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Being Autistic Is Not All Fun-and-Games (Autistic Burnout is Real)

And the ability to avoid autistic burnout is a form of privilege.


As schools of all levels are coming to another ending for the summer, I am again reminded of how difficult being autistic can be. In working with clients, my overall hope is that we can work together to develop a life that is (and feels) sustainable and isn't constantly driving the client towards meltdowns and shutdowns and burnouts. I've been able to accomplish this for myself and lots of my clients achieve this as well. But there are just as many who are not in a situation to experience that relief, for many different reasons.


We speak about "privilege" in our society a lot nowadays and I find it applies here as well. I remember well the days when my life did not feel sustainable, and the knowledge that one must sustain it anyway leads to a deep sense of hopelessness over time. I have been there and I spent decades there, in fact. My ability to withdraw from that life and build a new one that brings me peace and joy is where my privilege lies and it lies across several intersections with other forms of privilege, to be sure.


All of that to say, those of us who have found the joy of autistic self-discovery are still in the midst of those who are suffering the hardships that autism can bring. Nowhere is this more evident than in our educational systems. Very few of my autistic college students are "loving the 'tism" right now, that's for sure. It's a period of time with high stress, lots of demands, tons of judgement, and very little rest and self compassion. In our sessions, we talk about how this is why autism is still considered a disorder.


It's easy for some of us to gush about the beauty of neurodiversity and how this is a natural way of existing as a human. But when you're the human crashing against the neurotypical system, it certainly doesn't feel very comforting. The system isn't experiencing the depression and anxiety, the inertia and executive functioning troubles, even the despair.


So in therapy right now with my students (and teachers, by the way), the "name of the game" with these clients is *self compassion* and I wanted to spread a little of that here too. If you're an autistic person still struggling to make your life work in a way that is sustainable, stay "on your own team" through this process. Try not to turn on yourself mentally, and keep working towards your goals of getting to a more comfortable life.


Be nice to yourself about the fact that you're struggling and be accurate with yourself about why that is - the disability of autism results largely from being forced into neurotypical settings and expectations. Hopefully you can find some time soon to compassionately rest and recover. In the meantime, self compassion really can help you avoid larger problems (autistic burnout, depression, etc.).


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