Monday, April 22, 2013

Burnout on the Autism Spectrum


I think the reason people on the spectrum are more likely to burnout has a physiological element of common sense.

A person that cannot maintain homeostasis eventually suffers health consequences both physical and mental. Some are robust, and hold out into old age. Others succumb at a very young age.


I watched people at work cruising through life with what seemed like little effort. I considered them lazy and unconcerned, but I clearly understand now, that I was the one that was over concerned and not able to relax.

Every social interaction required 100% of my attention to get it right.

I had a burnout at 21, recovered with youth and had a horrible one at age 47. It is much harder to rebuild and recover with an aging body. I think the burnout that most Autistic people experience is mental and physical burnout.

Psychological burnout can be different from physical burnout because it may not lead to all of the physical issues that are common with physical exhaustion.

My burnout started at age 45 and ended up in complete collapse at age 47. My coworkers thought I was the same as usual; but my body was going through literal hell from not being able to relax. I often wished I could run screaming from the building, but I felt like I had no option.

I think one thing that may be different about a person on the spectrum going through burnout, is they may have learned a social facade that can be carried into periods when they are horribly stressed.

Observing others through my career, most are not able to disguise this kind of distress, and they often do not receive the same demands that the hardworking dedicated worker with hidden distress receives.

It was hard for me to establish boundaries and I could have said “No” more often, but my opinion of life was one of acceptance or one to perish. It may be a harsh statement, but from my experience, I see a level of truth to it, particularly in the workplace. It is not that much different from the sociological mechanisms that are at work in the schoolyard sport of Dodge Ball.

If one's stress is chronic and severe, it could ultimately cause an early demise.

I did not understand how bad my stress was because my energy level was high until collapse. According to Hans Selye's theory of human exhaustion or "General Adaptation Syndrome", it is common to feel this way further into the stages of human exhaustion before collapse.

I suggest one seeks assistance from doctors, and if necessary take a leave of absence, if that is an option. If one feels like their head is going to explode, it may be a sign one’s body is providing fair warning.

Leaving work and accepting the fact that there was something wrong with me was against my nature after a life spent doing my best to fit in. This is part of the reason I stayed longer than I should have.

School and Work, the structure, routine, and stress kept me motivated all my life for productivity. I needed that stress to move forward; it kept my mind focused.

Unfortunately, the ultimate consequence of it for me, I believe, was inevitable. The link referenced below is the only one I have been able to find that gives much information on this topic as it relates to Autism. The research may be sketchy because an Autism Diagnosis in midlife is uncommon. The midlife burnout may precipitate a diagnosis for many.

I am not sure that the physiological process of burnout is different from what people who are not on the spectrum experience in today’s high stress world. Sensory issues are hard to measure, but for me, were a major issue with burnout. This may be what separates Burnout on the spectrum from Burnout off the spectrum, but I do not know how it can be measured beyond self-reports.

My understanding now from studying research is that dysfunction of the stress response and associated imbalances in neuro-hormones can actually result in sensory processing difficulties.

I think people on the spectrum experience stress over many things in life that others take for granted, so it is likely that a person on the spectrum would experience the mental and physical effects of stress more than some others.

The only solution I can see for anyone on the Autism Spectrum to avoid burnout is to manage stress the best one can, choose one’s battles wisely, when one can, and hope for the best, knowing that one’s life may ultimately depend on it.
There was an excellent discussion from people on the spectrum, linked below, from the Wrong Planet website, where people discussed this issue in detail in a demographic across the lifespan.

Several people have remarked it was very helpful for them, and I think it is worth looking at for anyone who finds one’s self on the Autism Spectrum. It also likely could be a beneficial source of information for anyone on the much larger human spectrum of life challenge.

"Invisible Sun" by The Police:


Autism:  Finding Mind and Body Balance:

Autism, the Internet and "Ideological First Identity", a Collection of Thoughts:

"AutisticS Peeks!"

It's Good

to Hear




Autistic Spectrum



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