This is a totally honest, and not very pretty portrayal of something that is very real for people on the Autism Spectrum. For me, a “meltdown” is a nervous system reaction caused by an inability to handle the stress of an extreme, negative emotionally charged situation, or extreme sensory overload. In my case it’s only happened a few times in my life, and I don’t have the clearest presence of mind in the moment of a meltdown to document it, so this is the way I remember it. All those on the Spectrum experience Autism differently, so theirs may be different from this.
Stage 1. Building up to a crisis point. Stress is increasing in my brain at a faster rate than it can be processed, and it is dangerously close to overloading. Heart is pounding, pressure rising.
Stage 2. Explosion or implosion, while the emotion in question (usually anger or sadness) is felt in its purest, most intense form, spilling out of my mind and coursing through my body. Loss of control over my thoughts as adrenaline takes over. Breathing quick and shallow, pulse tingling electrically in my fingers. Simultaneous feelings of my mind almost being disembodied, but body is painfully physically present.
Stage 3. Trying to physically express and expel the negative mental energy–there may be clawing at oneself, hitting head against wall or punching objects. This gives me something physical to focus on besides the emotions hurting my mind. Feeling pain externally relieves some of the internal pressure.
Stage 4. Retreat to a quiet, removed location away from others, may be angry if someone tries to prevent this.
Stage 5. Detached from environment and people. Unwilling and often unable to speak or interact. Sitting/lying curled into a tight, self-contained position, may be rocking or picking at something. Lost in my mind where horrible thoughts are repeated over and over, which are usually twisted to unrealistic proportions. Some thoughts are suicidal. Deep depression and crying begins and lasts until the excess emotion is spent.
Stage 6. Calmer but still withdrawn. Exhausted, and embarrassed by the loss of rational control over my emotions.
During stages 1-4, all I want is to be left alone. I can usually hear you but I may respond irrationally or not at all, and I do not want to be touched.
During stages 5-6, I may be approached and might appreciate being held, but not spoken to.
Generally all I want is acceptance. I am aware society sees it as unacceptable for an adult to “fall apart” like this, but I don’t always have a complete say over my mental pain threshold. Know that I feel as horrified having a meltdown as you do watching it.
Here is another excellent description of a meltdown:
Musings Of An Aspie – Anatomy of A Meltdown
Have you ever had a meltdown, or did this help you to better understand what one is like? Feel free to give your feedback below.
Image by Matthew Hull at MorgueFile.com