People living with Autism have long been talking about the concept of 'Autistic Burnout' although, the condition has not been studied and researched for as long as you may think...
What Is Autistic Burnout?
'Autistic Burnout' is a condition which results from chronic stress placed on people living with autism. It can be characterised by intense feelings associated with both physical and emotional exhaustion and can result in a reduced capacity to function - participating in work or school in a way in which they would typically be able to.
What Does Autism Burnout Look Like?
Recent research suggests the condition may look like a combination of the following:
Intense emotional and physical exhaustion
Emotional and physical fatigue
Low self-esteem and a significant decline in a person's mental health
Experiencing chronic anxiety
A reduced tolerance - for people, activities, or tasks
Irritability and emotional volatility
Difficulty with executive functioning
A reduced capacity to regulate emotions
A 'trans' or dissociative state
Increased frequency and intensity of traits and nuances associated with autism.
Withdrawing from social environments - preferred activities such as social events.
Persistent difficulties engaging in activities of daily living - even the simplest of tasks.
Experiencing a decline in progress towards goals or skill acquisition
What Causes Autistic Burnout?
Autistic burnout is caused by the intense stress placed on an individual to participate in an environment designed for their neurotypical peers, when provisions, adjustments, supports, and resources are not responsive to a person's needs.
Recent research into the condition has suggested people living with autism describe the condition as feeling exhausted and 'drained' from the effect of living and 'being' in a world centred around neurotypical people - schools, workplaces, and communities - a world without adjustments or provisions to support people with autism live and participate in their community without experiencing intense stress. Because of this, the condition is believed to mostly impact people living with autism who share environments with neurotypical peers e.g mainstream school settings and workplaces.
People living with Autism who participate in environments largely designed for neurotypical peers, are often 'masking' their challenges, supressing their emotions, and experiencing constant exposure to environments which are largely unresponsive to their particular needs - be they emotional needs, sensory needs, etc.
Simply - autistic burnout occurs when expectations of a person are far greater then the skills they have to cope.
How To Treat Autistic Burnout?
Removing the source of the stress and burnout
Reduce expectations on the person you are caring for (or yourself!)
Allowing the person (or yourself) to 'unmask' for a period of time - flexibility
Sleep (and rest when/if sleep is not achievable)
Being patient with the person (or yourself!)
Sensory Interventions - centred around self-soothing and regulation
Engagement in self-soothing activities (visualisation, deep-breathing, self-awareness activities & routines).
Therapy and other formal intervention
A Final Word
It's essential that all people involved in providing care and support to people living with autism receive ongoing training and guidance in support strategies that reduce the risk of Autistic Burnout and support people with a disability achieve their personal best!
Although there are many initiatives at a individual, societal, and government and legislative level to bring about autism awareness, we still have a long way to go to equip our families, schools and communities with the knowledge they need to support people living with autism achieve their personal best.
Our role in supporting people with a disability is to support a person in their environment - reduce environmental factors which cause stress while we increase skills in emotional regulation. We seek to transform environments to be more inclusive for people living with autism, and more responsive to their needs.
An environment which is inclusive for someone with a disability, is not excluding their neurotypical peers and in fact, many modifications which would change the world for a person living with autism, may provide many benefits to those who don't live with autism.
If you'd like to learn more about Autistic Burnout, these links provide great information and resources!