Overload, meltdown, shutdown, burnout

The world we live in is largely built as a neuro-typical one. This means that there are many things in it and experiences of it that cause us autistics to be sensorily, socially, and emotionally overwhelmed. When this happens we may experience meltdowns, shutdowns, and eventually burnout. 

When this happens it’s important to know that it’s normal and what you can do to recover from it, and hopefully avoid it happening in the future (or at least reduce the severity of the overwhelm/meltdown/shutdown/burnout).

Read below some autistic takes on these experiences: 

Autistic Burnout – and how it might be burnout, not depressionautisticzebra

The warning signs of Autistic Burnout are actually quite easy to spot if you know what to look for, either from an external point of view, as an observer, or loved one or internally, from an Autistic self’s point of view:

  • A growing lethargy
  • An increase in irritability
  • An increase in anxiety
  • An increase in over-sensitivity to sensory information
  • A dramatic decrease in sensitivity to sensory information
  • Heightened Auditory processing disorder
  • A decrease in verbal language
  • A decrease in text language
  • An increase in Shutdowns and heightened withdrawn state
  • An increase in the frequency and severity of Meltdowns
  • A diminished ability for the person to self-regulate their emotional state
  • The slowing down of the thought processes
  • Brain fog
  • Memory loss
  • A decrease in your ability to effectively communicate what you want
  • A decrease in motivation
  • An inability to generate momentum of body and of action
  • An increase of rigidity, narrowing of thinking
  • A feeling like your vision is tighter or narrower
  • Extreme forgetfulness
  • Extreme overwhelm
  • A massive increase in guilt
  • An increase in Executive Dysfunction
  • An increase in Demand Avoidance

Can you see why it’s often mistaken for Depression?” – The Autistic Advocate

What you can do about burnout:

On a basic level, allowing periods of withdrawal, or decompression time at the end of the day, or even throughout the day can make a big difference. Time where [you] can effectively take time to process what has happened throughout the day, shut off external sensory stimulation and basically be inside [your] own head for a period of time. You may also find that this helps with the level of and frequency of Meltdowns that occur. Especially if you [or your child] Mask and do the coke bottle thing of bottling up everything all day and exploding at home.

Adult or child you need to proper time to withdraw. So even at Social events or Social Situations having an escape plan ready is vitally important. A reason to leave either completely or temporarily, a quiet space or bolt-hole to enable whoever it is to just have some time away from people.
It’s really important to recognise also, that after significantly stimulating or potentially overwhelming events or periods, that the person may need a day or two off of work or school. This may not be realistic, but it is effective. Allowing this decompression time is incredibly important. It allows the Autistic brain and equally the senses, an adjustment period to reestablish whatever the person’s brain or body considers normal parameters.”

Once you’re in burnout, you need to learn to recognise and accept that you are.
There isn’t a huge amount you can do beyond throwing away that Mask as soon as possible and taking as much space as you can get with as minimal sensory input as possible. Some people find that doing hands on tasks helps them, others go for long walks, or immerse themselves in books and films.
Sometimes it drags on and on, sometimes you can see it coming and not be able to stop it. – The Autistic Advocate


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