An Inside Look at an Outsider: Autistic Burnout or Autistic Fatigue

The next Pathfinders blog will publish on September 8, 2021.

Social interaction can be debilitating for people who are on the autism spectrum.  Even more disquieting can be interactions with critical or negative people.  Depending on the number of disquieting social interactions, one might be left listless and tired the following day.

In some cases, the number of stressful social interactions can accumulate and become what some people on the spectrum call autism burnout or autism fatigue.

I had never heard of the terms until fairly recently, so I researched both terms in the Library's Articles - In Depth Search.  This is a great database to search when you are looking for new terms and ideas.

Defining Autistic Fatigue or Burnout

According to an article from Articles - In Depth Search, Julianne Maree Higgins, etal in June 2021's "Defining autistic burnout through experts by lived experience: Grounded Delphi method investigating #AutisticBurnout," autistic burnout or fatigue is related to stress and how stress can cause the person with autism to regress back to former social stages:

"autistic burnout as a condition involving exhaustion, withdrawal, problems with thinking, reduced daily living skills and increases in the manifestation of autistic traits"

For instance, someone who may have learned to successfully meet new people may regress and want to avoid meeting anyone new.

In D.M. Raymaker's article, autism burnout or fatigue is distinguished from professional burnout in the lack of "depersonalization."  Depersonalization means that a person sees themselves from the outside-in, as if they were observing another person.  This factor is not reported by those with autism burnout or fatigue.  Autism burnout or fatigue resembles professional burnout in "exhaustion and reduced self-efficacy."

The authors note that the terms have not been fully researched in academia yet, and is largely anecdotal based upon people with autism and what they have said on social media.


According to the United Kingdom's National Autistic Society, the following causes have been identified so far:

  • sensory overload
  • dealing with social situations
  • masking or camouflaging their autistic traits
  • suppressing stimming
  • a sense of not meeting other people’s/society’s expectations of them

They also add that stress and anxiety are also factors to consider as well.

Things to Try

According to the National Autistic Society, you can try the following methods for reducing autism burnout or fatigue:

  • energy accounting: limit your energy output to what you can handle
  • rest
  • at work, let your manager know your limits and take breaks
  • reduce unreasonable expectations

In addition to these recommendations from the Society, you can also let your boss and co-workers know in advance that you may be overwhelmed socially.  In those cases, make a mutually-agreed plan with your boss for safe and productive activities that you can do in order to "maintain energy."

If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below!