Autistic Burnout is much more common then people realize and there is very little literature about it.
“Is it possible to become “more autistic”? Why is my child suddenly having more meltdowns? What is autistic burnout? What causes it, and what does it look like in Autistic children and adults? What can you do about it? Answers to all these questions and more in this episode of Ask an Autistic!”
Something I wrote about this awhile back:
I’d only argue with one thing. We don’t always retain those skills somewhere inside us, but lack the ability to access them. We can actually lose those skills, for a long-term period of time, or permanently.
Also there’s one area that this is being addressed by researchers, and that’s in the phenomenon of ‘autistic catatonia’. Many autistic people who’ve been diagnosed with autistic catatonia believe that it’s a form of burnout affecting specifically motor skills that are commonly affected by autism. (And often, among ourselves, we’ve discussed that ‘autistic catatonia’ involves a lot of cognitive and sensory stuff, not just the motor stuff that the researchers have been interested in.) So if you look up autistic catatonia you’ll find information on one very dramatic form of autistic burnout that happens in adolescence or adulthood.
Many autistic people are also apparently born with the same level of ‘catatonia’ that other autistic people develop later. Which is one sign to many of us, that this is a matter of burnout, not a matter of suddenly acquiring a second, unrelated condition.
But I strongly believe that burnout can be more than just losing access to skills that you still have. Like… there are things I could do when I was 11, that I will probably never in my life be able to do again. That was the peak of my abilities both cognitively and physically. The reason for that was that I could almost throw myself into overdrive in order to do certain things. I can no longer throw myself into overdrive, so I am no longer able to do those things. And an ability that you have when you’re in overdrive is not the same as an ability that you have naturally.
Like… I liken it to climbing a cliff. Two people can seem to have the same abilities. But one of those people is standing on flat ground and using those abilities that are there, at that level of the ground. Another person is climbing a sheer cliff out of a deep hole to reach that same level, and hanging by their fingernails in order to use that ability. The second person does not “have that ability” in the same manner that the first person has that ability. Because the first person has that ability as part of their natural abilities, and the second person can only use that ability when they go into overdrive.
And sometimes so-called “burnout” is a loss of the ability to go into overdrive. And losing the ability to go into overdrive really does mean losing abilities, it does not just mean losing access to abilities that are still somewhere there inside you. Sometimes it does also involve losing access to abilities. But sometimes it also involves a permanent or long-term genuine loss of abilities, and that’s an important distinction to make.