Burnt Out and Dropping Out: A Comparison of the Experiences of Autistic and Non-autistic Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic


Cage E & McManemy E (2022) Burnt Out and Dropping Out: A Comparison of the Experiences of Autistic and Non-autistic Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, Art. No.: 792945.

Autistic students are more likely to drop out of university, while facing both challenges and opportunities within university environments. This study compared the experiences of autistic and non-autistic current United Kingdom students, in terms of thoughts about dropping out, burnout, mental health and coping, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Burnout was of particular interest as this is a relatively unexamined phenomenon for autistic students. Seventy autistic and 315 non-autistic students, completed a mixed methods questionnaire with standardized measures of burnout (personal and academic), mental health (depression, stress, and anxiety), and coping styles (adaptive and maladaptive). We also included qualitative questions about dropping out and COVID-19 experiences. We found autistic participants experienced higher rates of burnout and mental health symptoms and were more likely to have thought about dropping out. Reasons given for thinking about dropping out, for both groups, focused on poor mental well-being, doubts about university, and academic challenges. For autistic participants, further analyses did not identify specific predictors of thinking about dropping out, but for non-autistic participants, this was predicted by maladaptive coping styles and academic burnout. Academic and personal burnout predicted one another for autistic students, and age, maladaptive coping, autistic characteristics, stress, and anxiety additionally predicted burnout for non-autistic students. Similarities in experiences during the pandemic were noted, with both groups experiencing negative social implications, difficulties adjusting to emergency online learning, and poorer psychological well-being. Moving forward from COVID-19, universities must find ways to enhance both academic and social support, to enable equal opportunity within Higher Education for autistic students.

General Psychology

Frontiers in Psychology: Volume 12

Publication date31/12/2022
Publication date online31/01/2022
Date accepted by journal02/12/2021
PublisherFrontiers Media SA


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