Meltdowns

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.

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2 responses to “Meltdowns

  1. Thank you for your post. It helped me get an additional idea. An autistic child may throw tantrum or behave aggressively when he is disappointed or frustrated as other children do. But he is not doing it intentionally, because as an autistic child, he is unable to understand that other people have thoughts and feelings. Punishment must fit the crime. Whenever possible, the only punishment should be experiencing the natural and logical consequences of an undesirable action. If an undesirable behavior happens repeatedly, and neither incentives nor disincentives seem to curb it, you should look closer for hidden causes. Behavior analysis techniques can be very useful in this regard.

  2. Omer

    Thanks for the sharing your post.
    I have a fresh relationship with a 39 aspie woman (3 months) and a month a go we met our biggest challenge yet: we found out that she is pregnant.
    This wasn’t our plan yet. We are not living together and She is a mother for two girls and a student with a lot of deadline pressure. She didn’t had plans for getting pregnant and even the whole aspect of being in relationship was something she had to cope with. But things were very good between us.
    We decided to keep the pregnancy and we were starting to understand that we are going to have to escalate our relationship into a family, with all that it means. For two weeks things was in control though she became more distant but it seems like every day person would act for this kind of a life change crisis. However – two weeks ago, she (as I understand it) had a serious case of meltdown (or emotional overload) as we spoke about my mothers’ reaction that she’s an aspie (not knowing about her new pregrency!). She got panicked and since than she de touched from me, almost as I’m not exists. We met for once but she was very far, though she talked about the near future together. We don’t speak and merely text. I know I should give her time alone to recover (and she asks for time) but this is going for two weeks now and as I mentioned before – there were two weeks earlier of somewhat distant.
    What should I do ? When is the time to talk with her about it? I know that she’s having trouble with dealing emotions right now, but I don’t know what that it means for the future. As time goes by, we are becoming more and more distant and I’m afraid that it will destroy our love. Not mentioning the baby issue…..
    Hope you can share some of your thoughts with me

    All the best
    Omer