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Avoiding Autistic Burnout


Here are some highlights from my first interview with Andrew Marsh, speaker, author, and coach based in Scotland. The entire interview is available on my YouTube channel.


Andrew's Background

Andrew has degrees in geology and engineering geology. He has managed significant highway, dam and dockyard projects.


Diagnosis

In 2015, Andrew was diagnosed with autism. Not too long after, he became a speaker and a coach.


Change in Career

Andrew works with business leaders, companies, and autistic individuals to help manage autism on the job so that people can have a greater success in the workplace. In his spare time, he writes young adult fantasy novels called the Jack Janssen Series.


Interview

When you first received your diagnosis, how did you feel?

Two ways. One was a sense of relief that there was something behind some of my behavior traits and the way I acted in certain ways. But the big word for me is understanding. I understood because I've always known I was different, really fitted in with family, friends, with occasional exceptions at school, college and work. I was someone who didn't fit in. This is what you can explain your behavior, why you behave so much, and why some people behave in certain ways towards me because they sensed I was different.


Bullied

They knew I was different, and some people took advantage of that. Some people were very unpleasant. Bullying and abuse. It was way beyond bullying when I went to college.


Understanding and Appreciation of Self

I get that now. And that's the missing part of the puzzle of me, if you get what I mean, just to understand it, have something that you can pin it to without being overly connected to it, because it is part of me.

It's part of who I am, and it explains so much. And that's really how how I viewed it. I view it as

a positive thing. I've absolutely embraced my diagnosis. I definitely see it as a positive sign for me and for those around me.


They understand, okay, we get that now. Andrew does certain things in certain ways. I would say understanding with relief about having a diagnosis, and it meant something. It was something I could look up, I could research and explain. That really was the big thing for me.




Understanding that a meltdown is not a tantrum

As a parent, you learn that it is NOT that they're not getting their way and they're having a tantrum. Actually, there's something neurological.


A tantrum can be stopped at a moment's notice. You either say, stop it, put back it up, or you give in and give the candy bar.


With a meltdown, you cannot stop. Meltdown has to have its own life, and you have to see it out. If you're the person who's having it, you just have to see it out.


If you're someone with someone who's having a meltdown, give them space. Ask, it there anything I can do? And be prepared to get nonsense back, to get shouting, to get gestures. We typically can't control our functioning [at this point]. They've gotten to the point where the lid has come off the pot and they are boiling.


They have to find in their own time and their own way to deal with that. Until they can come down and then start to be more rational again.


Can you tell me about your career-changing journey?

Yeah, the stopping being a geologist was a result of the credit crunch. In 2007, 2008, I was working for myself. I had basically run myself into the ground, looking for work and running up, driving 200 miles, 250 miles, and I literally just wore myself out.


I stand still and my wife said, we need to take you to a doctor. My doctor took one to look at me and said, you're not fit for anything, mate. You're done. And I was absolutely done. The battery was empty, nothing in the tank. All those metaphors, I was completely done.


And it took a long time for me to get out of that, and I'm still trying to get out of that.

It's not something you can get out of in five minutes or even in a few months. I've had to adjust my way of life. I've had to adjust how I do things. So I retrained in NLP and Hypnosis, which was exciting because I love language. It's the use of language for self improvement and for healing and for helping you in conversations, helping you in meetings and relationships. Having autism and understanding, that helps.




Andrew's work as a consultant

Why don't help bosses understand people like me better? I'm not saying I have all the answers, but there are things that I have learned about managing me and about managing other people.


And I sat down with it, and I thought, if you had a blank sheet of paper, if you looked in the mirror, how would you help yourself as a geologist, as someone in industry?


Someone in the room that I'm speaking to, whether it's them personally, whether it's their grandchild, whether it's their niece or nephew, whether it's their brother or their parent. And you think you know what he's talking about, so and so he does behave a bit strangely in certain and instances, and we've had some issues, but he's talking about my grandson or my granddaughter.


If having that conversation means that that child, that person, that adult, that 60 year old person, whatever it is, goes to their general practicer. It starts the process, if they want to, of getting a diagnosis that says this is the condition you have.


It may be that they're like you. They have ADHD or their OCD or they're dyslexic or dyspraxic or dyscalculia. But there may be something about the neurological makeup that makes them different, makes them stand out, makes them have challenges.


If I can help one person get a better understanding from their friends and family, help them get the right support at work because that is so important, help them get into employment because now they can understand who they are, then that's a heck of a great day at the office for me.


If I can help one company helped 50 employees, all the better. But if it's just one person like me, or, as I said, someone's grandchild or their daughter or niece or nephew, then that's a great day at the office.

Because that person, whether that's an adult or a young person, isn't going to have 40 or 50 years of living like I lived.


If I'm helping someone who feels different, getting bullied, getting abused, not being understood, getting reprimanded for things when you're just trying to speak your mind and help and give suggestions and problem solving, that's a good day.


Autistic Burnout - Getting out and staying out

Jackie: You insinuated but didn't use the term autistic burnout. But when you were talking about deciding you were no longer going to be working in geology and that you were exhausted, it just made me think of my clients when they are an autistic burnout. I'm just finding after COVID so many people who are very fried out right now. How did you find your way out of it? How do you stay out of of it?


Andrew: The NLP helped. Hypnosis helped.


A lot of support from my wife, who has been fantastic throughout this. We just have a conversation. What can I do? I'm in my mid 50s. I'm not ready for the scrapyard yet. I've got skills. There are things that can do. There are things that I'm good at. There are things that I was good at when I was a geologist.

What can I do? And she said, well, why not help businesses? So that's really how it happened. It was with the support my wife.


Andrew gets real

We came to a decision that I can either sit and mope and I can do that very well. I can get in the bad place and I can have the not very pleasant thoughts and I can sit and wallow in the Maya.


It's comforting to be there, because when you're in that place, you've put yourself into such a small bubble. The very little on the outside is going to hurt you because you don't go out, you don't see people, you don't visit friends. So all of those things compress down to this little bubble of myself and my wife.


If I went out, it was to go to the shops, to do the grocery shopping or go walk around the block.

That was it. And the comfort was knowing that, by and large, because I didn't put myself in a position where other outside influences can hurt me, harm me, criticize me, berate me, bully me.


I sat in that bubble and I sat with it and I festered in it. It was only with help from my wife that we said come on, in the mid fiftys I could do better than this and how about doing something for other people?

And that's really how it came about. And we can all, from time to time, find that place and sit in it.


That's how I got out. I still have to manage this daily, weekly, monthly. We're just coming into the winter over here in Glasgow, and it's cold and it's miserable. And the weather does affect your mood.


We just have to do one day at a time. That's how I do it. One day at a time. What can I do today that is going to give me pleasure, going to give me joy?


I know that when we finish this, it'll be dark, but I'm still going to go for my walk after to this.

Put my woolly hat on, put my gloves on, just cook. Go for 10-15 minutes walk because that refreshes me.

Energizes me and have a walk. Even if you're just walking around the block, you're outside, you get fresh air doing these little things. These little things can make such a difference.


Jackie: Number one, when you talked about going to that dark place, but, I mean, you also were letting your body and brain repair. And then you began to reach out in little ways to make the changes. And you talked about the pleasurable things in your life.



Sensory Overload

Andrew: Overload is a major problem. In one sense, we're reasonably lucky. In the UK, we have something called the Equality Act, which came into being in 2010, which means that the employer should do an workplace environment assessment for every employee.


That's basically what it means. If someone is sensitive to lights or noise, they can make what's called reasonable adjustments that they are obliged to make to make the working environment for the autistic person.


And by in the nicest possible way, without labeling it as being, it might be better to put the autistic person in the slightly darker, quieter corner.


From an efficient business point of view, the quiet, less well lit corner could be the perfect space for someone with ASD.


Repeated flickering of lights is the trigger for me. My other bigger trigger is noise.


Room with lots of chatter

One of my biggest challenges is going to networking meetings before COVID. There's 30 people in the room and they're having 15 different conversations. Walking into a room with a wall of noise, and there's all this conversation, it's like walking into a brick wall.


It's boom, right, sensory overload. It's really fierce. And so I have to try and coax myself into, okay, let's try and focus on one conversation and that person looks quite friendly. Go over there and see if I can introduce myself to that one person and try and shut out this plethora of other noise.


The workplace environment assessment is really important, and hopefully employers are getting more familiar with that and what they have to do.


And allowing people on the spectrum to have noise canceling headphones take the overhead strip lighting out can give them angle points, like, if that works for them better.


One of the things that I recommend is having a safe space. A lot of big employers tend to have breakout rooms, which can be a good safe space, providing it's not too brightly lit.


Have a signal that you've agreed with your manager before that says, I've gone to my safe space.

I'll let them go for a walk around the block, if it's safe to do so. And people say, oh, we can't have them doing that.




Andrew's message to parents

If you're a parent and you're a child has autism, they might have been absolutely at the edge of a meltdown or the end of their teller, or at the overwhelming point throughout school.


They may have had been bullied, they may have been harassed by other kids, they may have had a teacher berate them in class or something.


And it could just be that walking into the house and the parent says, make sure you've done your chores, could be the trigger that causes the meltdown. Because they have desperately tried to contain and not to have flash out, not to lash out at someone.


If you are a parent of an autistic or newer divergent child, if they come in and you say and the parents, have you done your choice? If the kid says not now, mum, let me go to my room, let them go to their room, let them go and sit down and turn on the computer or get their game by out or whatever it is that works for them.


The trick would be give them ten or 15, maybe 20 minutes, take up a cup of tea, knock on the door and say, are you okay? In that time, you would have allowed the child to diffuse and calm down and distress from whatever has gone on at school or on the way home from school.


And the parent just say something like don't forget to do your chores. Or Go and put the bin out.

If the child comes in and says, not now, mom. Not now, dad, give me a minute, or they just run upstairs to their room. Don't follow them. Don't chastise them.


Just give them time. They will come out when they're ready. Or, as I say, give them 15-20 minutes and take up a cup of tea, you'll get a much different response from the one that you would have had if you I want you to do this right now.


The minute they shut the front door and they just about to throw their school bag in the hall, that's not the time to do that.

Jackie: And if I do that, I will be their safe place, which is something most of us parents want to be for our kids. So that if you give that, like, They're coming home. They're walking through that door into the safe container of their home and their family, and just a reminder that we need to do that.

And I needed that reminder personally. My son, like me, has ADHD, and I'm usually thinking, let's get the ground running, get it all done, and need to let him let go of the day first.

And then after we've had a little bit of time, he's had some time on his own. He can then take care of his responsibilities and transition.


Contacting Andrew

Find me at Aspergersmatters.com, email me or find me on LinkedIn. You'll see my picture on my profile wearing a blue and white check shirt. I'll be delighted to talk to anyone about anything.


If they have Asperger's or autism or they think they're different and they don't know how to help themselves to work and what they can do, please get in touch. If you're an employer and you think, we've got sounds a bit like him, we don't know how to help support them.


Please get in touch. I'd be delighted to have a short half hour consultation, free of charge, to help. If I can help someone as I said earlier, if I can help someone that helps that child or that adult get a diagnosis, get support at school, work, that's a good day at the office for me.


Anthony Hopkins was in his 70s when he was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. So there's people out there, my age and older who need to be understood.

Let's try and help.

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