Last week I wrote this post about my autistic meltdowns. I write in hopes that it may help an autistic adult in meltdown . However it’s terrifying to share these incredibly personal parts of myself. After I’d pressed publish I felt exposed and self conscious. There’s a part of me that feels I shouldn’t be writing about autism. I’ve only recently been diagnosed and my autism is relatively ‘mild’.
The diagnosis is new and I’m still processing it. I’m worrying about what people who know me think of the diagnosis. Am I being believed or am I being ridiculed? Blogging is probably heightening that feeling, as it’s all here for anyone to read.
Ultimately though I got this diagnosis by being honest about my experiences and difficulties. My immediate family and close friends are 100% behind me and that’s all that matters. Writing about it here is therapeutic for me, and potentially helpful for others, so I shall continue to do so.
Being given a diagnosis of autism takes time to process, and I experience a range of emotions about it every day. Some days I’m relieved to have finally figured my difficulties out, and given them a name. I’m confident to stand up and be counted as an autistic woman.
Other days I’m edgy, anxious, wobbly and scared. Looking to the future and wondering how I’ll cope. As a result of this I’ve been experiencing more meltdowns, and near meltdowns, which are proving difficult for my family, friends and I to manage.
How to help an autistic adult in meltdown;
Meltdowns are horrendous. They are exhausting, embarrassing and disruptive. I have two challenges ahead in learning to manage them. The first is learning how to avoid them. The second is learning how to manage them when they happen.
I know that the reaction of those around me has an impact on whether they escalate, how disruptive they are and how I feel about myself afterwards. So I’m writing this post in hopes that these tips might be useful.
The key thing for me to point out at this point is that once the meltdown is happening I am pretty powerless. I will not think to look at my list of strategies, and use them to help myself. Once the meltdown is happening I am not being logical, I am in flight or fight. So if you ever find yourself with an autistic adult who is having a meltdown here are some things that I would find helpful.
Strategies and suggestions;
Let them rant, cry, do whatever form the meltdown takes. I know it seems counterintuitive to avoid trying to problem solve. However, the meltdown is a sign of overstimulation. They cannot process anymore information. There was a final straw in before this meltdown but it’s not key.
Processing words will add to the overstimulation, and make them more anxious. They likely won’t react well, and then after the meltdown they will have to deal with the shame of having not handled your input well. Instead stay calm and say little.
If they seem able to cope you could gently remind them of one of the coping strategies that can calm them down. It might be a good idea to make a list of potential calming strategies together ahead of time. Again use as few words as possible, and stay very calm.
I would like to be reminded that perhaps some time alone would be a good idea, a walk or sitting in my bedroom with the curtains drawn. I have several activities that might help if I get to them soon enough, like colouring in or playing games on my tablet.
In the worst case scenario I have sedatives available to take, but when it gets this bad I never remember to take them and it would be helpful for someone to remind me.
A meltdown is not personal, they may say things they don’t mean or feel;
Try to remember this is not personal, it’s not about you at all. Often I say things which I really do not feel, I’m finding fault with the whole world and unfortunately no-one is exempt. Everything is wrong inside and I’m having difficulty expressing that in a constructive way. If you keep this in mind then perhaps it will be easier to stay calm and see this for what it is. A reaction to overwhelmed an overstimulated brain.
I’m hoping that this will be helpful, personally to those around me and for other autistic adults and those that love and support them.
Ella, your honesty and openness is amazing. I know as a long term depression sufferer how hard that is, but also know how much it helps (both yourself and others) to get these things out in the open. Keep blogging. X
Thank you for being so kind.
Thank you for your insight. My daughter has autism and is also deaf and nonverbal, so often the usual coping strategies dont help. Defining what a meltdown is, and that it is not personal, is very useful in my situation. Her meltdowns typically involve physical aggression towards (only) me, and her lack of communication makes it near impossible to foreshadow or explain, etc. Her meltdowns are often and easily misread as a tantrum as they often happen when she is not getting her own way. Thank you.
I find it useful to read Ella and I am sure others do to. This can be from lots of different perspectives, it helps others understand and that makes for a more understanding world and hopefully the more people know about lots of things perhaps people will grow in empathy.
That is really missing from our world I think x most of all it is helping you or I least I hope it is.
Sorry about your increased meltdowns that must be really hard to be facing again.
Take care xxx
Thanks Ali, I’m hoping that this is the start of my path towards permanently coping better!
I think I need to show this to my husband. Thank you so much once again for sharing. I hope you have good support around you that are helping with the meltdowns.
I hope it’s helpful for him. Yes, those around me are much more understanding since I got my diagnosis and we have been able to identify these episodes as ‘meltdowns’.
Any tips on how to help/cope with a spouse with Aspergers?
My husband is under a lot of stress at work currently and has had a couple meltdowns. It scares me because he gets angry, but I know he needs to just be mad for a bit. Is there anything I can do to help him out in the midst of a meltdown? Thanks
Hi Jayne, sorry to hear you’re husband is struggling. I would recommend asking him when he is calm what would be most helpful. Perhaps you could write a list of strategies to refer to in the moment? Some obvious things are for you to stop talking to him as processing verbal info makes it worse. Also reducing stimulus generally, dimming the lights/closing curtains, reducing noise etc. Hope this is helpful.
I found your artical very interesting and easy to read Ella.
I am an Aspie who was diagnosed 5 years ago I am aged 62 now.
I hope that your artical will be helpful for those who deal with me.
Hello thankyou for your honesty , when my son comes home from university he has meltdowns but only when he’s at home . Could you please let me know why this happens?
the melt downs only happen at home because he/she spends all their energy and effort to handle work/school etc. once they are home and able to “unwind” then their body needs a release and it comes out as a melt down.
I started dating a guy four months ago, and figured out he had Aspergers about two months in. I sometimes say things that seem perfectly fine but he takes great exception to them and gets really upset and melts down. He says hurtful things. I know not to take it personally, and I have learned to calm him and make it better with kindness and reassurance. He does seem to take it on board and it diffused things fairly quickly.
However I sometimes wonder if I may be in any danger in the future… he is a big guy and gets very intense… I do feel a little scared during these times. Could he ever hurt me?
Example. He has long hair and it seems extremely important to him. I noticed he had two grey hairs, and mentioned it (I was nice about it, it was just an observation). He went nuts. He screamed at me that I was a liar, and ‘why would I lie to him like that’? That I was cruel, and he got seriously upset. He stormed off, cried and it really freaked me out. It was the first time I’d seen this. For that moment it was like seeing a Jeckyl and Hyde change… and it did make me feel afraid for my safety.
The physical side of our relationship is very highly sexual, and he has been introducing me to a kinkier side, a dark side. I guess it is S & M, which I didnt realise I would like so much. The chemistry between us is so intense that it has turned my world upside down and made me a bit of a wreck mentally.
Im addicted to the high I get when I am with him and cant walk away. Also I am now afraid to walk away… he will get really angry and Im worried. I dont know whether I should tell him? I have no one else to ask
I know it has only been four months, but it has been very intense and passionate. We bonded in a very short time and is a bit obsessed with me. If I ended the relationship he would go crazy and I would feel very afraid. I think he might stalk me, cause a scene and get me barred from my social events etc. Am I just fearing the worst, or is it just something that can blow over? Thanks
Hi Annette, I’m really sorry to hear about the situation you’re in. TBH it sounds fairly abusive and I would advise walking away for your own wellbeing. Sorry.
Hi there , it is semi reassuring reading these posts as I try and make sense of my 23 yr old son’s latest “meltdown” . It has all the hallmarks of being that bit I don’t know for sure and he does not have a diagnosis. It is v difficult to describe what happens , except to say that after a “normal “ kind of disagreement , comment re his behaviour which the average person might respond to with a “sorry….”,he gets hysterical very quickly, makes wild counter accusations, cries frantically and makes as if to pull his hair out in his frenzy. I feel like i’m being gaslighted, if that’s the right expre ssion..he accuses me of saying things that I haven’t and invents a past which bears little resemblance to what I remember being said or done, and the. Says that I a, driving him crazy by questioning that.
I have known for a long time that there is no point arguing with him, but he can’tlet go and as I try to extract myself , physically or verbally it just seems to make him more mad. And it can be scary because at its peak I can’t be sure that he is not going to get violent, though he never has, and I fear even more that he will self harm to one degree or another
Thank you so much for this, my story is so like yours my friends are having a heck of a time dealing with my meltdowns. You give me hope. Thx for being brave enough to share.
Thank you for writing this. I’m looking for information on how to help my aspie husband when in this situation and your post is, indeed, help.
I have meltdowns from too much sound. I am an adult diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. I have only been diagnosed for a few years and am still learning how to cope with it. Too many loud noises will put me in a meltdown, where i am not making sense of what others around me are saying. I often miss social cues as well, such as emotions, facial expressions, or body language. I coil when people touch me. If someone gets too close to me or touches me, I automatically move away from them, whatever situation I may be in.
Finding your posts have been invaluable today.
I’m in shut down after a melt down.
You’ve made me feel I’m not alone.
I’m 44yo mum of 3. Youngest is aspie but all have major traits.
I was diagnosed 4 years ago.
I haven’t really come across too many posts I actually relate to. Sometimes it makes me question my diagnosis. But as I rocked crying today I’m reaffirmed that it is indeed correct.
Thanks Ella for putting yourself out there. It made a major difference to me today.
This article made me cry. :'( its relieving to know that other people are going through something I deal with, but very saddening knowing that other people are going through what I’m dealing with. 🙁 the absolute worst part for me is the lack of self control and the shame afterwards. I’ve had more than one time where I was on the edge of killing myself because of the sheer disappointment I had in myself. Thanks for this article.
Thank you. I learned new things and was reassured about others. My son is almost 31. He was diagnosed around age 8 by the OT. I am still learning to help him.
I can’t even tell you how grateful I am for this article!!!!! My 20 year old was diagnosed a year ago and is in denial, and now I realize probably feeing shame as well. I was recently feeling bad that I am ineffective for him, as a parent. This enlightened me because I am a talker and I now see how my words make it worse. Overstimulation! I understand now and can do better. Shame! Shame is so powerfully crippling. I had no idea how much shame ASD factors into one’s life. I see how it plays in here and I HAVE taken the words in the meltdown as true. Thank you for freeing my from false understandings. I need to read more of your writing.
Hi, Ella, your advice is very comforting for people suffering. My husband has never been diagnosed with Asburger Syndrome, he is 57. He had a brain tumor removed at 28, non cancerous. I do not think this is his problem now, although it may be part of it. His mother apparently said there is nothing wrong with him, apart from the point she made that he is a bit too clever for his own good. He has autism with his sister’s son in her family. I am sure he has a double problem with his disorder as he seems to fit into the symptoms I have read but also since I have bought things up to the surface he has been Narcissistic and very much now in his own bubble. He projects his traits onto me. I am a therapist in my own right but although I give compassion and love he seems totally set on destroying my good will and intention to help him. He has now moved out into the other apartment of our home, and since the Pandemic he has financially deprived me of help in my business just watching me in torture and pain. He earns a lot of money as an expert in his work but I am sure he has had a meltdown. I am so confused and totally list as to what I can do. He continued to work as the crisis did not affect him. He is so stubborn and full of ego and punishes me by neglect. He masked everything when I met him, we are 5 yes into our relationship and 16 months of marriage. I still love him but it’s a disaster. Should I walk away or keep trying?
Reply for Debbie: I’m not sure if this site is still taking comments, but here goes anyway.
Thank you for writing what you did, especially:
“He seems totally set on destroying my good will and intention to help him”.
That sounds very familiar to me (see below), and it seems to be a tragic and pretty horrible feature of a person’s behaviour when they have damage to the brain.
I have tried to help and support a man who is disabled and who also suffered some brain damage in his 40s. I’ve offered the help, day and night, and supplied compassion and love for a very long time. But in recent years he has become violent and hostile towards me, more and more frequently, and it’s extremely difficult to know how best to proceed.
He likes to deny that he receives any help (and especially not from me). All I do (he says) is abuse him.
Well, for a start, providing 3 nice meals a day is not abuse, is it…
Because I’ve given over much of my life to assisting him, I’m now financially vulnerable, and it’s almost impossible, as an older person, to ‘walk away’.
By the way, I’m a very strong person and I don’t put up with anything, nor do I invite nastiness or bad behaviour.
I cope with it by saying “it’s not personal”… and try and make a life for myself outside of the contact with him. Everyone else seems to like me a lot – so he’s the odd one out. This gives me some comfort.
However, I would say to you: if you don’t have to be in this relationship with your man, then don’t be. It won’t get any better, it will get worse. If you can safely break away, then do it. Do it now.
Thank you so much for opening up and writing about your experience! I can see you wrote this in 2015, but please know it’s still helping people just like you. I would also like you to know that you’re reaching and helping neurodiverget people from all over the world. Me, for instance! I’m located in Norway, with very little reading material and first hand experiences being shared like this. And believe me when I say your words hit home! You described everything so perfectly accurate, and explained so beautifully what I struggle to articulate to my loved ones. Sharing this with them will be a tremendous help for us all, so thank you again ! I hope you’re well, and wish you a happy new year !