The concept of "autistic burnout" is something that most clinical autism "experts" and mental health practitioners seem blissfully unaware of, and because of this, many autistic people and their loved ones don't recognise it for what it is either - it is easily mistaken for depression or a regression which makes autistic traits suddenly more apparent and disabling. I read the article linked below a few days ago after it was posted elsewhere, and it really clarified the whole issue of burnouts to me, and has made me re-assess many of the "crashes" that I had in the decades before my diagnosis. I believe it may also explain some of the behaviours commonly described by parents here regarding their autistic children.
Be warned, it is a rather long article, and depending on your situation, different parts of it may be more or less applicable to you. In addition, suicide and self-harm are explored in parts of it, which may be distressing for some readers. However, if you ever wondered why a week at work is so exhausting, why socialising makes you want to sleep for days, why your child is a handful at home but good as gold at school, or why you or your child's autism seems to be more or less apparent every time the wind changes, I think you will find it a rewarding read (the rest of the blog contains some fine writing too.)
(LINK) The Autistic Advocate Blog - An Autistic Burnout
I think I like the idea of burnout and I am sure that's why I have cat naps during the day, it helps my brain to cope, it was a cause for concern for the 'mental health facilitator' but I explained they are like recharging my batteries or power naps. I have to go to bed earlier at 9.00 am and if I don't nap for half an hour or an hour feel absolutely ill with fatigue and sick with it. I am sure it has something to do with being on the 'Autistic Spectrum' and an overloaded brain wants to have time to process the mornings events. My Nan and Mum used to have a nap in the afternoons which I explained to the counsellor, so it's a family tradition that I keep. I know anxiety and depression make you sleep more but I do try not to lie in and be fairly active to avoid getting worse. Does anyone else have the same pattern like I have with sleeping?
Thank you so much for posting this. I’m going through burnout now and have been for a while. I’m feeling particularly low since filling in my ESA forms and also had a visit from a social worker who had absolutely no concept of autism. Her only point of reference was that I was coping but lacking confidence and kept referring to my low mood. I felt annihilated and still feeling distressed by her visit. But also struggling to get out of the burnout especially as repeating how exhausted you are just makes people think I am whinging. Very isolating. I’ll get there. But definitely appreciated the post. Thanks
"Flopping", I always used to call it as a kid. As soon as I got home from school, I would have to go straight up to my room and just lie down until tea was ready. At the time, long before I knew about autism, I assumed that this was simply down to my terrible late-onset insomnia; I have never been able to get to sleep much before 2am, and often much later. I see it the other way around now, it's my constantly fizzing autistic mind that interferes with my sleep, and I now know that social interaction really does fatigue me in a way that isn't simply sleep-deprivation.
Luckily for me, my "flops" were always accepted as a child because my Mum has exactly the same problems with insomnia that I do (and some autistic characteristics as well), so she seemed to understand how necessary it was for me to get that rest.
I try now to incorporate brain down-time into activities as much as I can. For example, when I was last working, I took my lunch in the local park whenever I could so that I wasn't expected to talk shop with colleagues; and on my rare forays to a pub or restaurant, I'll sneak out to the smoking area to get away from the noise as soon as I feel myself getting a bit swamped. Every little bit helps me to get through until I get home for a good "flop".
You're welcome, I'm glad to see people finding it useful (and thanks in kind to moderator B19 on the Wrong Planet forum, who first drew my attention to the article.)
I've been going through social services assessment myself over the last month or so, and I'm as frustrated and disappointed as you are. They seem adamant that all my problems will be fixed by greater exposure to the very people and situations that are the cause of my burnouts and melt-downs. I just can't get it through to them that these are not psychological phobias, but an innate part of my perception and cognition. If exposure therapy were going to work, then 40+ years of forcing myself to pass would have already achieved that by now.
What I'm most gutted about is that I have been in contact with a service provider specialising in helping autistic people - but social services won't facilitate access to them. I am sick and tired of receiving interventions from people who don't understand what they are dealing with, but are convinced that the letters after their name allow them to know my own mind better than I do. At my assessment, several recommendations for interventions were indicated, and they are there in black and white on my diagnostic report. Over three years later, not one of those recommendations have been followed up - the NHS can't offer them, and now, it seems that social services won't either.
The article has convinced me of something that I long suspected - that I do sometimes suffer from depression, but that most of these episodes begin with a burn-out. The burn-out symptoms are however read as depression, leading me to be prescribed medication which isn't effective, and emotionally demanding therapy just at the moment when what I really need is a reduction of those kind of demands. There is no point attempting psychological rationalisations when the rational part of my mind is so fragmented - I have to rest!
Mm I replied and posted but it didn’t show. Tootired to reply properly now but basically lots of ticks in agreement to what you replied to me. Frustrating isn’t it. No wonder we despair. Sleep needed may have another go tomorrow...
I agree with all this of this, particularly with the remarks about exposure therapy. It would have worked by now if it was a mental disorder but as the difficulties are an innate product of the brain architecture, then exposure ain't gonna work. GPs and psychs need to learn this. Medical research notes are in need of an update!
Indeed, and so much of the problem is caused by the fact that no-one actually bothers to ask autistic adults about these things.
For too long, research has concentrated solely on autistic children, who are naturally less able to put their experiences into words. Combined with the decades during which psychology has relied primarily on behavioural analysis (i.e. disregarding the subject's inner experience), and you have the perfect recipe for drawing biased conclusions.
What basically happens is that certain behaviour may observed accurately, but the researchers explain this behaviour as if the person experiencing it were motivated in the same way that a neuro-typical person would be (i.e. the researchers look to their own experience for an explanation.)
The way that people here who were diagnosed late in life can so often help parents to understand their child's behaviour is the perfect illustration of a better way to move forward. Our analysis includes the element of inner motivations because we lived through them, whereas all the experts are concerned about is modifying the child's behaviour so that they don't upset neuro-typical people, regardless of whether those interventions increase the pressure, anxiety and self-esteem problems of the autistic person.
As a long time insomniac, I understand completely; I hope you got a good kip and look forward to hearing your comments later. BTW, there was a bit of a glitch on the site at around that time - my own browser kept telling me that the connection was being lost.