Investigating autistic burnout

Published January 2023

Autistic burnout is commonly described by and talked about on social media by autistic people for some time (#AutBurnout). Despite this, there is no recognition of autistic burnout in academic literature.

This two-phase project sought to define autistic burnout, deepen understanding and create awareness of this syndrome within the research and autism communities.

In Phase 1, the project team worked with autistic adults who had experienced autistic burnout and co-produced a definition intended for clinicians and the autistic and autism communities.

Autistic burnout was defined as a highly debilitating condition characterised by exhaustion, withdrawal, executive function problems and generally reduced functioning, with increased manifestation of autistic traits – and distinct from depression and non-autistic burnout.

In Phase 2, the project team sought to validate emerging definitions of autistic burnout in addition to the published Phase 1 definition. Using a co-produced mixed-methods online survey, 141 autistic adults with self-identified experience of autistic burnout strongly agreed to items suggesting exhaustion and interpersonal withdrawal were key characteristics of autistic burnout.

Further work is needed to differentiate autistic burnout from other conditions to avoid autistic adults from being misdiagnosed with depression, anxiety or borderline personality disorder when their experience would have been better described as autistic burnout.

A range of other findings and recommendations can be found in the Final Report.