Autistic burnout — a condition described as feelings of chronic exhaustion, loss of skills, and reduced tolerance to stimulus — is often described by autistic adults, but the concept is “almost completely absent” from academic and clinical literature, according to a new paper published in the journal Autism and Adulthood.

The community-based analysis, which is the result of 19 interviews and 19 “public internet sources,” attempts to understand, characterize, and document the condition.

All participants were adults who said they were professionally diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition.

According to the paper, participants “described burnout as happening because of life stressors that added to the cumulative load they experienced, and barriers to support that created an inability to obtain relief from the load.”

Impacts included negative health outcomes and reduced quality of life.

“Autistic burnout appears to be a phenomenon distinct from occupational burnout or clinical depression. Better understanding autistic burnout could lead to ways to recognize, relieve, or prevent it, including highlighting the potential dangers of teaching autistic people to mask or camouflage their autistic traits, and including burnout education in suicide prevention programs,” the paper says.

Autism and mental health

The findings are similar to that of a 2018 paper which found that stress related to social stigma could be why autistic people experience more mental health problems.

The paper cites previous research suggesting people with autism are more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

“Traditionally autism and poor mental health were believed to be intrinsically linked, but this is not the case. These findings show that poor mental health of people with autism is instead directly connected with exposure to social stress, which goes beyond the effects of everyday stress that are experienced by others,” Monique Botha, the lead author of the 2018 study, said in a statement.

“Such insight gives us a better understanding of why people with autism may be more likely to have poor mental health and will inform ways of reducing such stresses. It suggests that taking actions within society to tackle discrimination might significantly reduce rates of poor mental health, and thus suicide in [the] autistic population.”