I called it autistic burnout, a term I learned not from professionals but from my fellow autistics trying to illuminate the gaps in the autistic experience that the so-called experts on us were either missing or ignoring. It describes a fairly common phenomenon that autistic adults were noticing in their lives. When faced with periods of major change, we can see a sizeable shift in our autistic traits. Causes of autistic burnout can include forcing yourself to pass as neurotypical, major stress or upheaval, sensory or emotional overload and illness. Symptoms can include a decrease in motivation, loss of executive function, selective mutism, problems maintaining social skills, memory loss, lethargy and decreased tolerance for sensory or emotional sensitivity. Basically, we hit a point where we can no longer manage our issues or keep up appearances in the same way that we have been and we end up feeling and/or looking “more autistic” as a result.
I’d been lurking on the periphery of autistic burnout for years, shaking off mild periods of confusion and exhaustion like a fighter moderately rocked by a strike. In the spring of 2015, I got knocked the fuck out. In my case, I think it was just a culmination of my entire life up until that point. Digging out from the catastrophic meltdown that had forced my diagnosis was very much a two steps forward, one and five-sixths steps back scenario. I was making progress, but I was tired. At least subconsciously, I was starting to realize that some of the coping mechanisms I was currently employing might not be long-term solutions.
“Knocked the fuck out” by autistic burnout. Been there. Still recovering.