5 Ways to Cope with Autistic Burnout


5 Ways to Cope with Autistic Burnout

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:

  1. Chronic Exhaustion
  2. Loss of Skills
  3. 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:

  1. Greater Acceptance & Social Support (they highlight lack of empathy from neurotypicals as a problem)
  2. Taking Time Off/Having Reduced Expectations
  3. 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

Infographic titled "preventative" displaying a stop sign with text reading:
recognise and avoid potential burnout triggers, and take regular breaks

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

Infographic titled "Avoid Masking" with a line drawing of happy and sad masks and text reading: " masking usually serves others' comfort before your own needs, it's okay to put yourself first sometimes "

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

Infographic titled "Stim & Sensory Care" with an image of two line drawn people dancing and text reading: " allow yourself to stim and engage in soothing sensory activities; for example, laying under a weighted blanket, paint, bake, make slime, play music, etc. "

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

infographic titled "Set Boundaries" with a digital picture of a traffic cone and text reading: " allow yourself to say 'no' to things to prevent yourself getting overwhelmed, it's okay to put yourself first when you need to"

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

infographic titled "alone time" with an image of digital line art of a battery being charged and text reading: "you need to recharge and you will probably need time alone for this and that is totally okay, solitude is both valid and can be a bit of a necessity here, just remember to have people you trust around you when you are ready to 'rejoin the world' as it is okay to need there support too "

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


The Authors

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.



2 thoughts on “5 Ways to Cope with Autistic Burnout

    1. thank you for such a kind reply 🙂 yes, setting and maintaining healthy boundaries can be so important!

      i checked out your blog and really enjoyed reading your piece on the puzzle piece, thank you for sharing too! 🙂

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