How you can help during an autistic burnout

I realize the previous post left everyone hanging on the “I am not well” part and my “cant stop, wont stop” pattern finding brain telling you how responsibility connected and then some side trauma sneaking in. But, it didn’t follow up with what’s next.

But what does the “I am unwell” mean?

The audio of this post is 5:48

How do you support your typically rock solid, high functioning, never asks for help person?

Well, truthfully that will be different for each person. In general, it means be understanding and supportive. 

Don’t try to solve a problem or offer solutions for them to “try out” – not until a clear request is made for said solution.

This is what has led to so many high-masked ADHD and autistic people out there. Neurotypical, allistic people (and neurodivergents with internalized ableism) in good faith offer support with words like “you should do…” or “you could…” or “here’s what you need to do”. All which lead to masking for neurodivergent folks to simply “fit in” in order to normalize to the environment. This isn’t the way.

My list of concerns rolling around inside of me change given whatever I’m feeling into that day.

I worry about how I’ll ever be able to “work” again like before. Yet, I’m okay never going back to it again.

I worry then about how I’ll ever be able to financially support myself ever again. Yet, I trust the universe will bring me the right opportunity to do so. 

I worry about being forgotten by those I worked so hard to genuinely connect with. Yet, I know true connections don’t ever disappear.

I worry about being seen as “less than” now that I have suffered a shut down and indeed am experiencing skill regression. In truth I don’t have a silver lining for this one, yet.

I worry my closest of friends will never forgive me for falling off the face of the earth during this time. Yet, I trust they hold me deeply in their hearts.

For me, I need an enormous amount of understanding (not pity) and empathy from those who know me. 

I need to continue to be seen as valuable and worthy as a person while I recover. 

I need new support systems and advocates, one’s I’m certain I don’t know exist.

I need room to breathe without fear of repercussions.  

I need to be able to find opportunities to engage, recover and still earn a living. 

It is different for every person going through autistic burnout (or, masking burnout)

I thought of a few things that may help in navigating the “I am unwell” conversations.

Respect any way they show up. Understand that your neurodivergent burnout person is doing the best they can to show up in every moment. It isn’t personal against you. Showering can be exhausting.

Be thoughtful how and what questions you ask. Asking questions that are focused on them “reintegrating” with the environment needs to be handled delicately. The current world is not set up for us to exist in let alone thrive, be thoughtful. And, always add context to your questions.

Don’t be an early 2000’s helicopter mom. Pay attention and look for critical warning signs but don’t hover in constant worry. Nurturing and care are a delight for us in the recovery phase but don’t bring the ick.

Don’t say stupid sh*t like “you don’t look unwell” or “you don’t look autistic”. I refuse to even tell you why if this is your first thought. Do some homework and be a better human.

Don’t force them to make decisions. Our brains are fried circuit boards, our operating system is overloaded and the rainbow wheel is in a constant spin. I can’t stress this enough – choosing food to eat when left to our own devices right now means we will just not eat. It doesn’t mean you make a decision on their behalf without consent. It may mean presenting two options and not leaving the question fully open-ended. 

Just listen. If your person wants to open up and share, they will. It takes a lot of effort to converse and communicate and a lot of trust. If we do, feel honored we picked you. We just want you to listen not solve a problem, offer your 5 suggestions, or whatever. Listen. Acknowledge. Ask, how can I support you best right now? (assuming the person can handle that question, use some judgment.)

Be a safe space. Again, this can be defined differently for each person. It might include sensory needs (lights, sounds, textures), simplifying the space, being trustworthy, inclusive, and kind, or something even very nuanced I can’t think of. Mostly, just care and love on the person. 

Educate yourself. All of us who feel “other” out in this current world need allies. Real, genuine allies. I do think it is super important to ask things like “What does this look like or feel like for you?”. But putting the burden back on the person is unhelpful. It feels a lot like more weaponized incompetence and for women, we’ve already burned out from that mental and emotional load our whole lives. No thanks. Pass.

Oh, lastly keep in mind that the answers we have to provide you are always very layered and very complex. There is no “in short” answer here. Don’t be offended if we just say “fine”. It may require way to much energy to give you the truth of the day. 

I hope our “little conversation” today has helped you out. Comment below with thoughts, questions, or your own experience (as an ally or neurodivergent, autistic person).


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