One of the most common questions that I am asked is about meltdowns. It is understandably one of the biggest issues a person on the spectrum can face, and it can really make loved ones feel helpless. I always feel a little bit hesitant on giving much general advice. I find that there are about as many different types of meltdowns, as well as ways to help as there are autistic people. What works for one may not work for another, and vice versa. So, I thought that I could offer some general tips and ideas based off of what I have seen in my life. Some of these won't apply to you, or the autistic people you might know, but hopefully a few will be able to at least provide a little insight.
So, what is a meltdown?
This questions jumps right to the center of what this entry is about. It's also one that is really hard to answer. I don't know how to describe something that has no physical form. It's almost like trying describe what an emotion is. I just can't quite find the right words to convey the depth of a meltdown, and it's many, many facets.
I think a common misconception is that there is only one kind of meltdown. This is what makes it seem so elusive to onlookers who want desperately to problem solve when their autistic child/loved one is in the throes of what they think is a meltdown. What worked last time might not work this time, and a trigger that seemed to be mild last Thursday might be too much today. There's different types of meltdowns, as well as different combinations of things that tend to set one off at different times, and believe it or not is even unpredictable to many of us adults who are very self aware.
I can list a few different general types, and triggers so that you might be able to gather some info from here to possibly compare to your own situation. One thing that I heard once from a behavior specialist is that a meltdown is like a seizure in that you cannot stop one once it's started. You can make one worse, and you can prolong it's effects, but once the brain has reached that tipping point it is over. You can't unspill the overload, which is is to me what a meltdown is. It is an acute reaction to too much happening all at once, in which the brain has no way to cope, or contain. The excess must go somewhere. From what I can gather there are three main categories of meltdowns. Sensory, Executive functioning mishaps, and Emotional.
The different types of meltdowns: