Autism Interview #35: Vera Didenko on Autistic Burnout

Vera Didenko is an autistic blogger recognized for contributions in both radio broadcasting, from 2001 to 2008, and federal government defense accounting, from 2008 to 2013. Vera blogs about a variety of life issues relevant to individuals on the spectrum and the neurotypicals in their lives at This, That, and Vera.

Your latest post suggests more should be done to prevent “autistic burnout.” What are some of the signs that a burnout is coming?

In my opinion, if you know of an (open) autistic individual who presents themselves as “passing for a neurotypical,” and they are having a hard time adjusting themselves to the juggling act of adulthood (societal and social pressure, financial problems, issues with budding addiction, etc.), then that’s when “autistic burnout” is upon the horizon.

How can parents help advocate for their children to prevent such burnout in the school setting?

At this time, I am not sure there is a way to prevent autistic burnout at school, as children are more adept to take on the façade of a neurotypical than not. However, parents can monitor their autistic child’s behavior to see if the child is starting to buckle from peer pressure. Very similar to neurotypical peer pressure, to an autistic, peer pressure can be presented as “looking like my friends or the coolest kid in the school,” “having to do something that they know *can be wrong* in order to be accepted” (like an initiation procedure to a group of kids), and “all the other kids are doing it, therefore I need to do it too.” And a lot of this will stem from other peers testing an autistic child’s self-esteem. If an autistic child’s self-esteem is not where it should be, then it is tantamount for the parents to boost the confidence and esteem of their child. Just that alone will go a long way in an autistic child’s life, well beyond school.

What can employers do to help prevent autistic burnout in their workplace? Is this dependent upon the autistic person to communicate individual needs?

Employers that do hire autistic employees need to be as upfront about the work conditions as the autistic employee needs to be upfront about their work threshold to the employer. Trust has a huge role in this type of relationship, because without it, the employer may demand something from the autistic employee that said employee may not be able to do. When I look back at my experience, I had notified my potential employer about my autism. But because I was “passing as neurotypical,” no questions were raised about my autism from anybody; it was just assumed that my autism “wasn’t that severe.”

What’s the most important thing parents can do to support the development of their autistic children?

Build their self-esteem. Understand their child’s potential and limitations in order to guide the child towards a healthy and stable adulthood. If you need to vent about the frustrations of raising an autistic child, do so with an actual medical provider and not with the keyboard variety; social media is the last place you want to air out your feelings.

What mistakes do neurotypical autism advocates make?

A couple of mistakes I can think of off the top of my head are:
1) Somehow, someway, Autism Speaks really cares for autistic folks in general, so we as autistics “need to give them a chance.”  That can be countered with: “have Autism Speaks show their balance sheet for 2016 and then we can discuss,” and

2) Sharing information about their autistic child (in their life) *without their permission*. “But Vera, they are minors; what we are doing is not going to affect them or have consequences. And I thought you wanted to see more disabled people in the forefront.” That can be countered with: “if you aren’t willing to show photos of you passed out drunk from a party that your friend took, then why would you be willing to show photos of your child having a meltdown and put them on social media?” This isn’t hard to comprehend (I hope); it’s common sense.

What do you wish more people understood about autism?

Autism isn’t some badge that parents (regardless of their neurodiversity) get to place on their chest whenever they have a discussion with folks about their own autistic children. Autism isn’t about the neurotypical; it’s about the autistic.

There are some people who want to create legacies for themselves by having children live out the parents’ name in whatever community they reside in, both geographically and culturally. The problem with that is the expectations automatically placed onto children even before they are born. It becomes “shameful” to the family when it is discovered that their child is autistic. First off, to create a child is not to continue a bloodline or to keep a family surname. The purpose to having a child is to make sure it can be a productive member of society, by whichever means possible. To think otherwise is driven by personal ego, not esteem. And even if the child is incapable of self-care and independence, as is in some cases with autistic children that also have some form of developmental disability (autism and developmental disability are mutually exclusive), it does not give a parent permission to discard their child simply because.

When you opt to have (or adopt) a child, you take on the risk of whatever life throws at you. And you have to accept that fact with no hesitation and no excuses. Otherwise, don’t have children or have an abortion if you are already pregnant. A child is not a status symbol, an accessory, or a continuation of a familial legacy. A child is a child is a child.

How would you rate society’s acceptance of autism today?

It depends on where you live and what culture dictates what is “acceptable.” As a global society, we have much more work to do on having people, from all walks of life, understand autism and to not “be afraid of the unknown.” Consider it a bridge to cross over the neurodivergent divide. This concept helped millions of Americans become educated and equipped to handle the new digital lifestyle in the late 90s and early 00s. Educating and equipping millions of Americans and people worldwide about autism and to incorporate it into their communities is essential to reduce, and ultimately prevent, filicide among families over an identity, providing a work environment with sensory protocols for employees, and allowing autistic folks to thrive.

I know this seems like a daunting task, as places around the world have issues accepting people with different identities, based on race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and other forms of disability. But it must be done, for all identities, including autistic ones, in order for everyone to live a promising life. And until that day comes, we have a lot more work to do.

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