Autistic Burnout: What Is It and How Can Caregivers Help?
Understanding Autistic Burnout
“Autistic burnout” is a term used to describe a state of intense physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion experienced by autistic people. This exhaustion can lead to difficulty in daily functioning, increased sensory sensitivities, and difficulty with social interactions and communication. Autistic burnout may result from factors including prolonged periods of stress, masking or camouflaging autistic traits, and lack of support or understanding from others. The duration of autistic burnout can vary significantly, ranging from weeks to months or even years, depending on the individual and their circumstances.
Identifying Signs of Burnout
By recognizing the signs of burnout early, caregivers are in a better position to provide timely support and intervention. Some common indicators of burnout include:
Increased fatigue, including constant tiredness or exhaustion even after getting adequate rest
Emotional distress, including heightened emotional sensitivity or feelings of anxiety, depression, or irritability
Social withdrawal, including a sudden disinterest in social interactions or avoidance of previously enjoyed activities
Communication difficulties, including challenges with self-expression leading to increased frustration or communication breakdowns
Decline in daily functioning, including a decrease in the ability to engage in self-care or perform daily tasks, household chores, or school-related responsibilities
Increased sensory sensitivities, including a heightened reaction to sensory inputs such as sounds, textures, or light
Having a strong support system and access to resources can help families navigate the challenges associated with autistic burnout and facilitate recovery.
Causes of Burnout
There are several potential causes of burnout in autistic individuals, including:
Chronic stress from constant sensory input, social demands, and attempting to conform to societal expectations
Masking and camouflaging autistic traits in order to fit in with peers, leading to increased mental and emotional strain
Lack of support from family members, friends, or professionals
Life transitions, such as starting a new school or moving
How Caregivers Can Help
To support an autistic person experiencing burnout, consider the following strategies:
Recognize the signs, such as increased fatigue, irritability, or withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities
Create a supportive environment where the person feels safe, understood, and accepted
Encourage open communication and validate feelings and experiences
Promote self-care practices, such as taking breaks, pursuing hobbies, and getting adequate rest
Prioritize sensory needs by creating a sensory-friendly environment and providing access to sensory tools or strategies
Seek professional help if needed, such as from therapists or counselors who are experienced in working with children. Our clinicians at Cortica are trained to identify and understand the signs of autistic burnout and can partner with your family on effective approaches
Educate yourself and others to foster greater understanding and acceptance
Burnout can be a challenging experience for individuals and their caregivers. By understanding its causes, recognizing signs early on, and implementing supportive strategies, caregivers can help their loved ones navigate these difficult periods.