many lived accounts of autistic individuals. However, a study published last year in the journal Autism In Adulthood titled “Having All of Your Internal Resources Exhausted Beyond Measure and Being Left with No Clean-Up Crew”: Defining Autistic Burnout, highlighted that is is in fact a very real problem that many autistic individuals face, and they defined it as stressor(s)/pressure(s) causing expectations of an individual to outweigh their abilities to cope leading to:
- Chronic Exhaustion
- Loss of Skills
- Reduced Tolerance to Stimulus
They also describe overall general negative impacts on their health, capacity for independent living, and quality of life that accompany autistic burnout and highlight the following as tools in recovering from it:
- Greater Acceptance & Social Support (they highlight lack of empathy from neurotypicals as a problem)
- Taking Time Off/Having Reduced Expectations
- Doing Things in an Autistic Way/Unmasking
Building on this incredibly useful study, we (five autistic adults here) have compiled our own tips on autistic burnout to share. So, here are five tips for navigating autistic burnout.
Tip 1: Taking Preventative Measures
It is super important to recognise the things that can cause burnout. There can be big triggers which you can’t always prevent, but, at least some, you can prepare for in gentle ways, such as visiting a new school, college, university or place of work before you start there to help ease the transition. There can be lots of small things too which all add up, such as lots of social demands and uncomfortable sensory input, so it is important to take regular breaks to do what makes you feel comfortable and safe too.
I use noise-cancelling headphones and sunglasses to reduce how much information my brain needs to deal with when I go out and it helps a lot.Finn
Tip 2: Unmask If & When You Can
Masking can be an automatic response that is hard to let down as it can encompass such a big part of some autistic individuals’ social lives, and their is also a safety aspect to it, so it might not always be something people want to try to put down, even when it is so taxing. However, if and when you can, letting yourself unmask can be a great way to avoid or reduce burnout as masking is a chronically demanding and fatiguing tool.
I’ve been trying to learn to not mask so much for a while now and I feel so much happier and energetic when I don’t need to do it, when I can just be me.Xander
Tip 3: Look After Your Stimming & Sensory Needs
Meeting your sensory needs is an important part of selfcare, and ensuring you can stim in ways that work for you is important too. This could be anything from making sure you have time to move and stim freely (a secret dance party, if you will) and cultivating creative outlets as preventative strategies, to going under all the soft and weighted blankets and having very soft sensory lights on for calming visuals and just cocooning up for a while to heal when burnout gets too much.
I do this thing I call nesting, where I just go under all my blankets and set my light to a soft moving blue and I am just under all this comfortable soft blanketed pressure and it feels safe. I also like to listen to my favourite docuseries whilst nesting too which is about my special interest.Ally
Tip 4: Setting Healthy Boundaries
A key trigger for autistic burnout is when the demands presented to us outweigh our current ability to cope, so being able to say no to new tasks before you start to become overwhelmed is a good skill to avoid things continuing to mount up and becoming far too much to deal with. However, sometimes things just are to much on their own, and that is okay too, you can ask for help from those you know and trust if you are struggling and feeling overwhelmed.
I do work that I am very passionate about and I also am very passionate about routines. I combine this now, although it has been harder than one might think. So, when I finish work for the day I no longer respond to emails or requests, I may still work on projects but no work communication after 5.30pm, that is a boundary.R.
Tip 5: Recharge with Some Alone Time
When experiencing autistic burnout, the world can just seem so very overwhelming and alone time can be a really valuable tool here to recharge and feel better. Spending some time engrossed in a special interest or cocooned in your favourite weighted blanked or playing that one piece on piano over and over again until everything feels gentler again, for example, is totally valid and okay. However, do remember to access the support of those you trust around you and of mental health professionals too if it does all get too much, as sometimes burnout can last and it can be hard and you don’t have to deal with not being able to deal with things alone.
Don’t wait until you’re experiencing burnout to start looking after yourself- it’s no secret that the world is capable of being a rough place, and you deserve just as much as anyone else to be kind to, and gentle with yourself, and you don’t need to be actually burnt-out or nearing burn out to justify taking some time alone to recharge. Don’t let anyone tell you that self-care is unproductive, because it absolutely is productive! When I’m needing time to myself, I’ll usually watch gentle, low-energy YouTube videos in bed (if time allows), or I’ll listen to Jimi Hendrix, Motorhead at high volumes- for some reason I find loud guitar music soothing.
It’s also okay if you need to take alone time away from socialising (where applicable), good friends should be respectful of your need to take time to yourself, and by looking after yourself, you’ll be able to socialise more readily and you’ll get much more out of the time you do spend with friends and/or family!
Remember that you deserve kindness- you deserve kindness from others, and you deserve to be kind to yourself.Mark
More Information on Autistic Burnout
Autistic Fatigue – A Guide for Autistic Adults by the National Autistic Society
“Having All of Your Internal Resources Exhausted Beyond Measure and Being Left with No Clean-Up Crew”: Defining Autistic Burnout by Raymaker et al. (2020) in Autism in Adulthood
Autistic burnout, explained by Sarah Deweerdt in Spectrum News
This article was pieced together by ally, who is autistic herself, and has her own personal blog, pally.ally.writes where they write on psychology, neurodiversity, and life. The content post was co-authored by ally and four other autistic adults who all have a range of lived experience(s) of burnout: Finn, Xander, R., and Mark. Finn and Xander actually helped in the initial construction of Practical Neurodiversity before ally, Finn, and Xander all experienced burnout themselves to different degrees and had to put the project on hold. There is an irony that this was one of the only posts from their initial drafts months ago, finally being published, and it is a wonderful thing to be able to finally bring it all together to post.