Meltdown 101

As an autistic mom of an autistic child, I know about meltdowns. Unfortunately, most allistic (non autistic) parents of autistic and neurodivergent children don’t really understand meltdowns, or how they differ from tantrums. I recently invited autistic friends who have had meltdowns to share what they wish peoplmoment. Here are their answers. 

We wish people knew… It’s not misbehavior.

  • “That we’re not having meltdowns at you, ever.”
  • “We aren’t doing it for attention or to be disruptive; that it’s because we’re in pain.”
  • “It’s not because we lack self control or don’t care about others
  • “We are more embarrassed/ashamed to be having one in public than you are to be near us.”
  • “I’m not just being an asshole, and I’m not enjoying it either.”
  • “That I’m not doing this to spite you.”
  • “It happens to us, and it’s about us not being okay.”

Meltdowns communicate disabling upset

  • “That a meltdown is communication. It’s data, and the more real you treat it, the clearer its message will be.”
  • “Meltdowns happen in my brain/body, not my heart/feels.”
  • “Meltdowns don’t all look the same. They aren’t all kicking and screaming. Sometimes they look like being quiet and confused.”
  • “Treat a meltdown like a medical episode, such as a seizure or migraine.”

They can usually be prevented 

  • Meltdowns “are largely (not totally) preventable”.
  • “They don’t just happen out of thin air. People might not verbally tell you that they are reaching the breaking point, but there will usually be signs. Pay attention.”
  • “Know your child’s triggers and address them before they become a problem.” 
  • “I don’t go from passing for normal to meltdown in 0 seconds. You missed the cues. And if I didn’t have to pass for normal.. I’d not be as likely to melt down.”
  • “A meltdown isn’t always because I’m sad or upset. Sometimes just overwhelmed.” 
  • “The triggers of a meltdown may not  seem important or meaningful to you, but your opinion and experience are not objective just because you’re allistic.” 

How to respond in the moment

  • “Help us get to a dark cozy quiet space where we won’t be disturbed or forced to socialize.”
  • “If someone is having a meltdown and needs to be left alone, get out of their space.” 
  • “Do not crowd, hug, or touch me.”
  • “I often can’t speak. If I’m not responding or take a long time to answer, prompt me that it’s okay to use my phone or other writing implement.” 
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