All at once, those noises that previously were manageable are now too loud, those smells are too much, and you are crying, frustrated, and cannot make sense of much of anything….
Oh no, is my autism getting worse?
First things first: Autism is a neurological condition with no cure. You cannot “get better” from it, nor can you really “get worse”. What is happening at these key times is glaringly simple (which is why I think we overlook it so much).
Getting “better”? — That’s your coping strategies in action.
Getting “worse”? — That’s a sign of autistic burnout.
What is autistic burnout?
Autism is diagnosed by identifying a set of differences in behaviour, learning, and self-expression… these are defined as “deficits” by (the majority of) society. As such, we autistics begin to learn new skills and techniques to manage in the world, to cope, to find calm and to “fit in” or “be seen as normal”.
Many people on the spectrum, young and old, have personalized techniques that help them cope in daily life. Some things we learned from teachers, parents, caregivers, friends, or from reading books. Other things we learned from our therapist, doctors, or by observing other people. All the strategies we employ to manage in our world are *learned*.
The thing is, when an autistic person is exposed to prolonged stress, they can (like most stressed people) forget how to think…. and this causes “autistic burnout”.
While a non-autistic having a moment of vagueness while stressed may reflect, ‘well I can still manage and not feel burnt out’– To them, I say this: YOU ARE NOT AUTISTIC. Essentially, autistics need extra energy, extra focus, extra inner-calm in order to manage in the world, so when autistics get stressed, they lose all that “extra”.
Autistic burnout = when you’ve been stressed and you lose your ability to cope.
- It feels like your autism is “getting worse”.
- It feels like a sort of depression.
- It feels like being stuck.
- It feels like you are doing nothing right anymore.
- It feels…. SHIT
Here is a helpful infographic:
If you are feeling like your autism is “getting worse”, fear not— you are not regressing, or slipping. You are just stressed! Take a moment for you. Find calm, find space and set your boundaries clear (say NO). Look after you…. and slowly, I promise, you will start feeling like your usual self again.