Part 5: Managerial perspective - Minimising incidence of Autistic Burnout

Updated: 4 days ago

Autistic Burnout Guide | Part 5 | 3/12/2021


In this case study, an autistic corporate project manager works in an autonomous and flexible role. They work under a manager with whom understanding has been developed, where the manager makes themselves available to address the autistic employee’s queries and concerns in a timely manner. Here, we outline the key burnout drivers arising for the autistic employee, along with the solutions implemented in partnership with their manager.


The individual in this case was prone to what is often referred to as an ‘autistic meltdown’. One driver of this was a depletion in energy levels, in which functional capacity diminished by the middle of the last day of a full-time work week. The solution devised alongside their manager was to allocate time off each Friday afternoon, with a view that recharge time would be vital for maximising overall working capacity and productivity despite reduced hours.

Meltdowns are embraced without judgement as an inevitable reality, which may materialise in the form of crying or incoherent sentences. The safety of the individual to endure the experience is assured, where the manager offers support by listening and/or offering the individual an opportunity to retreat to quiet space. In fact, the provision of ‘space’ conceptually extends to mental space, as well as physical. Prior to any meetings, the individual is provided all questions or points for discussion in advance, to construct a response and alleviate concerns of poor or underwhelming contribution. This structure optimises their performance and permits them to be more effective. With such management of meltdowns, the prospect of an onset of autistic burnout is diminished.


The low-energy levels encountered by the autistic employee in this case were also identified as arising from insufficient mental processing time, where the space necessary for processing information before responding to questions or contributing thoughts, suggestions or feedback was lacking. Eventually, the individual realised that they needed to meet with their team and discuss this, explaining that often, they need more time than others to stop and reflect on what has been said, adding that pauses can be misinterpreted as a lack of comprehension, or lack of concentration. It emerged that the employee’s co-workers, in these situations, thought that they were being supportive in their responses, though hadn’t properly understood the problem, or how they could help. A mismatch in communication styles was identified as the core issue, which then led to the team workshopping ideas for ‘meeting in the middle’. The team settled on a ‘safe word’ for the employee to use whenever the