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#TakeTheMaskOff – Week 4

Week 4 13-19 Aug – What is burnout? How is it connected to Masking?

Burnout is what happens to an autistic person after too much energy has been expended by masking. Over a long period of time, masking can lead to disastrous results.

Having to mask all day, every day, is exhausting, and can be especially hard on young people. Especially those who are setting off on their own for the first time, and trying to define who they are and what their individual identity looks like.

Many actually autistic adults who experience burnout do so when they leave the safety and routine of home to attend college. The social demands of college, paired with the difficulty of setting your own, new routine can be tough. Executive function deficits can make studying hard.

Young adults who aren’t yet diagnosed can experience so much stress in this situation, and they may not understand why, which can lead to even more stress! This is often when misdiagnosis happens, when a therapist may attribute their behavior to bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

Undiagnosed autistics can end up being needlessly institutionalized & medicated for the wrong diagnosis. That’s why better diagnosis rates (especially for women & POC) are so important, as well as greater acceptance of autism. The quality of people’s mental health depends on it.

The more actually autistic people are allowed to talk openly about their struggles and experiences, the more understanding the rest of the world will become, of all forms of autism. Thus making the world a better place for the next generation of autistic people.

Pressuring autistic children to “fit in” with their peers may give us the illusion that we are helping, in the short-term. But in the long run, we may be setting these kids up for eventual burnout.

When we talk about proper child development, it’s mental as well as physical. If you teach a young person that their life will be better if they fit in at all costs, if you push them to suppress who they really are, all the time, then we are setting a terrible precedent for them.

We are who we are now because of the childhood that we had. Some folks can work hard to overcome a rough childhood and come out relatively good, but for people with autism, it can be an additional, unnecessary struggle for them to overcome.

A kid with autism may already be at a disadvantage, having to actively figure out how the world around them works. But add in confusion over who they are and how they should act, and you’re putting down roadblocks and speed bumps when you should be smoothing out the pavement.

Autistic kids who don’t feel comfortable being themselves become actually autistic adults who burnout. Their mental and physical health can suffer immensely, as a result. And once they’ve gotten used to suppressing their true nature, it can be such a hard habit for them to break.

Autistic kids need to feel comfortable being themselves. They need to know that it’s okay to be different and unique. We need to teach all children, both autistic and neurotypical, that it’s okay to be “weird.” No child should ever be bullied for not acting like everyone else.

Finally, having actually autistic adult models can make a huge impact on an autistic child’s life. Seeing other people with autism out there in the world, living their own lives and making a difference, can be a great source of hope. These adults can help kids figure out autism.

Join the #TakeTheMaskOff conversation on Twitter!


Published by Adriana Lebrón White

Autistic school librarian and former special education teacher. MA Ed in Special Education and MLIS with a focus on Youth Services and Storytelling.

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