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Nothing left: Autistic burnout

Updated: Apr 24

We've all become familiar with the concept of burnout: being so used up and exhausted that you have nothing left to give. What if burnout also meant you suddenly can't wear socks, eat anything but plain tortillas, or text your mom back?

Welcome... to Autistic burnout.

A vicious cycle

When an Autistic person has a lot on their plate--whether it's school, work, social relationships, projects, family, appointments--sometimes they can enter a state known as Autistic burnout.

Burnout happens when an Autistic person has consistently used up all their energy over a long period of time without being able to build that energy back up. The low energy becomes chronic, which significantly reduces their maximum energy levels. This reduction in their capacity makes it harder and harder to handle all those things on their to-do list and they can find themselves trapped. (If you're in a similar state, contact us to learn how an autism life coach can help you get un-stuck.)

The impact of labels

When an Autistic person has entered burnout, they may no longer be able to handle work or school, engage less with special interests, struggle with social interaction, and have a lower threshold for sensory input and overwhelm. They may find it harder to eat and they may sleep more than usual.

Other people often find it frustrating when Autistics display these tell-tale signs of being burned out. To make matters worse, undiagnosed Autistics in this state often lack the terminology to advocate for themselves and get the rest they need. This means that the other people in their lives may start labeling these desperate attempts at self-care as being "lazy," "anti-social," or "selfish."

The Autistic person often internalizes these labels and uses them on themselves throughout life, never letting themselves fully recharge. ("I'm tired from work, but I shouldn't be selfish and stay home from this party.")

In this way, the language we use can cause burnout to become a debilitating, years-long state. When you notice that an Autistic person showing signs of burnout, it is important to remember that it is not under the Autistic person's control.

When you least expect it

The timing of Autistic burnout can also prompt misinterpretation by other people. It's common to see burnout around major life events, such as transitioning to college, moving somewhere new, or starting a family.

While these life events may be exciting and happy, the sheer volume of mental demands can still be too much. Other people may assume that we are unhappy about a major life event because we need to be alone afterward. Luckily, a Coach can help you get better at navigating situations like these by learning to anticipate and explain burnout.

What actually helps

The autism life coaches at APC can help you identify whether you are experiencing Autistic burnout and help you get back to feeling like yourself. Our Coaches can help you find areas of your life that need more rest and recovery, and even help you find new ways of making your life work for you.

We understand it can be hard to find the metaphorical "light at the end of the tunnel" when you are in the thick of it, but our Coaches can help you as you work towards wellness!

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