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8 Signs of Autistic Burnout to Look Out For

8 Signs of Autistic Burnout to Look Out For

Burnout is all too common when it comes to both individuals and caregivers for all kinds of conditions and disorders. That includes autism. Signs of autistic burnout include physical and mental exhaustion caused by stress and lack of support. 

Much like caregiver burnout, autistic burnout has the potential to cause long-term damage to members of the autism community. Let’s look at some signs of autistic burnout and ways to possibly treat the symptoms.

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1. Always feeling tired

One of the most common symptoms of autistic burnout is chronic exhaustion. The feeling of always being tired can lead many on the autism spectrum to lose interest in a number of the things they once enjoyed.

Autistic adults may struggle to maintain relationships as they never seem to have the energy to do anything with others. Autistic children may experience increased sensory sensitivities and meltdowns.

Managing autistic burnout can be difficult, but setting some time aside not to be masking or suppressing certain behaviors to appear more socially acceptable can help reduce chronic exhaustion.

Parents and caregivers can also reduce expectations from their loved ones to help them feel less fatigued. And sometimes rest is just needed.

Every person on Earth has a battery that needs to recharge. The autism community is no different, and recharging that battery can help prevent autistic burnout.

2. Experiencing sensory overload

Sensory sensitivities are common autistic traits. Many with an autism diagnosis experience sensitivity to lights, sound, smells, or touch.

During times of autistic burnout, that sensitivity is heightened, often sending autistic people into sensory overload. This can lead to stronger feelings of being overwhelmed or exhausted.

The best way to help an autistic child experiencing overload is to reduce sensory input. If it’s too loud, find a quiet place. If it’s too bright, find somewhere that’s a little dimmer.

Man being overwhelmed by noise https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/signs-of-autistic-burnout/

It’s also important to build a supportive environment for autistic people to help them avoid sensory stimuli leading to overload and combat autistic burnout.

3. Struggling with decision-making

Autistic burnout can lead to some people becoming less assertive in their decision-making process. Research has found many autistic individuals have trouble planning, organizing, and making choices.

This is often due to the chronic life stress they experience while going through autistic burnout. Many say the decision-making process is overwhelming, exhausting, and provokes anxiety.

Taking a little bit off an autistic person’s plate can make it easier for them to make decisions. Reducing the number of choices so they only have to pick between two options can help them be more decisive.

Be sure to ask clear and concise questions. If the question isn’t clear, it can lead to more struggles for those experiencing autistic burnout.

4. Struggling with self-care

My wife always likes to say, “Self-care is health care.” She says this when she’s experiencing caregiver burnout for our autistic children because it often leads to struggles taking care of herself.

This is also true for autistic burnout. During these experiences, an autistic person may struggle with personal hygiene or tenets of everyday life like cooking and cleaning.

Self-care is one of the most important ways to treat autistic burnout. Caregivers can help autistic individuals by providing a supportive environment encouraging them to participate in self-care activities.

5. Experiencing emotional regulation challenges

Autistic burnout can also lead to struggles with emotional regulation for people on the autism spectrum. This can lead to stronger emotional responses like outbursts or meltdowns.

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Many on the spectrum may already struggle with emotional regulation before experiencing autistic burnout symptoms. They may find the neurotypical world is filled with difficult or unreachable expectations that lead to them being overwhelmed and unsure of how to react emotionally.

The most important way to address these struggles is to remove the autistic person from the situation that is causing the dysregulation. Autistic people can undergo therapies to help regulate emotions. Many applied behavioral analysis (ABA) or cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT) focus on regulating emotions.

6. Struggling with social interactions

Autistic burnout can lead to social withdrawal for those on the autism spectrum. Their struggles with social interactions can lead to them avoiding social situations altogether. 

Trouble understanding social cues, communication challenges, and a need to exhibit repetitive behaviors can make social interactions difficult for autistic adults.

Autistic people can cut down on in-person social interaction to help them adjust to their struggles. For example, if they struggle with speech, they can use text messages to improve communication skills. Giving space can help someone going through autistic burnout.

7. Experiencing frequent meltdowns

An autism meltdown is one of the things many parents and caregivers want to avoid. Your loved one may lose all control and start stimming, screaming, crying, and lashing out.

My son will often bang his head while crying and screaming during a meltdown. These outbursts tend to last for minutes to hours. Frequent meltdowns are one of the most common symptoms of autistic burnout.

Child experiencing meltdown due to sensory overload https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/signs-of-autistic-burnout/

During an autistic burnout meltdown, it’s important to remain calm. The person in meltdown will feed off your energy levels, so if you’re calm, they will be able to calm down faster. But if you match their energy levels, they are likely to escalate.

It’s also important to move slowly and quietly. Meltdowns are often connected to sensory overload, so anything that adds to that overload will make the meltdown last longer. Helping autistic people through their meltdowns will also help guide them through autistic burnout.

8. Experiencing memory difficulties

During times of burnout, anyone can experience memory lapses. This includes those going through autistic burnout.

Many on the autism spectrum may find it difficult to remember facts or words when they need to recall them. It’s sometimes called “brain fog” and is common during autistic burnout.

One of the best ways for those who have experienced autistic burnout symptoms like brain fog to work around these difficulties is to move on to something else. Often, giving a person’s mind a break from what they are trying to remember will actually jog the memory.

If brain fog seems to be more long-term, try planning and scheduling events. You may not remember what you are planning, but having a visual schedule in front of you can help you overcome burnout symptoms like memory loss.

Don’t overlook the signs of autistic burnout

Autistic burnout is a serious situation for those on the spectrum and their caregivers. It can affect both their physical and mental health. Plus, it can lead to other forms of burnout for the caregivers. Working together, caregivers can help their loved ones experiencing burnout navigate the difficult time and hopefully prevent burnout in the future.

Remember to take care of yourself so you can help your loved ones take care of themselves. When they are overwhelmed, try to be understanding and empathetic to their needs. It can be hard to accommodate autistic people without adequate support, but family members can help recognize the early signs of autistic burnout and help guide them.

FAQs

Q: How long does an autistic burnout last?

A: While there is no set timeframe for autistic burnout, the symptoms are often thought to last at least three months before being classified as burnout.

Q: Are there physical symptoms of autistic burnout?

A: Research has found autistic burnout can lead to extreme fatigue, headaches, muscle pain, sleep issues, and digestive issues.

Q: What does an autistic burnout feel like?

A: According to research, autistic burnout tends to feel like a time of mental and physical exhaustion. Some have said they feel overtaxed by the demands of the neurotypical world, while others have said it feels like their resources are completely depleted.

Q: How do you recover from autism burnout?

A: Ways to recover from autistic burnout include practicing self-care, addressing sensory needs, taking breaks, practicing self-compassion, and seeking support.

Q: What makes autistic burnout worse?

A: Several potential triggers can make autistic burnout worse. These include sensory overload, routine changes, lack of resources, support barriers, and mental health conditions.

References:

Arnold, S. R., Higgins, J. M., Weise, J., Desai, A., Pellicano, E., & Trollor, J. N. (2023). Confirming the nature of autistic burnout. Autism, 27(7), 1906-1918. https://doi.org/10.1177/13623613221147410

“Having All of Your Internal Resources Exhausted Beyond Measure and Being Left with No Clean-Up Crew”: Defining Autistic Burnout https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/aut.2019.0079

Mantzalas, J., Richdale, A. L., & Dissanayake, C. (2022). A conceptual model of risk and protective factors for autistic burnout. Autism Research, 15(6), 976–987 https://doi.org/10.1002/aur.2722

Phung J, Penner M, Pirlot C, Welch C. What I Wish You Knew: Insights on Burnout, Inertia, Meltdown, and Shutdown From Autistic Youth. Front Psychol. 2021 Nov 3;12:741421 doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.741421. PMID: 34803822; PMCID: PMC8595127.

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