"The battery’s dead": Burnout looks different in autistic adults

Beth Winegarner

Tyla Grant, 24, holds down a full-time advertising job, is trying to get a nonprofit off the ground and creates regular content for her podcast, YouTube channel and Instagram. Occasionally, she winds up so fried she can’t speak or get out of bed for days.

Ms. Grant is also autistic. While most people undergo periods of burnout — physical, cognitive and emotional depletion caused by intense, prolonged stress — autistic people, at some point in their lives, experience it on a whole different level. Autistic traits can amplify the conditions that lead to burnout, and burnout can cause these traits to worsen. They may become unable to speak or care for themselves, and struggle with short-term memory. This harms their ability to perform well at jobs, in school or at home.

“It’s the point at which there’s no more of you left to give. The battery’s dead. Tyla’s left the chat,” she said. “Whatever you want from me, you’re not going to get.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that, as of 2017, 2.2 percent of adults in the United States — nearly 5.5 million people — are autistic. That’s almost certainly an undercount; many in the autistic and research communities believe that women and people of color are underdiagnosed.

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