Autistic Burnout and the benefits of receiving a diagnosis in adulthood.
Early autism research aimed at finding the root causes and a cure for autism, however, in recent years there has been a shift from that line of research to trying to find ways to support autistic individuals in their everyday life. This movement appears to have taken place as a result of emerging autistic voices.
For neurotypical individuals, the term “burnout” is commonly understood as a combination of symptoms of work/school exhaustion associated with the demands within these settings. However, for autistic adults this term might have less to do with the expected fatigue related to the high stress that comes with particularly demanding careers and more to do with the expectations for them to function within neurotypical environments.
A study found that “autistic adults described the primary characteristics of autistic burnout as chronic exhaustion, loss of skills, and reduced tolerance to stimulus. They described burnout as happening because of life stressors that added to the cumulative load they experienced, and barriers to support that created an inability to obtain relief from the load” (Raymaker, Teo, Steckler, Lentz, Scharer, Delos Santos, Kapp, Hunter, Joyce, & Nicolaidis, 2020, P. 133). As such, they formally defined autistic burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic life stress and a mismatch of expectations and abilities without adequate support. It is characterized by pervasive, long-term (typically 3+ months) exhaustion, loss of function, and reduced tolerance to stimulus” (Raymaker et.al., 2020, p.133). This is important to note given that the CDC estimated that in 2017 over 5 million adults were living with ASD in the United States. Furthermore, this is important to note given that autistic burnout negatively affects quality of life, job and academic performance, and overall health ((Raymaker et.al., 2020, p.133).
Recognizing the Symptoms
For undiagnosed adults, one of the first steps to recognize the symptoms of autistic burnout is by seeking professional autism testing. Jeremy Brown from Autism Parenting Magazine notes that as the world continues to learn about autism, more and more adults who went undiagnosed as children are beginning to observe their own individual signs and symptoms. He goes on to point out that most undiagnosed adults are those who might have been formerly referred to as “high functioning.” These adults might not have shown obvious signs of autism as children and they went into adulthood with a mix of mild-moderate social difficulties, communication issues, or passionate interests, but without a diagnosis. However, even if their symptom presentation does not cause significant functional impairments, these adults are the ones who are at a higher risk for autistic burnout given that they often have to mask their symptoms in order to meet the demands and expectations within a workplace which often fails to support neurodiverse workers.
How can autism testing be beneficial?
The National Autistic Society outlines the following benefits to getting a professional assessment and diagnosis.
- Helps you and those close to you (including employers and colleagues) understand why you experience daily difficulties.
- Helps you identify and access appropriate support and services.
- Will help you advocate for yourself and give you access to receive reasonable accommodations and adjustments within the workplace or academic setting.
- Give you access to community support
- “Some autistic people welcome the diagnosis as a way of making sense of their life experiences and being able to identify with other autistic people”
- Helps you learn about your strengths and weaknesses.
- Provides you with individualized professional recommendations.
At the Behavioral Health Clinic, we are happy to help you get some answers via testing. We offer autism assessment virtually and in person.
Brown, J. (2023, March 6). Undiagnosed autism in adults. Autism Parenting
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Key Findings: CDC Releases First Estimates of the Number of Adults Living with Autism Spectrum Disorder in the United States. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/features/adults-living-with-autism-spectrum-disorder.html
National Autistic Society. (2020). Prediagnosis support- a guide for adults who think they might be autistic. https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/topics/diagnosis/pre-diagnosis/adults
Raymaker DM, Teo AR, Steckler NA, Lentz B, Scharer M, Delos Santos A, Kapp SK, Hunter M, Joyce A, Nicolaidis C. “Having All of Your Internal Resources Exhausted Beyond Measure and Being Left with No Clean-Up Crew”: Defining Autistic Burnout. Autism Adulthood. 2020 Jun 1;2(2):132-143. doi: 10.1089/aut.2019.0079. Epub 2020 Jun 10. PMID: 32851204; PMCID: PMC7313636.