How to Cope with Autism Meltdowns, Tantrums, Signs, & Triggers
Children and adults on the spectrum experience meltdowns alike. The autistic kid screaming can be a warning sign. But the situation can quickly turn dangerous when someone is responding to a telephone call that involves an autistic adult having a meltdown, particularly if s/he has grown nonverbal during the escalation.
Bear in mind that an autistic children meltdown happens often because of an overpowering sensory environment. With autistic adults, meltdowns may occur due to sudden change, not receiving understandable responses to a question, or getting caught off guard.
Early Signs & Symptoms of a Meltdown
Early signs and symptoms of a meltdown can include loss of eye contact, inability to focus, stuttering or answering questions with difficulty, increased stimming, autistic child has an outburst, and inevitably a complete shutdown of communication.
This is quite dangerous since people melting down is unaware of their environment, and they may completely ignore potential dangers. Also, there is a greater tendency to run from the situation in order to retreat into safety.
Meltdowns usually occur either as an implosion or explosion. Once it begins, there’s no manner of reversing the meltdown.
It’s not a question of a behavior issue nor an emotional outburst, but strictly a physiological event that must be allowed to run its course. If disrupted, the meltdown most likely will begin again very soon.
A first responder can feel very confused when approaching an adult who can’t speak, hurting himself or others, trying to flee, or standing in a strange physical position. After ruling out potential medical threats, a first responder’s tendency is to try to handle the situation with logic or treat the person as non-compliant and combative.
Safety always comes first. We must attempt to understand what meltdowns are like for those having them so we can gain critical insight and can then help.
Asperger’s Reveals What A Meltdown Is Like
A woman with Asperger’s reveals her experience while melting down as an adult in “Anatomy of a Meltdown” article. She says all the following:
It feels like a rubber band pulled to the snapping point.
It feels like the end of the world. It feels like nothing will ever be right again.
It feels like my whole body is thrumming, humming, singing, quivering,. A rail just before the train arrives. A plucked string. A live wire throwing off electricity, charging the night air.
Complex speech feels impossible. There is an intense pressure in my head, suppressing the initiation of speech, suppressing the formation of language.
Imagine running as far as you can, as fast as you can. When you stop, that feeling–the utter relief, the exhaustion, the desperate need for air, the way you gulp it in, your whole body focused on expanding and contracting your lungs–that’s what crying feels like during a meltdown.
Please don’t touch me. Don’t try to pick me up, move me, or get me to change position. Whatever position I’ve ended up in is one that’s making me feel safe.
There is emotion at the starting line, but a meltdown is a physical phenomenon: the racing heart. The shivering. The uncontrollable sobs. The urge to curl up and disappear. The head banging. The need to hide. The craving for deep pressure. The feeling of paralysis in my tongue and throat. The cold sweat.
Someone having a meltdown requires patience, time, and space–if the situation permits it. It would be very nice to have a trusty caregiver or friend nearby to provide vital information and to assist with the recovery period.