Autistic burnout can present itself in many different ways, not just the depressive state that observational models have taught us to expect. Despite assertions to the contrary, sometimes burnout is more than a need to withdraw.
Conceptualising Autistic Burnout
One might describe burnout as
“Having All of Your Internal Resources Exhausted Beyond Measure and Being Left with No Clean-Up Crew”Raymaker et al (2020)
Of course, due to the infinite possible interactions with one’s Self and environment, there are infinite ways that Autistic burnout can present. Raymaker et al (2020) go on to conceptualise the mechanics of burnout.
Using this, I can begin to explain the things that help me when I am experiencing Autistic burnout.
What helps me with Autistic burnout?
- Sensory Input
- A good sensory diet is helpful to myself. I use dark rooms with colourful lighting and star projectors. I also use an oil diffuser. Besides the typically expected sensory input, I might mention that physical activity that engages my proprioceptive sense can also help with waning interoceptive accuracy.
- I have discussed in a previous article my AuDHD habit of nesting. While having a sensory safe space is a part of this, what is also important is that this space is safe from intrusion by the outside world. Sometimes, I need space to think and process whatever is going on in my mind in order to function in a world that can be quite hostile.
- This one follows on quite nicely. We have to not only understand our strengths and struggles, but also enforce boundaries that compliment them. Learning to say no can feel quite villainous at first, but only when we make space for ourselves can we properly energy account. It is okay to make space for yourself.
- Trust yourself
- As Autistic people, we are constantly invalidated and gaslit about our experience. It is vital that we learn to trust ourselves on matter that pertain to ourselves. Nothing will drain you quicker than constant self-management. It is also impossible to enforce boundaries when we believe they are uneccessary or an overreaction.
- Slow and Planned transitions
- Autistic people experience cognitive trauma when they are forced to rapidly disengage and re-engage with different tasks and demands (more on this here and here). It is important that we slow down our transitions during burnout as in my experience we are more prone to that cognitive trauma during these time.
As with everything, different things will help different people. The most important thing is that we treat ourselves with the same kindness that we would another. Humans of any neurocognitive style were designed for the cognitive equivalent cruising speed, it is not sustainable to move at maximum velocity without a break.
More than anything, you need to know that Autistic burnout is a logical consequence of our intensely hostile world. You are not worth less for struggling, and you are not alone.