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Autism Burnout In The Workplace And How To Avoid It

Black and white aren't colors. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? But black is the absence of all light and therefore of color while white is the reflection of all colors. Both absence and total reflection create an absence of color. 

Well in people on the autism spectrum, a seeming lack of emotional response has been interpreted as an absence of it (psychopathy) whereas for the vast majority, it’s an overload of emotions and external data. This overload leads to autism burnout.

Burnout in the workplace

Even in the day of remote working from home thanks to smart tech and the Internet, work remains a social entity. Very few of us get to work in a total social vacuum. There are many causes of work-based burnout for people on the spectrum. These include:

  • Sudden changes to job requirements/duties etc..
  • Social pressure including negotiating workplace etiquette/culture
  • Overstimulation
  • Lack of structure and predictability

    Burnout is reached when too much happens and the person is unable to maintain a social mask any longer or process new information. They stop being able to work and can no longer function properly. This is frustrating for employers, but it is also frustrating for the person on the spectrum too. They do not wish to burnout, but just work differently - often more efficiently, than colleagues.

    What is autistic burnout?

    Autistic burnout often manifests as a kind of shutting down. This is often includes reduced verbal communication and overall responsiveness. People on the spectrum get caught in long thought loops where the same thoughts repeat over and over again. They also feel tired and unable to take on anything more like a sponge that has absorbed too much water. The person just wants to curl up and hibernate for a while until they recover.

    How long does burnout last?

    Autistic burnout can last from a day to weeks. As with most things, it varies from person to person. It also depends on the nature of the cause. Burnout is a multi-level experience too. So for some people a good night’s sleep (well, for someone on the spectrum anyway) can reset a person enough to continue. Yet if the cause is going to be repeated the next day, then the next burnout will be worse.

    What can be done about autism burnout?

    There are two sides to what can be done. The first is on the part of the person on the autism spectrum and the second is how others treat them; specifically friends, family, and co-workers.

    Someone on the autism spectrum

    Like with any kind of medication or health issue, there are preventative measures and remedies. This means understanding what your triggers are, and spotting them before it’s too late. 

    The latter means having a process for dealing with burnout including communicating it to people near you, having a quiet place, and a means to calm your mind and bring yourself slowly back to a balanced mind/energy level.

    There are other preventative measures we can take too. This goes for people on the spectrum and those who face normal burnout. Maximizing good sleep is essential for fighting stress and burnout as is good exercise like long walks and a healthy diet. The latter is harder for people on the spectrum due to peculiar dietary habits, but can be slowly worked on.

    Those who know someone with ASD

    Try to understand how your employee or colleague on the spectrum feels. One of the biggest problems for them is they are expected to be more like you, but society never expects us to be more like them. Any relationship needs a meeting in the middle and the same is true here. Understand their need for routines, for predictability, for understanding, and time. Do this and burnouts are less likely and you’ll have a dedicated, efficient, employee/colleague to rely on.

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