Autistic burnout is a term often used within the autistic community to describe an intense exhaustion that many autistic people experience where input and demands from life exceed the capacity a person has to manage. As part of my ongoing work within the neurodivergent community, I hope to help develop a deeper understanding and awareness of autistic burnout and share people’s experiences to help validate the genuine and potentially devastating impact this can have on people’s lives that are so often not fully understood. I carried out a similar format of social media project in July 2023 about Experiences of Monotropism, I have followed on to explore Experiences of Autistic Burnout. I collected anonymous responses from communities across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Blue Sky platforms and have shared the replies in infographics across social media.
I posted the above advert across various social media platforms in November 2023. The following text shares the responses I received from people describing their experiences of autistic burnout. My next step will be to explore the connection between monotropism and the impact this could have for autistic people in both being a factor contributing towards autistic burnout and also in helping to reduce the impact autistic burnout can have. It will also be interesting to explore how an understanding of monotropism could also help the recovery process for some autistic people. Through sharing stories, I hope some people will resonate with others and feel validated. It will help create connections and support networks. The projects via my Autistic Realms platform are a small contribution towards what I hope is a deeper understanding of autistic experiences and a strengthening and coming together from within the autistic community. What is Autistic Burnout? I experience autistic burnout as a state of physical, mental, sensory and emotional exhaustion. It is often thought to result from the cumulative effect of having to navigate a world that is not designed for autistic people. This can include the constant pressure to "mask" (consciously or unconsciously), sensory overload, difficulties with social interaction, communication and executive functioning. Many autistic people also share experiences of a lack of understanding or acceptance by others and other mental health and physical health difficulties.
Autistic educator Judy Endow describes Autistic Burnout as a “state of physical and mental fatigue, heightened stress, and diminished capacity to manage life skills, sensory input, and social interactions, which comes from years of being severely overtaxed by the strain of trying to live up to demands that are out of sync with our needs.” Arnold et al., in their articles Confirming the nature of Autistic Burnout and Towards the Measurement of Autistic Burnout state, “Autistic Burnout is a debilitating syndrome preceded by an overload of life stressors and the daily challenge of existing in a neurotypical world.” They also concluded that their research and other recent studies “show autistic people experience a combination of exhaustion, withdrawal and problems with their concentration and thinking. Burnout seems to be linked to the stress experienced by autistic people in their daily lives.” Experiences of Autistic Burnout As part of the project, I asked people across various social media platforms to describe their experiences of autistic burnout. Here are some of the replies I received: "At first, for me, it means feeling constantly stressed out, not understanding why because of low self-perception. Once knowing it is burnout, the “autistic all or nothing mindset” makes it difficult to recover, and I keep pushing (which is exhausting) until I can give up completely." “You are the stoker; conductor + driver of your steam train. You end up overwhelmed & over-faced. Eventually, you can't shovel fuel; service passengers & steer. Only way forward is a screeching stop. Confused friends/family are left at the next station wondering if you will be arriving."Literally burned. Land after wildfire, dead, barren for years." "All consuming exhaustive overwhelm...”
“Literally burned. Land after wildfire, dead , barren for years.”
“Speech ability takes a nosedive. I start feeling like I'm never going to be able to have productive interactions with neurotypical people because they go out of their way to be difficult, obtuse, and unhelpful. More migraines. I need 10+ hours of sleep and still feel barely functional. Nothing is interesting. Anything I *am* able to do is on autopilot. It's a kind of waking catatonia.” "When I’m in burnout I feel like I’ve hit a wall and can’t keep going, like my mind and body are screaming NO. I feel like every movement is slow and laborious and like my brain just doesn’t work. I can’t figure out how to do simple tasks and feel like any interaction with anyone is too much." Impact of Autistic Burnout The impact of autistic burnout on an individual's life can be severe and long-lasting. Many people shared the profound effects burnout has had on their lives: "My first burnout made me regress at 21 from living independently to struggling to find the ability to be independent again. My second burnout was far worse. I regressed into silence, barely speaking for years, and couldn't function in a job for more than a few days. Depression swept in, turning it into an existential struggle. It took years to recover. I still don't talk as well as I once did, and my confidence is still recovering." "My burnout is chronic. It's never going away...." “Tired, broken, desperate.”
Recognising the Signs Recognising the signs of autistic burnout can be crucial for self-care and seeking necessary support. One person described the progression of their burnout as: "It starts with decreased capacity to manage frustration, increased thought loops and tension in the body. I start to have night terrors and have difficulty concentrating. My mood takes a dive, and I experience more dissociation, anxiety, tics, an increase in sensory issues, and difficulties with decision-making and communication. Then I experience word-finding difficulties, dissociative attacks, insomnia, meltdowns and shutdowns. If it proceeds, I get caught up in days-long meltdowns and lose the ability to speak coherently and advocate for my needs." Importance of Community Autistic burnout is a serious issue within the autistic community that needs more recognition and understanding. People have kindly shared their own experiences to help others. I am hoping that by sharing this wider across the community, it will help to develop a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by autistic people and the importance of accommodating and supporting needs. I hope this is valuable; if you have any questions about this project or would like to discuss other work, please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org
UK Mental Health Support: Samaritans | Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy | Here to listen Papyrus UK Suicide Prevention | Prevention of Young Suicide (papyrus-uk.org) Supporting Autistic Mental Health – AMASE International Support & Crisis Lines:
Mental Health Helplines: International Directory (helpguide.org) Further signposting for neurodiversity-affirming support and community resources can be found on my website: Resources | Autisticrealms Neurodiversity Affirming Therapist Directory via Thriving Autistic :
**I am not a therapist or medical practitioner. This is a community project to encourage conversations and help develop awareness and understanding. Please seek professional advice if you need further information and support.**