Autistic Burnout. It’s a phrase I’m relatively new to in life, but a sensation I believe I’ve become quite familiar with. Only now I have a name to associate with it. Understand that I was only recently clinically diagnosed after spending a lifetime adapting to situations on my own never fully understanding the underlying cause. I was recently describing to my wife how having a diagnosis of L-1 autism now feels like a blessing as much as a burden. After 40 years it’s refreshing to feel like one has an explanation for that part of them that knows and feels like they are different. On the other side of that coin, it can help strip somebody of a certain amount of individuality.
My double edged sword is now “the affliction doesn’t define you” but at the same time, “knowing I am the way I am because of the affliction.”
Studies have indicated that Autistic burnout is actually a common experience for adults with “high-functioning” autism when they work to mask the traits of autism to blend into a “normal” world. The burnout is intense physical, mental or emotional exhaustion, sometimes a combination of each / all. Even with the concept of autistic burnout being around for the last few years, consider almost 40 years of dealing with it, with no assistance, no guidance, nothing to help even the autism itself. That has been me. And the older I get the worse it seems to be. I believe this is why I’ve let so many hobbies fall to the wayside. It’s also why I think many things I start never get finished or this blog is rarely updated or updated in small windows of inspiration.
From various resources there are several symptoms that are common:
- Feeling like one cannot cope
- I have too many times reached this point. Nothing suicidal but the need to give up is quite prevalent
- Physical and mental exhaustion
- All the time. Not just as a fact of getting older but (see above)
- All the time.
- Feelings of worthlessness
- I have my moments where I feel accomplished and proud of something, but worthlessness is a common feeling
- I feel this is wrapped up in the depression but may be more that that. Boredom and loneliness has a big impact
- Loss of interest in things previously enjoyed
- The two biggest things I think that fall into this category are tabletop gaming and writing.
- Regression of skills
- I have started to notice this more in the last year or so. Things I know how to do just seem to escape me.
- Before the prozac I was very snippy and snappy and those around me.
- Social Withdrawal
- This has always been a thing for me. I hate going into public. I hate large social gatherings.
- Increased sensitivity to stimuli
- Like above a lot of the noise in large groups of people is overwhelming, unconsciously trying to focus on everything at once while trying to ignore everything at the same time. Loud sounds, startling events, bright lights etc
- Increase in “common” autistic behavior (self-soothing behavior, repetitive behavior, stimming, etc)
- After seeing some of the repetitive behaviors in my son which led to me getting to this diagnosis I have taken account of some things I do. I have a tendency to fiddle with my ear lobe, pick at my lip, stimulate the hair on the crease that is the opposite side of the elbow or the back of my neck. Soothing light touches.
Suffice to say I’ve grown quite familiar with most if not all of these to varying degrees. I think in large this piece was more for myself than for anybody else. Although like anything else I write, if it can help one other person out there, it was more than worth it. That being said, for those that have been placed on the spectrum and those that haven’t, burnout happens to everybody. Even if it is suggested that those on the spectrum may experience it more severely, everybody should get help. I’ve always struggled with it myself. Even if I didn’t know I was on the spectrum, I still felt the effects of burnout. Don’t suffer in silence.