One of the most devastating aspects of autism is known as autistic burnout . Autistic burnout occurs when individuals become completely overwhelmed by their environment after trying to compensate for years with sensory sensitivities or coping mechanisms that they developed on their own. The aftereffects of autistic burnout can be severe depression and even suicidal ideation.
There are many signs that can indicate when someone is entering into autistic burnout, including withdrawing from social contact or becoming more socially active, showing little interest in school or work, apathy towards favorite activities, feeling exhausted without knowing why, and overreaction to minor stimuli while ignoring important ones. Parents should pay attention to these symptoms in their children as well.
At this point it is not entirely clear what causes autistic burnout, but research has found that sensory overload may play a role. People who are neurotypically very sensitive to light or sound sometimes become less sensitive even to glaring lights or deafening sounds once they reach the point of autistic burnout. Another contributing might be the fact that people with autism often have a difficult time transitioning in their daily life, such as going to sleep or waking up.
Long ago people with autism would be misdiagnosed with other disorders because doctors had no idea what they were dealing with. Nowadays it has been discovered that autistic burnout may begin when the brain stops producing serotonin, which is a chemical that helps regulate mood and emotions. If left untreated the symptoms of burnout can last for years, but treatment options are currently being developed by leading scientists all over the world. One recent study found that light therapy given twice a day was capable of reducing symptoms of stress associated with autistic burnout within two weeks . Currently there is also no reliable way to diagnose autistic burnout and many sufferers go undiagnosed for their entire lives.
It is important to remember that although autistic burnout is not directly responsible, some children with autism have committed suicide due to the stress and exhaustion of living in a neurotypically demanding world. With better treatment options on the horizon, it may soon be possible to prevent the worst symptoms of this disorder.
It almost killed me…