What You Should Look for in Your Child or Loved One
Your child may be unable to cope with the daily demand of life at school, home or at work. They may be in a state of overwhelming physical and mental exhaustion and feel depleted or fatigued.
Loss of Functioning and Skills
During a burnout episode, individuals might experience a regression in their functioning levels. They may struggle with tasks or skills that they previously handled with ease, such as communication, executive functioning, or daily living activities.
Sensory sensitivities might heighten during burnout, which can result in to increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli like noise, light or touch.
Isolation and Withdrawal
Your child may withdraw from social opportunities or isolate themselves for self-preservation.
Autistic burnout is not recognized as a clinical condition or a symptom of autism spectrum disorder in current diagnostic manuals. However, it is a commonly reported phenomenon among autistic individuals and is starting to gain recognition in the autism community.
Autistic burnout can heighten emotional sensitivity and lead to increased levels of anxiety, depression, or mood swings. Emotions may feel intensified and difficult to regulate during this period.
How to Support Autistic Burnout
It’s important provide them with a supportive and restorative environment. You can provide sensory breaks, reduce stressful activities and demands, be flexible and allow time for self-care and recovery.
Preventing Sensory Overload
To help reduce sensory overload you can use several strategies:
- Work with Professionals: Work with your school’s multidisciplinary special education team of occupational therapists, Board Certified Behavior Analysts, psychologists or autism specialists. Also consider engaging private healthcare professionals that can also provide support in managing sensory overload in autism.
- Recognize triggers: Identify the specific sensory stimuli that overwhelms your child or loved one.
- Create the right environment: Remove or adjust environment to minimize the sensory input.
- Provide sensory breaks: Regular breaks or being in a sensory-friendly room or area can provide a retreat.
- Deep pressure: Proprioceptive input or deep pressure can have a calming effect on the nervous system. Techniques such as weighted vests or blankets, deep pressure massage or using a squeeze machine can be helpful.
- Use visual supports: Timers for predictability and visual schedules can help anticipate transitions to help reducing anxiety and unexpected situations.
- Assistive technology: Noise reduction headphones or ear plugs can help reduce sensory overload from the environment.
- Self-advocacy: Encourage your child or loved to communicate their sensory needs.
- Promote Acceptance: Family members, school staff or other people involved in the child’s life may not understand sensory processing differences in autism. Help them understand so they can be supportive.
Prevent Autistic Burnout in the First Place Through the IEP and at Home
Work with Professionals
Strategies for preventing autistic burnout will vary and obviously need to be individualized for unique child. It’s so important to work with professionals who can guide you on this journey with your child or loved one.
Help your child recognize their limits if they have the ability to do so. If they have limited ability to do so, you must be the ears and eyes of your child to recognize when things are getting too much. Some autistic individuals can learn to identify their stressor and advocate around them. Work with you special education team to include this important self-direction life skill into their IEP (Individualized Education Program).
Test out using noise-canceling and reducing headphones or ear plug, tinted sunglasses to reduce light sensitivity, or taking sensory breaks in quiet spaces to see if this helps your child or loved one. If so, incorporate these simple assistive technology devices and techniques into their daily routines.
Stress Reduction Techniques
Stress reduction and coping techniques are vital to prevention, such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, meditation, or engaging in activities that promote relaxation and self-regulation. Again, work with your special education team and consider incorporating coping skills and stress prevention techniques into the IEP.
Executive Function Support and Skills
Many students with autism have lagging skills around executive functioning and require explicit instruction in time management strategies. Having these skills can help avoid becoming overwhelmed by school work and other daily remands of life. Identify priorities and break tasks into manageable steps. You guessed it, consider working with your school special education team and incorporate executive functioning skills into the IEP.
Accommodations and Support
Work with your school team, your child’s employer and/or other people who are involved in your child’s life to identify accommodations and support systems. This may include providing sensory accommodations, flexible schedules, clear communication, or access to therapy or counseling if needed.
It’s a Balancing Act
Encourage your child or loved one to participate in a balanced range of healthy activities that they enjoy. Finding a balance between getting outside in nature and restorative activities can help prevent burnout. Get outside!
Surround yourself and your child with people who understand and accept your child.