Tips for Autistic People to Help Recover from Burnout3 min read

Autistic Burnout, Part 1: Tips for Autistic People to Help Recover from Burnout

I don’t think there are many levels of exhaus­tion and mental fatigue that are quite the same as autistic burnout.

What is autistic burnout?

To me, it’s a level of tired­ness and stress that can last for months and goes bone– and brain-deep, and the only thing that seems to help is a ded­i­cated, unin­ter­rupted period to do what I need to do to recharge my social and mental bat­teries.

Along with things such as self-stimulatory behavior (“stim­ming”), prac­ticing good self-care, and having a reli­able, trusted sup­port net­work, I think that allowing these burnout recovery periods is one of the most impor­tant things an autistic person can do.

So, for autistic people: How can you take care of your­self during a burnout?

1. Allow your­self as much time as pos­sible to recover. It’s not always pos­sible to take as much time as you actu­ally need (espe­cially in a world catered towards abled neu­rotyp­ical people), but it’s impor­tant to give your­self as much time as you can.

2. Keep social inter­ac­tion to a min­imum, if it helps. Send short mes­sages or texts to people or groups you may need to take a break from talking to, just to let them know that you won’t be up to inter­acting for a while.

3. Try to remember to stimStimming is an impor­tant self-regulating behavior. If you don’t have the energy to do those “big” stims, try indulging in your favorite tex­tures, vocal stim­ming, watching com­fort videos, or maybe engaging in your spe­cial inter­ests.

4. Set reminders and write things down. The less you have to worry about remem­bering a bunch of small tasks, the more energy you have to do what you need to do. Try set­ting phone reminders for things like med­ica­tion, and write down things that are less time-sensitive and can wait until you’re feeling up to it. (Things like, “Call my friend back when I’m feeling better.”)

There is a free list­making app that works on Android and iOS phones called Wunderlist that is really con­ve­nient if you tend to lose paper reminders. You can even share indi­vidual lists with your sup­port net­work (see number five below) so that they can help you get through episodes of burnout with min­imal com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

5. Rely on your sup­port net­work, if you have one. This could be a friend who would be willing to make a gro­cery run, or asking a parent or loved one to make a phone call for you. With most doc­tor’s offices, all you have to say is, “Hi, this is [name]. I’m too anx­ious to talk on the phone right now. Can I give you per­mis­sion to speak to [other person]?” and they’ll gen­er­ally allow that, even if you’re an adult.

6. Write out things to do before­hand. It can help to have a ready-made list of things that relax you. A quiet, dark room, paint mixing videos, and putting on ear defenders over my ear­buds to help block out that extra noise are all things that help me!

Again, I know it’s not always pos­sible to take extended breaks or com­pletely stop all com­mu­ni­ca­tion for a while, but it is impor­tant to take what time you can to do what you need to do.

This is the first in a two-part series on autistic burnout. The next part will be about what others can do to respect autis­tics’ need for space during a burnout.

Alex Parker

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  1. Thanks, Alex. As the sole care­giver to others in my family, in addi­tion to working full time, I rarely can squeeze in time for most of these. But when I can, they absolutely help. Good advice!

    1. Awesome read. I’m a teacher with Autism deaing with bul­lying for my dif­fer­ences. A lot of recovery is needed for ongoing burnout. This article pro­vided useful tips!

  2. Where can we find part 2?

    1. Author

      Hi, Tori! Part 2 will be out as soon as I’m able to finish it!

      Thank you for reading!!

  3. But IS this ‘autism’ or simply normal??
    Is ‘stim­ming’ in anyway nor a dis­place­ment behav­iour?“The felt ‘;need; to ‘stim’ is really a simply con­struct of being over-tense.
    Unfortunately dis­place­ment behav­iours really don’t help reduce stress, so if you feel a need to ‘stim’ then I’d take that as a warning.
    BUT yes don’t try to sup­press it, but try to find some­thing else to actu­ally reduce your stress. Unfortunately ‘stim­ming’ in public can get you into more stress than you already have.

    Just like a pres­sure cooker stop­ping the behav­iour can lead to dev­as­tating blow-outs when the valve bursts.
    So excuse your­self, go to a quiet place, go for a walk, go to a toilet and bawl your eyes out in pri­vacy

    1. I don’t think you entirely know what you’re talking about. Stims are repet­i­tive move­ments or sounds meant to self-stimulate (some­times to “cover” other over­whelming stimuli, but not even nec­es­sarily so). Research actu­ally shows that it can help people focus (which is espe­cially rel­e­vant to people with ADHD).
      There are a lot of ways to stim that are vir­tu­ally invis­ible, so I don’t see why stim­ming in public should nec­es­sarily cause more stress (nor how it should lead to “exploding”).
      We don’t just stim when we’re stressed, there are “happy stims” too: for example, soft tex­tures give me a pleasant sen­sa­tion, so I might keep rub­bing a plushie or pet­ting a cat for a looooong time just for the sake of it.

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