A State Of Exhaustion
Of all the challenges and problems faced by those with autism, there is perhaps no other issue as serious and widespread as autistic burnout. So what exactly is it?
The short answer to this question is that burnout refers to a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion caused by long-term exposure to stress or pressure. In terms of autism, this stress and pressure often come in the form of overwhelming sensory input, both internal (emotions) and external (sights, sounds, etc.), as well as social challenges. When anyone is exposed to too much stress for too long, burnout can develop. While all autistics are at risk of developing it, it tends to affect those on the more severe end of the autism spectrum.
It is important to note that cognitive disabilities are not required for an individual to experience autistic burnout. There are many severely affected autistics who have normal or even high intelligence, and therefore may be incapable of understanding why they are so exhausted all the time.
What Can Be Done?
If you suspect that you or someone you love is experiencing burnout, what can be done about it? The good news is that the majority of autistics who have experienced burnout report that they were able to fully recover from it. How did they do this? It varies. There are many different ways to address and overcome burnout. The most important factor is to simply be aware that it exists and is a very real problem for many people on the spectrum. If you understand this, then your chances of overcoming burnout are greatly improved.
No Easy Solution
Unfortunately, there is no easy solution or quick fix for autistic burnout. It is something that must be worked through and actively dealt with. There are, however, many steps and strategies that can be taken to alleviate the symptoms of burnout in order to allow for a full recovery.
Some of these include:
- reducing or eliminating sensory overload, especially problematic senses
- reducing or limiting stimming
- improving communication skills so as to better understand the world around you
- avoiding or limiting meltdowns, especially in public
- practicing proper self-care (eating well, sleeping well, exercising regularly)
- seeking out friends and/or a relationship with another individual who is supportive of your autism
Root Cause Analysis
The most important factor in the recovery process is to address the root problems that led to burnout in the first place. Only through finding ways to better cope with stress, sensory input, and social challenges can an autistic hope to recover from burnout. Stress management techniques, positive self-talk, writing, or practicing coping strategies ahead of time for use during meltdowns are all important steps towards learning how to reduce stress so as not to end up burned out again.
Do Not Give Up
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of burnout, it is important that you not give up hope. With time and effort, nearly all individuals on the spectrum who have experienced burnout report a full recovery and an increased ability to cope with stress and sensory input. By being aware of the problem and taking proactive steps to address it, you can overcome the challenges of burnout.