Recognising and preventing burnout for autistic employees

masking for autistic person in society

Navigating the workplace can be challenging for anyone, but for individuals on the autism spectrum, these challenges can be even greater. From coping with sensory sensitivities to facing barriers in the recruitment process, autistic individuals often encounter unique obstacles that can impact their professional lives. Autistic employees have specific needs which need to be catered to, such as stimming, indulging in intense interests and engaging with comfort items.

stimming at work


Another common behaviour is ‘masking’, where a person changes to fit in with others and avoid standing out. It can be consciously or unconsciously motivated, draining and result in tolerating uncomfortable and distressing situations. Short-term masking can be useful or necessary, but long-term masking can lead to burnout. When it becomes intolerable and an autistic person craves to be their authentic selves, they can ‘unmask’. If an autistic employee does turn to unmasking, its important for those around them to not interfere or bring attention to the change in behaviour and try to be as supportive as possible.


Stimming is a common trait in autism spectrum disorder, involving repetitive actions like hand-flapping, rocking and vocalisations. Stimming assists with self-regulation, sensory input and emotional expression, helping people with autism to manage overwhelming stimuli or anxiety. While stimming may seem unusual to others, it plays an important role in the lives of autistic individuals, offering comfort and coping mechanisms. Stimming behaviour can help autistic individuals to destress, and should not be interfered with or commented on.


There are a few barriers when it comes to addressing burnout and which can exacerbate the issue, including not supporting autistic employees when they bring up the fact that they are burnt out, or dismissing their claims. These employees also struggle to advocate for themselves, finding it difficult to ask for breaks or ask for help - often stemming from past trauma, fear, limited social skills or previous negative experiences in similar situations. For autistic individuals, stress may be perceived as intrinsic to life, and they can gloss over the need to take breaks and manage stress.

Recovering from burnout

Effective recovery from autistic burnout can be different for each individual, but there are some general best practices. You can start by decluttering your schedule and purging any non-essential obligations, giving you more downtime to recover. It’s also helpful to engage in soothing activities and hobbies, spending time in nature, meditating, or journaling. Sensory interventions, like compression or noise-cancelling headphones, can also help to ground you and calm the mind. It’s also important to get enough sleep, and to disconnect from overly-stimulating activities. Lastly, practicing self-compassion is paramount; acknowledge that you have limitations (like everyone does) and practice saying 'no' when it’s necessary. Recovering from burnout is a journey, but with patience and self-care, it is achievable.

recruitment process for autistic employees

How the recruitment process affects autistic candidates

Supporting autistic employees begins in the recruitment process. Recruitment processes often have inherent barriers for autistic people - and by making some adjustments, autistic candidates can be made to feel much more comfortable when applying for jobs and demonstrating their skills as candidates.

  1. Job descriptions 

Job descriptions often list skills that aren’t essential for the job, such as ‘communication skills' and 'team player’, and autistic candidates may not apply for jobs that list these skills, even though they may be perfect for the role.

        2. Application forms 

Application forms aren’t always clear when it comes to the information that needs to be provided. Forms should have space for applicants to disclose any support or adjustments they need at an interview. It is helpful for autistic candidates to have a word limit on their written applications.

         3. Job adverts 

Job adverts can be confusing for autistic candidates. These adverts should list essential skills only and omit jargon and superfluous information, and the design should be clear and straightforward.  It should objectively describe the required abilities and experience.

job application for people with autism

How interviews can be made more accommodating for autistic candidates

Interviews rely on strong social and communication skills, making it difficult for autistic candidates to sell themselves. By making a few changes, interviews can be much more accommodating for autistic candidates.

First, it's helpful to offer the interview questions to the candidate before the interview to give them time to prepare and to calm their nerves. Any information about the interview that is given to the candidate should be clear and simple, such as the location of the interview, how exactly to get there, and where to go upon arrival. Autistic candidates can also find it helpful to receive a schedule of what will happen during the interview.

When it’s time for the actual interview, it's best to stick to the established, communicated plan and avoid asking unexpected questions. Autistic candidates can also have trouble with discussing specific past experiences or answering hypothetical questions.

There is language that should be avoided during interviews with autistic candidates. One danger is the risk of autistic candidates taking statements literally. For example, if asked how they found out about the job, they may simply say "on the computer."

Autistic candidates might also struggle with eye contact, either prolonging it or avoiding it. Breaks during long interviews can also help these candidates to relax. Lastly, allowing candidates to bring notes and refer to them in the interview can be helpful and help to alleviate their nerves.

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