Autistic Burnout and the Holidays

It can be hard for many autistics to handle the holidays. Changes in routine, reuniting with family, social expectations, and lots of food. And let’s not forget the noise and the bright lights during the Christmas season, which for many with sensory sensitivities, can cause sensory overload and sometimes lead to meltdowns or shutdowns.

Add autistic burnout to the mix, and chances of overload and meltdown are much greater because the autistic person’s energy resources are depleted. Sadly, that’s my experience this holiday season.

I’ve been dealing with extreme anxiety and mood swings since August when my current burnout got really bad. I’ve been having a record number of meltdowns because I no longer have the resources to cope that well with situations like sudden changes in plans or errands being thrown on me at the last minute. And not to mention being terrified of having a meltdown in public and being harassed or punished for it due to it being misinterpreted as bad behavior by everybody around me instead of a response to extreme overload.

My fear came terrifyingly close to becoming reality when I had a sudden mood swing from a positive mood to a really bad mood one day while coming home from a walk one day back in mid-August, and my anxiety hit me really hard, which ended up freaking out a young man who was walking in front of me to the point that they ran away from me, nearly triggering a full-blown meltdown. Fortunately, the meltdown was only a silent one.  All I could do was continue my walk home and try my hardest to ignore other people’s negative reactions to me. My natural autistic behavior often does tend to put people off in the first place due to misunderstandings and the stigma towards autism. And that does often make me anxious and I end up worrying when the next negative reaction will be and who will be the next person to give the negative reaction. The experience terrified me so much that I could no longer take walks by myself for three months. Over the past month, I’ve taken walks on occasion, and slowly, my anxiety lessened as my body and mind re-learned that its safe to take walks alone.

Since September, I was terrified that I would have a major meltdown during one of the family reunions this holiday season. My anxiety was somewhat of an issue during Thanksgiving, as was the negative self-talk of internalized ableism trying to persuade me to put everybody else’s Thanksgiving dinner needs above my own. But I managed to persuade myself to put what I wanted to eat for Thanksgiving dinner onto my plate. I did verbally snap at myself once after we were all done eating because I had a sudden mood swing, and I did go next door to my aunt’s house to spend some quiet time alone so that there was zero chance that I would have the meltdown I was dreading would happen for months.

A week and a half later, I went to my family’s annual Christmas reunion. I feared that it wouldn’t go very well at first.  I felt more comfortable around the family after attending the Thanksgiving reunion, thus I was far less anxious, and I didn’t have to deal with the negative thoughts like I did on Thanksgiving. For the first time this year, I was able to act like my natural autistic self and feel comfortable doing so.  My sensory sensitivities tend to be very mild unless I am anxious.  Since I wasn’t anxious during the reunion, I didn’t experience sensory overload.  In fact, I enjoyed the event, even more than I enjoyed last year’s Christmas reunion.

For much of December, anxiety has been somewhat less of an issue now than it was a few months ago because of the positive experiences during the family reunions and slowly getting back into my walks, but it is definitely still a problem.  During the last few times I ran errands, I haven’t been dealing with sensory overload as bad as I did during the summer.

But over Christmas, my energy crashed again.  I had tried to help run an event on a small online game.  It went well, but the price for running it was going nearly non-verbal and a bout of depression.  I’m very frustrated that I’m still going through burnout, and struggling to allow myself time to really relax.  Whenever I do, I end up feeling guilty that I’m not dedicating most of my time towards productive things.  I know I need to rest and make that my top priority, but what stands in my way is nagging negative self-talk, fear that nobody would believe me if I told them I was going through burnout, and the fact that this is the first time I’ve dealt with a burnout that’s lasted for many months.  I have no idea for how long I need to keep a strict regime of rest and relaxation in order for my energy to really come back.

2018 overall has not been a good year for me.  Dealing with increasing levels of severe anxiety, and then being diagnosed with ulcerative procititis, dealing with severe autistic burnout which caused me to drop out of college and cease practically everything, and a death in the family on the final day of 2018.  I hope 2019 turns out to be a better year, and that I can slowly get back into things, but only time will tell.



Autistic Obsess—I mean Autistic Passions

Autistic passions are just as varied as neurotypical passions.  Autistic people often learn everything they can learn about their passion.  And often, autistic people use their passions to help themselves learn things, by applying the things they’ve learnt to their passions.  These passions can often help autistic people relate to other people, especially those who have the same passion.  And often, these passions can lead to a career.  And that includes passions that relate to a certain comic, TV program, or game.

Unfortunately, the intensity of autistic passions is often perceived as annoying or inappropriate by neurotypical people.  Many neurotypical people view autistic people as broken and in need of fixing, and that includes their passions.  And that includes many who don’t believe autism needs to be cured, but that they still need to learn to act more neurotypical in order to function in society.  This often leads to neurotypicals discouraging intense autistic passions, sometimes to the point of making them change their passion to something else, or make them branch out into other things instead of just the single passion.  Some people will discourage autistics from talking about their passions, perhaps even try to change it to something that makes them more comfortable, or even make them branch out.  Passions might go ignored because it’s seen as an autistic obsession.  Passions might be discouraged because it’s seen as an autistic obsession.   Passions might be seen as weird because it’s seen as an autistic obsession.  If the passion is something perceived to be for kids only, it’s seen as an autistic obsession if the autistic person is a teen or an adult, even if they continue to learn stuff through that passion.  This applies to autistics with multiple passions as well as those with just a single passion.  When neurotypical people pursue the same passions, they don’t go ignored and are much less likely to be seen as weird, and instead, they are often encouraged.

This teaches autistic people is that nobody wants to hear about their passion and that they need to mask their autism in order to be seen as a good person.  And if they want to pursue their passions, they can’t disclose their autism if they want neurotypicals to see their passions as passions instead of obsessions.  This can often lead to lost opportunities at careers.  All because the perception of passions changes when an autistic person is known to be autistic.  And if the autistic person discards their passion because neurotypical people don’t seem to like it, that can lead to lost social opportunities as well as a lost career path.

A few examples of passions:

  • Vacuum cleaners
  • Dinosaurs
  • Elevators
  • Buses
  • Trucks
  • Trains
  • Cars
  • Art
  • Music
  • Computers
  • Astronomy
  • Video Games
  • Movies
  • Television programs

What career paths are possible from the above examples?

  • Paleontologist
  • Computer Technician
  • Network Specialist
  • Transit Planner
  • Bus Driver
  • Train Operator
  • Truck Driver
  • Auto mechanic
  • Video game developer
  • Computer Programmer
  • Astronomer
  • Actor
  • Writer
  • Producer
  • Director
  • Animator
  • Photographer
  • Singer
  • Artist
  • Music Artist
  • Repair Technician

That’s twenty-one possible careers, and those are just the careers that I thought of on the top of my head.  Many other careers are possible from those examples I listed alone.

Autistic passions, if allowed to be pursued, can often lead to a career and a higher chance at securing employment.  If the stigma towards autism is ended for good and autistics are allowed to be themselves, the chances are much higher that their careers will be successful.  Neurotypical people often have successful careers that stem from their passions, and we need to ensure that future generations of autistic people also have the same chance at a career that stems from their passions.

My Struggle with Internalized Ableism – Part II

There’s those days that I get so disgusted and angry with myself. Those are usually the days where internalized ableism is being fed by my anxiety issues.  Almost always, the two co-exist.

I often feel an overwhelming need to continually prove myself competent, especially  now that I’m in my late twenties, so I overload myself with helping out with online social activities. And when I don’t do that, I still feel that intense pressure to prove my competence, for otherwise people will still see me as that incompetent person incapable of doing anything. And if I slip up even once, that proves that I’m still that incompetent person who can’t do a single thing right.

And if something happens, then there comes the temptation to punish myself for being autistic and not trying hard enough to fake neurotypicality.  It could be the loss of a friend, talking about my problems to a friend a second or third time, having a meltdown, breaking a social rule, social plans that don’t work out, events that I’m interested in that I was never invited to (because others assumed that I wouldn’t be interested in going).  It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, internalized ableism dictates that it’s my fault and mine alone, and that I need to either try much  harder to blend in, or stay away from everybody, even those closest to me.

Often times, I’m scared to death of being dismissed, ignored, and figuratively being kicked whist in the middle of a meltdown, or even being punished for having a meltdown.    And I have internalized ableism to thank for self-destructive behavior related to those issues.  Damned if I do, damned if I don’t, that’s how it feels to live with internalized ableism.

Unconditional love has become a lost skill for me.  It can be hard for me to remember that there are people who do love me when the negative self-talk of internalized ableism is running at full speed, especially after something goes wrong, real or perceived.

I’ve tried so hard to break the cycle of internalized ableism and the self-destructive behavior that it causes many times over the years, but I have not been able to succeed at doing so.  Part of the reason I suspect is my anxiety issues from dealing with constant misunderstandings and ableism, and from ADHD traits, as it can be impossible at times to stop the negative thoughts without drinking a caffeinated beverage.

I almost always end up succumbing to my impulses in the end, which throws me back to square one for the same reason, every single time.  And I’m growing sick and tired of it.  Ten years ago, I expected myself to be somewhere, not here continually throwing myself back to square one after I punish myself for being autistic whenever something goes wrong (or I think something has gone wrong).

Currently, I’m attempting to seek mental health treatment, but that’s taking a long time.  And I need it NOW, preferably before Thanksgiving and Christmas.  So that I can have a chance at making some happy memories at the end of the year, and start to make some real and sustainable progress in terms of regarding loving myself unconditionally before my thirtieth birthday.

Dear Anxiety, Stop Ruining my Life!

Dear Anxiety,

You are way out of line by dictating my life for far too long now! You’ve interfered with numerous friendships, banned me from pursuing relationships, and making it nearly impossible to communicate at times. You make me have meltdowns on Skype and Discord just because you think it’s funny to try to get me banned from groups.  You think it’s funny to get me to punish myself for being autistic and watch with glee as my heart becomes broken.  You make me so afraid of people at times that I have to stick my nose in a book on buses and take alternate routes to my destination to stalemate you.  You don’t want me to spend time with family in peace; instead you make me spend all my time with my family worrying about what they think of me.  You make general social situations hard to bear most of the time because you want me to change who I am to make everybody else happy at my expense.

Stop with your bullying right now or I will find a way to restrict you to your original purpose only! My life is mine to live and my decisions are mine to make! Not yours! You’ve been the cause of many struggles over the years, and this is the last straw! I deserve a life without you restricting me so much that I’m unable to follow my dreams!


A very angry autistic adult

My Struggles With Anxiety and Some of my Struggles With Social Situations.

Throughout the past decade, I’ve been struggling with major anxiety.  Much of it, I now realize, is social anxiety, which often manifests as selective mutism.   I have a lot to talk about, so this blog will be fairly long.  All of it of it needs to be said in one blog, and I’ll link to other posts I wrote in the past where appropriate.

The anxiety didn’t really become an issue until I realized just how bad the misconceptions and stigma towards autistic people was.  That was in late 2008, when my social skills were at their peak, when I was a high school senior and I still had some ability to make friends.  Believe it or not, I actually had a few friends in high school.  I feel part of the reason was because I felt comfortable making friends and having a few friends from elementary school who really knew me going to the same high school as me.  Yet, the anxiety was beginning to build up as the school year went by.  Later in the school year, I was sometimes spending class time worrying about what others thought of me, particularly those that didn’t like me very much for a multitude of reasons, mostly due to the fact that I was autistic whether they knew I was or they didn’t.

Near the end of the school year in April and May of 2009, I was a bit more prone to what I now realize as social overload, becoming more frustrated than usual when I couldn’t predict other peoples’ reactions.  But I was able to hold it in reasonably well.   During this time, I did take two days off of school due to the death of my grandmother, something that did overwhelm me for a short period of time.

Near the end of 2009, I began attending a high-school college program as part of my school district’s transition plan.  For a short while, four months to be exact, I was able to make friends, until my peers realized how different I was, and especially how unwritten social rules and expectations didn’t come naturally to me.  To them, being as different as being autistic was a bad thing.  Needless to say, my chance at having true friends was flushed down the toilet for the remainder of the three years I spent in the program.  In fact, the only chance I had at making friends was outside any teen or young adult program, and that was only if I at least tried to partially mask my autism so I wouldn’t be seen as weird or incompetent.  And partially masking was as far as I could possibly go towards acting neurotypical.

As far as masking went, it became harder to do as time went on and my sensory sensitivities began to get worse by early 2011.  If you guessed that people’s reactions were to avoid me and give me weird looks when I was overwhelmed and the mask dropped almost entirely, you’re spot on.  Later in the year, I realized that part of the reason I was so anxious was because I was lacking in B vitamins and was often dehydrated.  My anxiety got a bit better, but was still a huge problem.  Yet if I tried to talk about it in the real world, I was shut down and dismissed.  Had that not happened, I probably might have gotten professional help for my anxiety back in late 2011, help I so desperately need.

By 2012, the anxiety was beginning to manifest into internalized ableism.  In fact, the negative self-talk of internalized ableism is driven mostly by my anxiety and partially due to ADHD.  As it was little known outside the autistic community, it would be another five years before I learned what internalized ableism was.  And it was thanks to being treated as though being autistic was wrong for so many years that made internalized self-hate a major problem to the point that I felt I had to end friendships on occasion if I wasn’t  “normal enough” to have friends.

However, in late 2012, things started to look a bit better as far as a fair shot at social situations went.  I still attended the same college, but I switched to real college classes.  The negative attitudes and the social ostracism I faced almost completely vanished, but my fear of it happening again remained strong.   By this point, I could keep new friends as long as a semester, but once it was over, I felt I either had to change or lose those friends.

By mid-2013, I had enough of the anxiety, and went off my ADHD medication.  Once I was through the withdrawal, I was starting to feel less anxious and feeling that I could be myself again.  However, my internalized ableism began to become an issue in late 2013, which I describe in more detail in a blog post I wrote back in April.   At least I wasn’t dealing with the sensory issues that would make me almost entirely drop what exists of my neurotypical mask, and I was closer to my happy-go-lucky self that I was when I was much younger.

My anxiety wasn’t much of an issue in 2014, except whenever I tried something new.  Same went for early 2015.   But, my self esteem was in free-fall due to autistic burnout in early 2014 that ultimately led to me failing a class for the first time ever.  As a result, I ended up on financial aid suspension in May 2015 after failing two more classes.  I tried to get tutoring for my math classes, but I couldn’t seem to stay in it.

The culprit? Anxiety.  I’ve always struggled to seek help for a problem I had with an assignment, almost never being able to do so.  I suspect it was because I always had somewhat of a perfectionist streak, wanting to go it alone at all costs.  Fear of getting punished for doing something wrong was another reason why, yet I was unaware of this for nearly my whole life.

The vast majority of my meltdowns in recent years had a root cause of anxiety, frustration with life issues, and stress.  They often happened online, as it was easier for me to communicate with written words rather than verbal words, and almost always in places where I felt comfortable to communicate.  In fact, meltdowns were the primary cause of me leaving an online community, which I did on a frequent basis.

Another issue I have with anxiety is whenever someone offers me something, like a staff position in an online community or a friend wanting to hang out, I always ended up not responding, saying no, or flaking out at the last minute.  It was always because I was afraid of what strangers would think of me.  So afraid, that I would often wind up catastrophizing about potential bad situations, usually always what I thought was the worst-case scenario.  Getting kicked out, loss of friendship, and even getting into trouble for something I didn’t do, and worse was what was running through my head a lot of the time.

Another thing that affected my anxiety was that I was almost never invited to do things with my friends.  I know now that most of it was unintentional and due to how neurotypicals and autistics communicate differently, and how my anxiety prohibited me from expressing interest nine times out of ten, even with the power of the internet and the written word.  In fact, since mid-2012, I was rarely ever excluded on purpose due to being disliked, hated, or thought of as “a bad person”.  The fear never went away, but kept lingering on as if it felt the need to protect me from potential future threats.

By my mid-twenties, thanks in part to the anxiety, negative self-talk, due to society’s negative attitude, fear that I am always breaking some unwritten rule or expectation I’m completely unaware of, and misconceptions towards autism, I had developed serious trust issues to the point that I felt that I couldn’t fully confide in anybody whatsoever at all.  It pretty much meant that getting truly close to anybody was an impossible feat, something I only wish that I could do.

Making friends was pretty much a cycle of meeting them, getting to know them a little, become comfortable talking to them, then the anxiety, fear, and self-hatred strikes, and I often wind up leaving at the mercy of the flight or flight response.  The only option of coming back is the other person wishing to remain in contact with me and actually reaching out to me.  It does not matter if I did something wrong or inappropriate, or I didn’t do anything at all, but I thought I had.  It was almost always the latter.

These experiences pretty much add up to a near-textbook description of Social Anxiety Disorder.  Yet, I struggle to get this out to people I trust verbally, no matter if it was to a family member, a friend, or even a doctor.  The best I could get out was either a jumbled set of words that get misunderstood, or only the part of the story I could talk about before I shut down due to the anxiety.  And often, I greatly feared being dismissed like I was lying to get attention or told to “get over it”, since talking about mental health issues carries a social stigma just like how autism is stigmatized.

Last, but far from least, sometimes I’ve found myself going entirely non-verbal when the anxiety got bad.  Being put on the spot, and sometimes due to overload and the issues I talked about before are a few root causes I’ve discovered.  For a couple of months now, I highly suspect that selective mutism is another anxiety issue I’ve dealt with for practically my entire life.  From what I’ve read, it’s rarely associated with autism, given that autism is widely regarded in the neurotypical community as a communication and social disorder.  It’s widely known that some autistics are verbal and some are non-verbal.  I feel that many autistics who are usually, but not always verbal actually do struggle with selective mutism.  The best way I can describe going mute because of anxiety is like you’re being paralyzed by fear.  Your desire can sometimes be very great to get it out, but it just doesn’t come out no matter how hard you try.

I’m far from alone in the autistic community to struggle with an anxiety disorder or any other mental health condition.  In fact, a majority of autistics have talked about their experiences with it, and that it is not because of their differences that make them vulnerable to it, but it was their life experiences of being mistreated by society, almost always both intentionally and unintentionally.  That is very much true about my experience of dealing with other people.

About unwritten rules and expectations, that never comes naturally to autistics, and if it does, it’s bits and pieces all jumbled up in an impossible to organize way.  I don’t blame anyone for not teaching me about these expectations as only autistics themselves were aware of it way back in the nineties when I was a small child.  Even if I did know them all, I would still have struggled as my brain is wired differently than most people’s brains, like a Mac in a Windows society or a cat in a dog society.  Writing them down and teaching them in a way that you’d teach somebody how to read or write while respecting the natural way and dignity of autistic people.  Oh, and meet their needs half-way as in compromising instead of expecting autistics to masquerade in public in a perfectly made neurotypical costume.  A lot of this is unintentional due to the widespread misunderstandings, myths, and stigma towards autistic people.  Some of it is, sadly, intentional, often due to fear, hatred, or contempt.  And like most autistics, I still struggle with it to some extent, and I always will because the rules were made in a way that only the majority understand by instinct, and it isn’t autistic people.

I was always interested in social interaction, but when I was a kid,  but I didn’t know how to go about it very well if at all.  I pretty much only socialized with those who took the initiative and interact with me.  That didn’t change until the tail end of eighth grade thank in part to a friend of mine when I found myself comfortable enough to talk with other people after many attempts in the past that often ended in disaster.  Nowadays, it’s anxiety that’s often prohibiting me from social interaction, especially in person in the real world.  Anxiety disorders are not fun, not even one single bit.  Sure, anxiety is natural, but it doesn’t become a problem until it is way out of control for variety of different reasons.

This has been something I’ve been wanting to talk about for seven years, but I could not get it out in full until now.  Severe anxiety is a real issue, widespread even among the non-autistic community due to a variety of reasons as infinitely large as the number of reasons it is a major problem in the autistic community.  We as a whole aren’t quite to the point of destigmatizing anxiety and mental health issues, same goes for any other kind of difference you can think of.




Autistic Burnout. Almost Unheard of—-But it’s Real

What is autistic burnout? It’s when an autistic person masks their autism, a major life change happens, or takes on too much commitments than they can handle for a long period of time.  When it becomes too much, the brain shuts down and an autistic person finds that they’re struggling far more than normal.  The struggles can range from temporary loss of skills, extreme sensory sensitivities, an increase in meltdowns/shutdowns, executive dysfunction, poor memory, exhaustion, and more.

Why do autistic people mask their autism or take on too many commitments? Society expects us autistics to not only act and behave like them, but do the same things they can do without meeting us half-way.  Expecting an autistic child, teen, or adult to act neurotypical 24/7 is a recipe for disaster down the line.  That expectation is the equivalent of asking them to take on another full-time job because it’s a prerequisite for the things that they want to do in life such as having a career/job, have friends, get married, or have children.

The best thing to do when you go through autistic burnout is to take a break for however long you need to recover.  It could be a few weeks, a few months, maybe even a few years in the more extreme cases.  Going on a sensory/social diet by managing the time you spend socializing and going out will help to cut back on overload.  Learning to act more natural and re-learning how to stim will be a major help as there’s a reason certain stims come naturally to autistics.  It’s to help prevent overload and sometimes to communicate.

I’m not writing this just to write an article about autistic burnout; this is something I’ve personally experience on more than one occasion.  I’ll talk about two of my burnouts.

The first burnout that I now realize as autistic burnout is that one time I crashed over Spring Break in 2014.  It was because I went to college full-time the previous semester.  I was exhausted to the point that I was waking up late, and having panic attacks over a major project for my business class.  I ended up having to drop my business class in April.  Everything was going to be back to normal again after dropping one class? Wrong! I was still struggling with executive dysfunction to the point that I wasn’t able to do my math homework much of the time.  Ultimately, I ended up failing my math class, and it was the first time I ever failed a class.  I got A’s and B’s most of the time.  It wasn’t until late May that I had gotten my energy back.  At the time, I wasn’t versed with autistic burnout, so I didn’t know what it was.

The one that I’m able to talk about in detail is one that I’m actually going through right now.  I believe the beginning of what led up to it started on Halloween, when my plans for the night changed very suddenly.  My anxiety had started to get really bad to the point that I was second-guessing myself at times, especially when it came to social situations, even if they were online.  It wasn’t until Christmas that I was really starting to feel sensory overload.  At my aunt’s house, I noticed my hearing become a bit hypersensitive.  On the trip back home, I was anxious to the point that I was completely non-verbal.  I became very stressed until almost a month later when I finally let it out.  Things did get a bit better for a while.  But, my energy started to go down and my anxiety got much worse by the end of February.

I ended up packing my online social life so much that by mid-June, I had a complete panic attack over an online roleplay.  As a result, I had begun to experience sensory overload on a daily basis.  And whenever I got stressed, especially over something social, I ended up getting diarrhea, forcing me to take a break and making me even more anxious.  The worst of it was getting off the bus to run an errand, where the sun seemed so bright to the point that everything kind of looked overexposed, and the sound of the big trucks driving by was amplified five times.

By mid-July, my mom and I worked out that I had ulcerative colitis, and by late August, I was diagnosed with it.  I decided to take at least a year off from college to focus on getting my ulcerative colitis into remission, and to try to get treatment with my anxiety.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the peak of the burnout, and things got worse to the point that I had panic attacks almost daily and had major mood swings, and having meltdowns and shutdowns on a semi-frequent basis.  And that’s even after almost completely cutting out my online social life and only going out when I absolutely had to.

At this point in life, I am considering going back on ADHD medication to help me focus, and reduce the hyperactivity and impulsivity.  I originally went off the Adderall due to the side effects, especially how it made my anxiety much worse during the past few years I was on it.  The non-stimulants out there don’t seem to have side effects like that as frequently as the stimulants, so that might be an option for me.

Getting a full eight hours of sleep in any one period of time is a major feat for me right now.  Typically, I either sleep five or six hours a night, or sleep four hours late night, and another four mid-morning.  The culprit? Racing thoughts, often anxious ones of the kind that can only be shut off with a cup of caffeinated coffee.  Caffeine sometimes can keep me awake like it does most people, but sometimes can also help me sleep.

My executive function and working memory have deteriorated so much that I’m forgetful.  Forgetting to put the towels back on the shower curtain after taking a shower, forgetting to close my bedroom door to block out noise, forgetting that I had a coffee cup and getting another one for my next drink of water, coffee, milk, or tea.

And of course, there’s the negative self-talk of internalized ableism is having a field day tearing me down like I’m the worst human being on earth due to the burnout and being unable to manage for an undetermined period of time.  And when I do go out, the ableist/sanist attitudes of other people get worse, and in return feeds my anxiety because of how bad it is already.

This is definitely my worst burnout yet.  All I can do is get as much rest and downtime as I possibly can, and focus on stuff I love that I can still do.  There is light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m still deep in the tunnel right now.  One day, my energy shall return and I will rejoice for a bit.  Then, I shall try new strategies to manage things it so that the next burnout hopefully won’t be as bad as this one.

Autistic burnout is real.   It is almost never spoken of outside the autistic community.  It can bring an autistic person to a grinding halt.  The best strategy of ensuring this won’t happen to future generations of autistics is to accept them for who they are and that their needs are met, without the prerequisite job of having to wear a neurotypical mask just to do what they want to do and need to do in life.


A Short Story: Matt – A Story of Discrimination and Hope

Meet Matt, a forty year old autistic man with a passion for computers.  He planned to get a career in computer networking, but things didn’t go as planned.

When he was young, Matt’s parents refused to subject him to any kind of compliance therapy, which was commonplace for autistic children.  One of their cousins was an autistic adult who talked about the horrors of compliance therapy and its real outcome.  Knowing this, they opted for therapies that were beneficial, such as occupational therapy and horseback riding therapy.

Matt’s parents wanted him to be the best version of himself that he could be, and he was indeed a happy boy.  All throughout school, Matt received good grades, but he struggled somewhat with social situations.

His struggles with social situations were mainly due to three things.  He had sensory issues that ensured that maintaining eye contact was a painful experience.  He would either have to look away almost immediately or risk sensory overload, occasionally causing him to have a meltdown if the overload was severe.  The second struggle was with social expectations that were not written and were known by all but himself.  Nobody would tell him when he broke one; they either shunned him, got mad at him, or even bullied him.  Matt’s brain was not wired to understand these unwritten expectations.  The only way he could learn them was if they were written down.  The third struggle was with body language.  He could understand very obvious body language, but struggled heavily with subtle cues.  Like his struggles with social rules, not understanding subtle social cues got him shunned and bullied by others.

Despite this, a few people were willing to overlook Matt’s struggles and befriend him.  They kept him safe from the bullies, and helped the other kids understand that Matt wasn’t breaking the unwritten rules on purpose.   As a result, some of Matt’s peers that formerly disliked him due to the misunderstandings befriended him now that they knew that he genuinely struggling instead of doing it on purpose.  Some of them invited him to hang out with them on a frequent basis, despite Matt often being unable to communicate his interest to hang out the way everybody else could.  He would get very frustrated when people wouldn’t invite him to hang out, thinking they were doing it on purpose because they didn’t like him.  By his teen years, he understood that it wasn’t his fault why it kept happening; it was because he communicates differently from his peers and that he can misunderstand people and assume something just like how other people often misunderstand him and assume things.

He also struggled with sensory issues, but only mildly.  Sounds like the fire alarm and sirens were the worst.  He had a meltdown once in elementary school when a fire drill began due to the loud buzzing sound of the fire alarm and the flashing light it had.

About two-thirds of the way through his freshman year of high school, he began dating a longtime friend of his named Camila.  She was very beautiful with long black hair, smooth dark skin, full lips and beautiful brown eyes.  To Matt, she looked like a goddess and he loved her sweet, fun-loving personality.  He soon fell in love with her, and they became high-school sweethearts.

Camila’s parents were accepting towards the relationship as they had known Matt for years and knew that he would never harm her.  Camila’s parents avoided giving Matt subtle cues and hints, and once it became a habit, started to do the same with their daughter.

During their senior year, Matt and Camila were surprised to find out they were Prom King and Prom Queen when they went to prom.  Approximately two-fifths of the student body wrote in Camila and Matt’s names for Prom King and Queen.  It got publicized in the local newspaper as well as a few national newspapers.  However, the media said that Camila asked Matt to prom because he otherwise would have to go alone, a lie very obvious to those who knew the couple.

After high school, Matt decided to attend a local university to pursue a degree in computer networking.  It was one of the top-rated universities in the state he lived in.  The change from high school to college was difficult at first, but he got used to the level of freedom he had.  He was rarely ever bullied, and if one did bully him, it was nothing worse than being called a name.   A few of his high-school friends attended the same university as him, which he was happy about as he could continue to socialize with them on a regular basis and still hang out with them.  He continued to date Camila and they often visited each other during weekends and went out on a date every Friday night.

He enjoyed many of the classes, and for extra hands-on experience with computers, he built a brand-new high-end gaming computer and bought a few used computers so he could practice creating a computer network.  It took him six years to complete all the required classes and a few elective classes to get the necessary amount of credit hours to graduate, and when he did he did so with a 3.8 GPA.

The university had a program that helps people with developing the skills needed to successfully get a job.  He took advantage of the program and learned the do’s and dont’s of creating a resume, how to dress for an interview, and did quite a few mock interviews.  He took these skills and applied them once he started to apply for jobs soon after graduation.

After he graduated, he moved in with Camila, and was hopeful that he would have a bright future ahead of him.  Over the course of a month and a half, he put in a dozen applications.  Five companies called him in for a job interview.

For each interview, he dressed appropriately, yet during each interview, his sensory issues hindered his ability to make eye contact, and the accompanying sensory overload made it harder to answer questions such as “Tell me about yourself?”.  As his anxiety rose, his answers became shorter and he had to look away from the interviewer numerous times to cope with the sensory overload to avoid a possible shutdown.   He was surprised he was struggling, as he didn’t struggle that much during the mock interviews in college.  At first, didn’t realize that his struggles were because of anxiety and his sensory issues getting worse because of it.

Soon after each interview, each company called him and turned him down for the job, even during the final two interviews, which he disclosed his autism.  Each job he was interviewed for was filled with a bubbly, extroverted person who was less qualified than him, but had zero issues navigating job interviews.

Six months and two dozen applications later, he was still jobless.  The last interview he had was a panel interview.  Barely two minutes into the interview, he overloaded and had a major anxiety attack due to the number of interviewers there along with the overwhelming social expectations.  He knew once the anxiety attack started that he wouldn’t get the job, so it was no surprise to him when they turned him down.

After year of getting nowhere trying to find a job related to his college degree, Matt started to apply for jobs at fast-food restaurants and a couple of retail stores, and a fast-food restaurant soon hired him.  He was only paid minimum wage for the job, but he was happy to have a job at long last.  For once, everything seemed to work out. To avoid the discrimination he faced in the past, he never disclosed his autism again, deciding to put on a mask so that he would appear to act just like everybody else.  He hid his social struggles as he studied a lot about body language, social rules, and boundaries over the years.

The mask served him well for about a year, when his co-workers and boss figured out that he was different from them.  It was due to the fact that his mask slipped off a few times revealing a couple of his natural traits each time, mostly after he was switched from flipping burgers to working the cash register.  His boss started criticizing his deficits, and his co-workers decided to avoid him as much as possible and gave him looks of disgust and fear whenever he was around.  It didn’t take long before he was fired for “not being a good fit”, when his mask slipped more often due to the stress and anxiety from being treated badly.

Matt was devastated and heartbroken after being fired for being autistic.  He knew they couldn’t outright say the reason they fired him due to anti-discrimination laws prohibiting discrimination.  But he knew, those that were prejudiced would find an excuse and word it in such a vague way that nobody could tell that discrimination was happening.  All his hard work to get a career in computer networking went to waste, and his recent goal of earning money for a living wasn’t met for long.

After a month of recuperating from the stress and anxiety, Matt started to put in applications again, but after four years of being turned down for jobs, he gave up entirely, knowing nobody would hire him.  He broke up with Camila after being in a relationship with her for sixteen years, feeling very guilty about his career plans exploding in his face.  He feared he would become a burden to Camila if he didn’t end the relationship.  He would have asked her to marry him if he kept the fast-food restaurant job for over a year.

With his relationship with Camila now over as well, he went onto disability benefits just to pay for the basics such as food, water, shelter, and clothing to avoid becoming homeless.  However, due to the limited monthly payments he got and due to moving out of his hometown, he had to live in a apartment in a bad neighborhood in an unfamiliar city.

Nobody in the apartment complex accepted him.  He never bothered to disclose his autism due to the hostility he felt from the other residents.  Most shunned him, however, there was one person who felt nothing but contempt and hatred towards Matt, and decided to periodically bully him.  He would even occasionally provoke Matt to the point of meltdown, and then say the most horrific things imaginable to him while he was melting down.  His parents, still living in the same house they lived in since he was born, offered to let him move back with them.  Matt said no, stating that he “didn’t want to be a basement dweller who sits around doing nothing while playing video games and refusing to get a job”.

Things got so bad for Matt in the apartment complex, that he stopped doing the things he loved, fearing others would not want him doing those things.  He gave up his car after it got vandalized as he couldn’t afford to have the damage repaired.  In fact, he often was unable to think straight, which meant he had trouble stopping the anxiety.  Out of fear his friends would abandon him if they found out about his current life, he stopped contacting nearly all of them, and removed most from his friends list on social media sites.  He stopped going to family reunions out of fear that they would cast him out as soon as they looked at him.  The only way he would contact his parents was via text messages.  Instead of telling them what was going on, he lied and said things were going far better than they were.  He did so because he was afraid he would get in trouble for what was going on.  His abuser threatened to get him in major trouble with the law if he did tell to anybody what was going on in the apartment complex.

Once a very handsome young man, Matt was now in his thirties.  Skinny with a few bruises on his face along with untidy, messy hair, his appearance was a far cry from his appearance in his early twenties.  Most of computer equipment he collected over the years, which he used to help himself learn computer networking,  was destroyed.  In fact, he rarely ever thought about his passion for computers anymore.  The mere thought of his passion would cause negative thoughts to form in his head which would remind him of his failed attempts to get a career in computer networking, and that he had to completely hide his true self if he were to get out of the current situation and get a second chance in life.

It was due to those negative thoughts combined with his fear and anxiety that prevented Matt from getting out of the situation with the person who hated him, who hated him turned out to be somebody who wanted to join a local street gang but was refused entry.  He soon became almost completely nonverbal due to the extreme anxiety he was now dealing with.  The situation between the two of them got so bad that Matt was encouraged to commit suicide when he started to deal with suicidal thoughts as well.

Fed up with Matt not contacting them in any way but via text messages for three years, his parents paid a surprise visit to Matt’s apartment.  They knocked on the door, but Matt wasn’t there.  They used a spare key that Matt gave to them, to open the door and entered the apartment.  What they found was a very untidy apartment full of broken computer equipment.  Many of the other items in the apartment also appeared to be damaged.  They knew that Matt loved his computer equipment and would never destroy it.  It was at that moment that they knew something was terribly wrong.  They guessed something was wrong, but that was the first sign that confirmed their suspicions.

A few minutes later, Matt appeared, and the man who hated him began to tease him and called him a very nasty name.  Matt enters the apartment, and freezes in fear at the sight of his parents.  At that moment, his parents put two and two together and realized that he was being abused by the man who just taunted him.   They tried to call the police, but Matt refused to let them, which alerted the man in the other apartment.  Immediately, he began yelling and threatening to charge Matt with everything he had done before even entering the apartment, only to discover Matt’s parents there.

A fight breaks out between Matt’s parents and the other man.  Matt, long fed up with his abuser’s nonsense, finally found the strength to fight back, and hit the man on the head with the case of his old gaming computer.  The man is knocked out and falls on the floor.  He then hugs his parents, but doesn’t say a word as he is too shocked and anxious to speak.

The person who abused him was sentenced to forty years in prison for the crimes he’s committed against Matt.  He moved back in with his parents, knowing there was nowhere else for him to go.  After a year, Matt finally told his parents about what happened, and thanked them for getting him out of the situation he wasn’t able to get out of himself.

Due to the events of the past few years, Matt was diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.  It took anti-anxiety medication along with counseling by a psychiatrist with an unusually open mind to treat his anxiety.  Slowly but surely, he began to act like himself again, but he would never forget the events at his old apartment.  He kept having nightmares about being stuck at the apartment with the abusive man.

Matt got back in touch with his ex-girlfriend Camila, who found him at a bus rapid transit station waiting for a southbound bus to go to the grocery store, who had been wanting to get back into contact with and at least be friends if not rekindle their former relationship.  One of the reasons Camila wanted to get in touch with Matt again was because she discovered she was autistic herself and recently got her diagnosis.  Her autism went unnoticed due to her gender and race.  She was better able to navigate social situations and mask her traits than Matt could; another reason she went undiagnosed for so long.  Camila’s parents knew she was autistic due to being familiar with Matt, but chose not to pursue a diagnosis as they were afraid bad things would happen to her if people found out that she was an autistic black girl.

After Matt broke up with her, she tried to get into a relationship with other men, but almost none of them understood her and quickly broke up with her.  One man who seemingly did understand her, turned out to be an abusive narcissist.  She got out of that relationship after four months.

Instead of taking the trip she was originally going to take, she decided to join Matt on his trip to the grocery store to buy some food that had nearly run out at home.  Matt’s parents were surprised when he returned home, that he brought Camila with him so she could talk to his parents.  She aged very well, and Matt still thought she like a goddess.

After almost three months, they chose to get into a relationship again, and made a commitment to remain a couple for the remainder of their lives.  They soon moved in together.  Neither of them wanted children, so they never had any.  They got married exactly two years from the date they first reconnected at the bus rapid transit station.

With the help of  his parents, family, and his wife, he rediscovered his passion for computers, and slowly got back into his old hobbies, and even got back into contact with some of his old friends.

Camila and Matt’s house had a functioning computer network with an old server, a four-year old gaming desktop with a current graphics card, another used desktop computer, and four laptops being connected to the network.

By the time Matt was in his late thirties, a local business had changed the application and interview process to accommodate autistic people.   Instead of interviews, they had applicants do a range of aptitude tests to determine who is the best one for the job.  The person who scored the highest highest in all the tests got the job.  If that person turned down the job for some reason, the person who scored second in the tests got the job, and vice versa.

At first, Matt was hesitant to apply, given his past experiences with finding work and being fired from the one job he did get.  He thought the aptitude tests were just a way to bring autistic people in just to make them go through an interview and have them turned down afterwards.  He didn’t apply, but the thought of working in a business that would accept him for who he is never left his mind.

An opening for a computer network analyst and technician came many months after Matt first heard about the company hiring autistic people.  He chose to apply, disclosing his diagnosis on the application along with his school history.  After many tests, he ended up scoring first and got the job.  He was a little hesitant to accept it at first, but he did after reassurance that they wouldn’t require him to hide his autism and that his co-workers would accept him for who he is.

He made a lot of money at this job, and he enjoyed it.  There were times he tried to mask, especially at first.  However, after the reassurance and acceptance he got when he did slip into his mask or his autistic traits were more obvious than usual, he stopped masking altogether and chose to be his authentic, autistic self.

The workplace had four rooms where autistics could go to recover from overload and have meltdowns in private.  These rooms were large, and were nearly soundproof.  Only very loud noises like an argument in front of the door could penetrate the soundproof walls.  The LED lights inside looked like and simulated incandescent lights instead of fluorescent lights like the LED’s that existed elsewhere in the building.  These lights were always dim by default, but each room had a switch that would slowly bring the lights to the same brightness as the lights in the main work areas whenever an autistic person felt they were ready to leave the room and return to their job.  Each room was painted a soft, light-green color and there were multiple chairs with padding that matched the color of the walls.  On a wall near the door, was information how to cope with sensory overload, meltdowns, and shutdowns.

Matt used these rooms many times, when his anxiety struck him hard enough to hinder his work, or when he was feeling a meltdown or shutdown coming.  They were a godsend to him and the rest of the firm’s autistic employees.  They were, in fact, designed by an autistic employee when the hiring program was changed to better accommodate autistic people.

Matt had finally found his dream job and was married to the woman he had loved since he was a teenager.  He was thriving in his job, yet was never expected to put on a mask or pretend that he wasn’t autistic.  All of this would never have happened had a few people decided Matt wasn’t worth getting to know.  It was never Matt’s fault that he struggled, particularly in his mid twenties.  It was the fault of society due to widespread stigma and misinformation about autism and the voices of autistic people being ignored.  Never, ever judge a book by its cover.