Zoe McEwan Burnt. A Story of Autistic Burnout

  • Tauira / Student
    Zoe McEwan
  • Kaiako / Lecturer
    Jo Bailey

As an Autistic person, I am intimately aware of how lacking supportive resources for Autistics are. The academic and scientific sectors have historically refused to listen to Autistic voices, directly leading to poor quality of life and mental health outcomes for Autistics.
As a designer, I can try to address this. My specialities lie in illustration, and so I endeavoured to explore how comics as a medium could communicate meaningful community-driven Autistic knowledge. My hunch was that the literal visual storytelling in comics makes it easier to parse intimidating topics, while the element of spatial time allowed me to approach them with the respect and nuance they deserve. I wrote the story around the topic of Autistic Burnout, as it optimizes an aspect of the Autistic struggle that has gone underacknowledged, while the Autistic community worldwide has been aware of and built strategies for it, for years.
The main focuses of my design treatment were control and simulating a conversation. The craft reminiscent printing treatment, appropriate warnings, and the fold-out section that one must cut a sticker to access, champion the control and consent of the reader as my top priority. One must be cautious when approaching emotionally draining topics such as Autistic Burnouts, so I decided to make sure that the reader was able to make an informed decision about whether to interact with the information. The fold-out section holds the most possibly triggering section of the story and thus needs this control and consent element to function comfortably. I designed the story itself to be understandable if the reader were to skip this section, to facilitate a true choice in the matter. Simulating conversation is a focus conceptualized to support the comfort and connection of the reader. Opening with the authors note, continuing through a story about a conversation with a wise new friend, and ending with the further information section, I worked to simulate a direct conversation with the audience to make my presence as the designer heavily felt and harken back to where my information and inspiration comes from, community knowledge. I wanted to champion the community voice and utilize our historically trusted method of passing on strategies in a new medium.
While the project would have only reached its true intended potential if I had printed it in a distributable manner, I was limited by my resources as a student and made do with the project’s reception in other forms to assess its success. I also uploaded the comic in full to my online portfolio to guarantee it exists somewhere for viewing, even if I could not distribute it. I received a couple of reaffirming messages there, that saw my resource as meaningful to today's young Autistics. I felt proud of my work as it successfully communicated clearly and calmly the information I have learned through my time as a diagnosed Autistic, that I would pass on to other young Autistics if I could.