I want to talk some about meltdowns. There seems to be an increasing acknowledgement that meltdowns are not the same thing as tantrums, and as such cannot be judged or treated the same way. This is good to see and I’m glad people are taking it seriously. I remember growing up people assuming my meltdowns were actually tantrums (and apparently I melted down a *lot*) and telling my mom that I was just trying to manipulate her and such things. I was so confused by those statements. Meltdowns were terrible and I couldn’t imagine having one on purpose. No one seemed to be aware of the intense emotional overload that was behind them.
Something I see some people talk about but that seems to get less attention is meltdowns in adults. The autism spectrum is still treated as a childhood thing more than anything else, and people sometimes seem to forget that children on the spectrum grow up into adults on the spectrum, and we still have difficulties and challenges. Those difficulties and challenges include meltdowns.
So I’ll admit it. I still have meltdowns sometimes. They happen with far less frequency, but they do happen. I overload, get upset, and start screaming. The biggest way for me to avoid that happening is to learn to avoid my triggers.
But here’s the thing about triggers – when it comes to a meltdown, it’s pretty much never one specific thing that does it. It’s when too many things happen at once and I cannot process or handle it anymore. Fixing onto the last thing that happened that pushed me over the edge would be missing the whole point, and would simply result in a ridiculously long list of things to avoid. If you’re trying to figure out meltdowns in another person, remember this bit. It is NOT just one thing. Do NOT try to find “the trigger” and then add it to the list of things to avoid entirely.
Instead, it’s about staying aware of my capacity, and how near to my limit I am. It’s about learning to remove myself from a situation before I reach that point so I can calm down or recharge or just get some breathing room. Which also means – stop accusing me of sulking if I do that. Don’t go after me for whatever reason it is that people follow someone who left. Removing myself from a situation I cannot handle is a totally reasonable thing for me to do, and it actually took me quite a while before I learned to read myself well enough to know when to do that, and to get over my “don’t sulk” training enough to allow myself to do that. Speaking of which, that “don’t sulk” training can be harmful and counterproductive. Sometimes just going off alone to be upset is absolutely and completely the best possible thing to do.
This part is harder to talk about because it isn’t very socially acceptable, but sometimes I also really need to hit things. However, I do have control over what I hit and if someone’s meltdowns involve flailing fists, I think it’s ok to demand a certain amount of attention over where those fists are going. It’s ok to punch a punching bag, or a pillow, or my mattress. It is not ok to punch a person or an animal or the TV or my own head.
I doubt I will ever “grow out” of meltdowns. I hope my ability to cope with stressors increases, and my ability to handle it and do something when I see my edge approaching increases, and my ability to see that edge coming ahead of time also increases. I imagine that my meltdowns will continue to get less and less frequent as I continue to work on these things, but they will never stop being a risk. Adulthood does not make these things go away.