By having high functioning autism (or Asperger’s) you will have less energy than most people when you are out in society. This can easily be tested by thinking about how you feel when you are in your own personal space such as your bedroom or your home. Against how you feel when you are in a crowded place such as a supermarket or party. I know for me I have an almost unlimited amount of energy when I am in my bedroom and I can fully control my surroundings. In fact, I see my bedroom as a place where I can recharge (so increase energy) from the loss of energy that is caused in the outside world.
When I first learnt I was high functioning autistic I looked for literature to help me in my quest for a greater understanding of my condition. I turned to the Tony Attwood Guide to Asperger’s book and the best paragraph I read was: “if you are a parent, take your child with Asperger’s Syndrome to his or her bedroom and close the door behind you as you walk out the room. The signs of Asperger’s Syndrome in your son or daughter have now disappeared.” Quite a powerful statement but in many ways true.
Why Having Autism Reduces Energy Levels
The first area that affects energy in someone with autism is sensory overload. As we are so sensitive through all of our senses it is easy to become tired. Sometimes our senses are overloaded without us realising, such as a few people talking which causes overload through hearing. Or simply too much light causing visual overload from the sun or bright lighting in a room. At the time we may not realise but over time these small things sap our energy bit by bit whilst everyone else is totally unaffected.
Secondly, having to think all the time in social situations and act to fit into society is also very tiring. Normal people can talk to each other naturally, without thinking, but people with autism are always thinking about what has been said and the best way to respond. Nothing is natural but we can get to the stage where we are so good at communicating it seems natural but it is still tiring. Just having a conversation can be the hardest part of the day.
The third thing is, just to get through the day and fit in with society we are constantly playing back social situations that have happened that day. Trying to work out where we made mistakes or how we could have said something better or different. If we upset someone it upsets us. So we try to understand what caused the upset so we can make it better. If we can’t make it better we think about how we don’t repeat those actions or words again so we don’t hurt someone else the same way. My brain is always active throughout the day which uses a great deal of energy.
Lastly, many people with autism like myself worry too much and have more anxiety than most people. This anxiety can be from change that we don’t expect or being in difficult social situations. We are always on the go as we get bored easily so find it almost impossible to just sit down and relax. All of these things cause great tiredness and fatigue.
Unfortunately, many of these things cannot be prevented, as they are part of our condition, but some things can be done to help a bit.
How to increase energy or stop feeling tired?
- Exercise more: this seems counter intuitive as exercise uses the most vital energy when you are feeling tired so will make you feel even more tired. The way the body works is that exercise will make your muscles stronger, your lungs and heart work better. So after a while your body gets used to doing this extra work and doing your regular jobs becomes easier as your body is stronger and healthier.
- Eat snacks when feeling tired: food is basically energy. So if you feel tired a snack will always give you a boost. The more sugary the snack the quicker it gives you energy. But the energy runs out quickly and then you feel more tired after an hour or two until you eat again. That being said it is often better to have this quick boost from a sugary drink or snack if you are feeling very tired in-between meals such as a break time at work. Modern thinking is to eat slow release energy food such as whole wheat or high protein foods such as meat to keep your energy higher for longer or eat little and often. Obviously making sure you don’t overeat so that you keep a healthy weight as the more you weigh the harder it is to do every task in life so you require more energy which means eating more.
- Giving up caffeinated drinks: I used to heavily rely on caffeine to get me through the day and genuinely believed it helped me to keep awake and alert. After giving up all caffeinated drinks about eight months ago it has certainly helped me to feel more awake and energetic through the day. I wake up without feeling groggy and feel less anxious. This may not be suitable for everyone but it is worth considering.
- Sleep well: sleep is very important as it is the time your body recovers and repairs itself. A minimum of 7 hours is needed but I always try for 8. If I am down on my sleep, I will have occasional afternoon naps to get me back on track.
- Reduce sensory overload: it is possible to reduce sensory overload by thinking about what causes it and put measures in place to reduce it. For example
- Wearing sunglasses or a cap on a sunny day
- Look for where there is sound overload and reduce it using measures such as wearing headphones in public places or walking away from busy and noisy areas if you have the opportunity
- Going outside at break times or lunch time to eat alone at a park or in the car
- Just having a walk to a local shop or having a drink in a quiet corner of a canteen
- One that is probably the most obvious and used is staying in your bedroom when you are at home to rest your senses and brain from the overload you have received in the day
- All these things help to reduce the senses being overloaded or help you to calm down if they have been bombarded throughout the day.
- Diet: getting this right is the key to having the right amount of energy to get through the day. Eating the correct food at the right times massively improves your energy levels. If you can get the balance of eating just the right amount for the energy you use you will keep a healthy weight. This will make everyday tasks easy to achieve but if you overeat (which is far too easy to do these days) then you will eventually put on weight and everything will become even more difficult. It really is worth studying this area and the right kind of foods to eat for energy if you are feeling tired all the time
You will often find that doing one of the above things such as exercising more will improve one of the other areas such as sleep, as your body needs more time to recover. Or doing lots of exercise will improve your diet as your body often craves the food that it needs to repair such as lean meats. Plus, you spend that much time and effort on exercising that you naturally don’t want to spoil your progress by eating the wrong foods.
Unfortunately, being autistic means your energy levels will be lower than the rest of the population. There are steps you can take to help to increase your energy levels such as exercise, diet and good sleep. But even doing all of these things right will probably put you on a par with a non-autistic person that does not do any of these things. It is probably one of the biggest reasons why many autistic people find work and school life so difficult and find it harder than everyone to fit into society. I try very hard in all of the areas I have discussed and meet nearly all these to a good or very good level but I still find life quite difficult. Especially in the terms of having enough energy to get through the week. I do manage though but luckily balance my life well by working part time and being a house husband the rest of the time. I also have really good support from my wife which helps a great deal.
Please add a comment if you have got any other tips or tricks to helping your energy levels to help people like us succeed in life with autism.