Examining subjective understandings of autistic burnout using Q methodology: A study protocol
Background: Early research indicates that autistic burnout is a chronic, debilitating condition experienced by many autistic people across the lifespan that can have severe consequences for their mental health, wellbeing, and quality of life. To date, studies have focused on the lived experiences of autistic adults, and findings suggest that a lack of support, understanding, and acceptance by others can contribute to the risk of autistic burnout. The study outlined in this protocol will investigate how autistic people with and without experience of autistic burnout, their families, friends, healthcare professionals and non-autistic people understand the construct of autistic burnout to identify commonalities and gaps in knowledge. Study and design: Q methodology will be used to investigate participants’ subjective understandings of autistic burnout. Q methodology is a mixed-methods design that is well-suited to exploratory research and can elucidate a holistic and comprehensive representation of multiple perspectives about a topic. Participants will complete a card sorting activity to rank how strongly they agree or disagree with a set of statements about autistic burnout and participate in a semi-structured interview to discuss their responses. A first-order factor analysis will be conducted for each participant group, followed by second-order factor analysis to compare the groups’ viewpoints. The interview data will provide additional insights into the factors. Conclusion: Q methodology has not previously been used to examine autistic and non-autistic people’s perspectives about autistic burnout. Projected study outcomes include enhanced understanding of the characteristics, risks, and protective factors of autistic burnout. The findings will have practical implications for improving detection of autistic burnout and identifying strategies to support autistic adults with prevention and recovery. The results may also inform the development of a screening protocol and identify potential avenues for future research.