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Dear "Parent of an Autistic Adult"


Adult with dark hair sleeping under green blanket
Autistic Burnout

I am writing to give you some comfort and reassurance. You may be worried that your loved ones may never find their way.

I meet with parents every week who feel that same way.


My friend, Katie Oswald, was that autistic adult. She was absolutely exhausted after high school and barely graduated. Katie failed out of community college. This is her story and how Katie created a life in which she thrives AND helps neurodivergent adults get the help she didn' t get herself when she needed it. If you'd rather listen to Katie's story, here is the link to my YouTube Interview with Katie.


First, the Misdiagnosis

Since she was a kid, Katie suspected she was autistic. Doctors continued misdiagnosing her with other conditions including OCD. This is remarkably common for women attempting to get an autism diagnosis. Even today, practitioners sometimes view autism through a white male lens, not always understanding that women can present and experience autism differently. Katie's diagnosis didn't come until she was 37 years old! Even though she had supportive parents who gave her time to rest during her (not yet understood to be) burnout, Katie's life could have been easier if she'd had her diagnosis and could began to understand how her brain and nervous system work differently and learn how to help advocate for her needs.


Post-High School Burnout

As in Katie's situation, it can be scary for parents when their student fails college and adulting. Some students have an IEP or at least informal supports during high school with much less scaffolding available in college. Especially if they go away to college, getting used to a roommate and all the adult responsibilities can be truly overwhelming with executive function challenges and their parents not close by.


After pushing hard for so long and masking continuously to try to fit in, a long burnout is very common following high school. For parents wondering why a relaxing summer post high school graduation did not "cure" their adult child's burnout, autistic burnout recovery can take a long time. In Katie's case, her full recovery took four years. She worked in fast food restaurant but could do absolutely nothing else. The good news: she did recover AND now lives a life she loves.


Not Built for the Neurotypical, 24/7 Life

Many autistic folks share that working full time is not possible. Even as an ADHDer, I burnout continuously. Our society expects around the clock communication and availability. I believe this lifestyle isn't good for any human being. For an autistic adult, it creates suffering for their sensitive nervous system. Incessant overwhelm and mini burnouts leads to complete autistic burnout. As I shared earlier, Katie's burnout lasted 4 years!



smiling woman in grey beanie cap and white v t-shirt and brown raincoat, with trees and fountains in the background

Baby Steps Coming out of Burnout

If your loved one is experiencing a long autistic burnout, we recommend taking small steps to check one's energy level as they come out of burnout. Katie started with one class at a time until she felt strong, also allowing her GPA to get better.


For your young adult, by paying attention to what is needed, the energy can and will return! For Katie, it meant eventually graduating with a masters from Michigan State and serving in the Peace Corp, but college took 8 years! Unless there are other comorbidities at play, many autistic adults launch into the life they desire, but with a different timeline.


Now, I'm writing to autistic adults and, of course, their families (and future workplaces too!)


Creating YOUR Life

As you learn to stay out of burnout and overwhelm, you can also determine what you want your life to look like. For Katie, this meant creating supports for others that were not available to her when she needed an autistic community.


In Katie's situation, it meant creating an autistic Meet Up group. Before she knew it, Katie had created a non-profit, Full Spectrum Agency for Autistic Adults in Michigan. Katies wanted life to be easier on autistic adults AND to show businesses how to value their neurodivergent team members. The first step in this process means for staff and mangement to understand autism and how to be supportive. (BTW, you can let Katie know that your organization could use this assistance and email her a contact name of your HR department's manager or the owner's name. This can all be done without Katie disclosing your name.)


Katie offers many services, including these Corporate Workshops:


  • Autism 101

  • Autism Inclusion

  • Autism and Communication

  • Executive Functioning

  • Sensory and Information Processing

  • Preventing & Responding to Shutdowns or Meltdowns in the Workplace



A Company Quiet Room Can Be Very Helpful

If you feel comfortable sharing some ideas at your company, Katie offers these suggestions. (You probably have many more!)


  • Autistic professionals explain autism, from their personal lived experience, to allistics (non-autistic).

  • Create a workplace quiet room. Katie visited one company and found a cozy room with adjustable lighting and a white noise machine. This is a great preventative measure that can help employees have a safe place to go and avoid meltdowns and shutdowns.


  • Long Term Autism Mentoring Program


  • Order a workplace assessment and learn about sensory triggers


  • Develop a supportive interviewing process*. Let the interviewee know it is safe to take a break during the interview.


  • Intentionally build an environment where people can share their needs.


  • If an employee is experiencing a meltdown or shutdown, give them the space they need and turn down the lights. Some autistic folks need to move and get fresh air and others need a small, quiet space. They may not be able to talk but can text or nod if you write down a question.


  • As I shared above, consider giving Katie your human resource person's contact information. You can do so anonymously. Katie will reach out and offer her assistance at making the workplace more accessible.



your woman with blue hair and blue sweater painting
Defining What Joy Means To You

What's Your Life Going To Look Like?

Are you ready to create a life on your terms? If you want my support and would like to discuss this further, I am available. We can do a one-off coaching session or meet on a regular basis. I offer my support both to autistic adults AND to parents of autistic adults. Feel free to contact me for a no-charge, brief session to discover if you feel comfortable with me. Thank you for reading my work. If you fill out the form below, you will receive my short blog articles as soon as they are written. And, can listen to Katie Oswald's interview here. My other interviews are here.

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*I've been asking autistic Linkedin participants what makes the workplace difficult for them. So many people answered that many autistic folks cannot get through the interviewing process. We really need to reconsider how we conduct interviews. The funny thing is that studies show that a "good" interviewee is not necessarily proficient in their job responsibilities.




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