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September 1, 2023
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Preventing AuDHD burnout

Last updated on December 8, 2023

Burnout varies greatly from person to person. Moreover, burnout often looks different for neurodivergent folks compared to neurotypicals. We previously wrote an article about autistic burnout.

Here, I share some strategies for how those of us who are AuDHD (both autistic and ADHD) can prevent burnout.


AuDHD burnout

When we think about neurotypical burnout, we commonly think of burnout due to workplace environments or occupational demands. However, for AuDHD, we can experience burnout due to many other factors. Burnout for autistic (and likely also for AuDHD) individuals is thought to be caused by a long-term mismatch between expectations and capabilities.[1]“Having All of Your Internal Resources Exhausted Beyond Measure and Being Left with No Clean-Up Crew”: Defining Autistic Burnout (Raymaker et al., 2020) For example, the accumulation of pressure to conform to social norms, not having sufficient accommodations, and a lack of empathy surrounding our needs.[2]“Having All of Your Internal Resources Exhausted Beyond Measure and Being Left with No Clean-Up Crew”: Defining Autistic Burnout (Raymaker et al., 2020)[3]A conceptual model of risk and protective factors for autistic burnout (Mantzalas et al., 2022)[4]Exploring life with autism: Quality of Life, daily functioning and compensatory strategies from childhood to emerging adulthood: A qualitative study protocol (Øverland et al., 2022)

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of research on ADHD/autism and burnout yet. In fact, one recent study even found that most of the research about neurodivergent and/or disability burnout actually focuses on how we are the cause of the burnout experienced by others![5]Burnout through the Lenses of Equity/Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and Disabled People: A Scoping Review (Wolbring & Lillywhite, 2023) (Ouch…) We are hopeful that as burnout becomes more well-known in neurodivergent circles, there will be more research conducted about how it is caused and how it can be managed. In the meantime, this article combines findings from recent studies and my own personal experience about ways that AuDHDers can anticipate and prevent AuDHD burnout.


Anticipating burnout

We can reduce the likelihood of experiencing AuDHD burnout if we can figure out situations where we are at high risk of developing burnout. Since we know that burnout is caused by a long-term accumulation of unfavourable situations,[6]“Having All of Your Internal Resources Exhausted Beyond Measure and Being Left with No Clean-Up Crew”: Defining Autistic Burnout (Raymaker et al., 2020) recognizing when we find ourselves in these situations early on is helpful in the long run.

Identifying high-risk situations

To identify situations where we are likely to develop burnout, we can look out for the following things:

One difficulty with preventing burnout is that these situations cannot always be avoided. Sometimes, they can even be desirable for short periods of time, like when we want to attend an event even though it is loud and crowded. Thus, it is helpful to be aware of these external high-risk situations and how often we find ourselves in them, while also developing an awareness of internal signs that burnout may be approaching.

Practicing self-awareness

Monitoring for internal signs of burnout can be difficult for AuDHDers. Particularly those of us who also have alexithymia. I’ve created a list of self-reflection questions that you can use to practice becoming more self-aware about when burnout may be occurring. Each question asks us to reflect on a change in behaviour that is commonly associated with burnout in autism and ADHD. Integrating these questions into a weekly routine can help us learn to identify signs that we are not coping well. This practice can ultimately help us feel more in control of our situation.

Something to keep in mind is that meltdowns and shutdowns can happen regardless of burnout. These reactions are typically associated with specific moments, but we can recover from them. When we are monitoring for signs of burnout, we want to monitor for long-term or extended periods of behavioural change where there is little/no relief. In particular, we want to monitor for long-term changes in energy (e.g., more fatigue), mood (e.g., feeling depressed), and functioning (e.g., inability to do things we usually do). 


Preventing burnout

Being able to catch signs of burnout early based on identifying high-risk situations and practicing self-awareness is the first step to preventing burnout. In addition, we also need to make sure we change our situation and/or make our situations more sustainable so that we don’t actually end up with burnout. Here are my top two tips for preventing burnout:

Self-care

Engaging in self-care is a way for us to take care of ourselves. Research shows that regularly practicing self-care can reduce our chances of experiencing burnout.[20]Defining autistic burnout through experts by lived experience: Grounded Delphi method investigating #AutisticBurnout (Higgins et al., 2020) However, for AuDHD, what constitutes self-care can be different than what is often advertised as self-care in the media and for neurotypicals. In particular, self-care for AuDHD can involve managing sometimes opposing ADHD and autistic needs like needing both routine and spontaneity.

Here are some examples of self-care activities that can be deliberately and regularly implemented into your weekly schedules to help to prevent AuDHD burnout:

  • Stimming
  • Engaging in special interests
  • Withdrawing from social and sensory situations that are overwhelming
  • Also ensuring that we are getting enough nourishing sensory stimulation
  • Managing hyperfocus so that it isn’t at the expense of things that we need (like meals and sleep!)
  • Schedule those things that we need, like meals and sleep

In general, engaging in self-care activities aims to restore energy levels, make sure that we are getting our needs met, and provide an outlet for dealing with stressful situations.

Seeking support

This can be considered a form of self-care, but I felt that it deserved its own recognition. Since our burnout is often the result of not having our needs met or experiencing limited empathy, preventing burnout often necessitates seeking out support. This can be in the form of:

Regardless of what supports you seek out, the goal is to ensure that your needs are being met.


In this article, we discussed ways to identify when we may be at risk of experiencing AuDHD burnout, and ways to help prevent burnout from developing. Nonetheless, burnout isn’t always avoidable. In the next article, I explore ways to manage and cope if we find ourselves in the middle of burnout. Read it here:

Preventing AuDHD burnout

References

References
1, 2, 6, 14, 15, 17 “Having All of Your Internal Resources Exhausted Beyond Measure and Being Left with No Clean-Up Crew”: Defining Autistic Burnout (Raymaker et al., 2020)
3 A conceptual model of risk and protective factors for autistic burnout (Mantzalas et al., 2022)
4 Exploring life with autism: Quality of Life, daily functioning and compensatory strategies from childhood to emerging adulthood: A qualitative study protocol (Øverland et al., 2022)
5 Burnout through the Lenses of Equity/Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and Disabled People: A Scoping Review (Wolbring & Lillywhite, 2023)
7, 9, 18, 20, 24 Defining autistic burnout through experts by lived experience: Grounded Delphi method investigating #AutisticBurnout (Higgins et al., 2020)
8, 21 Toward an understanding of occupational burnout among employees with autism – the Job Demands-Resources theory perspective (Tomczak & Kulikowski, 2023)
10 Burnout: The Cost of Masking Neurodiversity in Graduate STEM Programs (Syharat et al., 2023)
11 Looking good but feeling bad: “Camouflaging” behaviors and mental health in women with autistic traits (Beck et al., 2020)
12 Experiences of neurodivergent students in graduate STEM programs (Syharat et al., 2023)
13 Defining autistic burnout through experts by lived experience: Grounded Delphi method investigating #AutisticBurnout (Higgins et al., 2020))(A cross-sectional study of psychological distress, burnout, and the associated risk factors in hospital pharmacists in Japan (Higuchi et al., 2016)
16 “Putting on My Best Normal”: Social Camouflaging in Adults with Autism Spectrum Conditions (Hull et al., 2017)
19 Defining autistic burnout through experts by lived experience: Grounded Delphi method investigating #AutisticBurnout (Higgins et al., 2020))(Towards the measurement of autistic burnout (Arnold et al., 2023)
22 How can the work environment be redesigned to enhance the well-being of individuals with autism? (Tomczak, 2022)
23 Occupational issues of adults with ADHD (Adamou et al., 2013)
This article
was written by:
debra-bercovici

Dr. Debra Bercovici PhD is an Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream at the University of Toronto. She has a B.Sc. in Psychology from McGill University, and a Ph.D. in Behavioural Neuroscience from the University of British Columbia. She was formally diagnosed with autism at 28.

Disclaimer

Although our content is generally well-researched
and substantiated, or based on personal experience,
note that it does not constitute medical advice.

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