Autistic burnout – what helps

Burnout usually follows a 4 step process. Here is an explanation of each stage and what can help.

Note: In some of the stages we have information/ tips for parents/ professionals that you can share with them. But sometimes other things get in the way of adults being able to understand these things. You can try to help them but it’s up to them to learn. Maybe you can show them this website.

1. Breakdown

This is when things have broken down… you can no longer do things the way you used to. You may experience high levels of distress and stop being able to do things you used to be able to, such as attending school. Not because you want to stop doing these things, but because you simply can’t do them anymore. 

At this point, we need to focus on doing what is needed so you feel safe.

      • Removing all pressure and hidden agendas from the people around you.

      • Having a trusted person to speak to. This could be a parent, or someone like a mentor if you feel ready for something like this.

      • Recognise that things will get better, even if it doesn’t feel that way right now. 

      • Having good/ comfort food.

      • Focusing on doing things you enjoy.

      • Reducing expectations. This includes expectations to be “happy”. Burnout is hard so it is normal to struggle when you are going through it. 

      • See if your parents/ carers/ other people in your life can take time to learn about burnout. There are some links you can share at the bottom of this page. 

    When you go through burnout, it means how you were living life was not sustainable. It is important to not go back to how things were and recognise that changes will need to happen moving forward. Life may have to be different, but you can still achieve what you want to and reach your goals, when you are ready.

    The breakdown period can take a long time. And it will take longer with more pressure or demands.

    2. Repair

    This is where you start putting everything back together and repairing relationships

    It is important to not push yourself too quickly and for people to not push you to do more than what you are ready for. But there are some things it is normal to start doing (or doing again) at the repair stage:

        • Finding things you used to enjoy

        • Music, art, creativity 

        • Play (including gaming)

        • Starting to do things like cooking or going to the local shop

        • Watching TV programmes or playing games aimed at younger audiences

        • Sameness

        • Needing familiarity, doing things that aren’t too challenging that you feel safe with

      You could ask, or give parents/ carers/ professionals permission to:

          • Keep the pressure off

          • Join with you in doing things you enjoy (if you would like them to do this) 

          • Let you quit. And respect it if you say you have had enough

          • Try not to take things personally

          • Not make a big deal when you go out or do something new

          • Find other people for you to connect with. This could be peers, older young people or mentors

        3. Learning from what happened 

        After some time repairing, you may be able to start looking at the past and working out what went wrong.

        “Were we on the wrong road?”

        “What put the most stress on and could that be changed?”

        You can process and learn from your experiences in a variety of ways, including:

            • Talking to a close or trusted person

            • Accessing therapy

            • Writing about your experiences, this can be to share with someone else or just for yourself 

            • Using art, music or another creative way to explore your experiences

            • Doing activities in a “mindful” way: Mindfulness is NOT just meditation/ yoga. Mindfulness is about doing anything that allows you to be ‘present’ in the moment. This makes it easier for thoughts to come and go. When you have this and are thoroughly enjoying this/ engaged, it can make it a safer space for thoughts to process. You can have more meaningful chats with others at your most comfortable, but can also process for yourself. A mindful activity can range from running, to knitting to gaming. This is about finding whatever works for you.

          You could ask people to:

              • Listen to the way you see things, even if they don’t remember it the same way. How you feel right now matters. 

              • Find stories of others who have been affected by school and burnout

              • Find mentors and other people who can listen 

              • Be prepared to hear your stories going back years

              • See if you can access any therapy

            4. Planning for the future

            This comes last, but people always want to do it first! It makes sense to want to get straight back on track when you experience burnout, but unfortunately it is a much slower process.

            When you are ready, you can plan for the future. At this point is it important to consider a few things:

                • This isn’t going back to business as usual – it is important to do things differently to reduce the chance of burnout happening again.

                • How do we make sure we are on the right track?

                • How do we build in regular checks so we can see if this is happening again?

                • How do we learn from this experience? 

              What does this stage look like?

                  • Trying something new or revisiting old passions

                  • Imagining alternative futures

                  • Deciding to take fewer GCSEs or no GCSEs right now

                  • Becoming an activist – advocating for change for others who have experienced a similar journey

                  • Finding a way which works for you

                  • A sense of relief but also some sadness for what happened (and sadness is OK!) 

                You can ask the people around you to:

                    • Support your curiosity

                    • Provide opportunities – but accept it if you say no

                    • Let you make mistakes – you are on a learning journey and this is OK

                    • Question things for themselves – it is normal for others to think we should “conform” and try to “be normal”, and it is up to them to rethink this

                    • Connect with you through things they enjoy

                    • Help you make realistic plans but also think outside the box

                  At this stage, you may want to go back to school. But it is important to remember:

                      • Unless there are significant changes, this may result in reaching burnout again

                      • It is not a catastrophe if you don’t do your GCSEs at 16, you don’t actually have to and can do them at any age 

                      • There are many alternative forms of education. A lot of autistic young people struggle with attending school. It is perfectly OK to accept that school may not work for you, and you may need different ways to learn.

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