Autistic Meltdowns in Adults

Autistic Meltdowns in Adults

I am writing this post for my partner and people who love me who might find it difficult to understand my behaviour sometimes because I can’t verbally communicate what is going on for me.. and for all other adults with Autism or people who love or engage with adults with Autism, so that people might understand more and be able to help more.

Firstly understand for us that tension mounts over time as the pressure of stimulation from things we find challenging becomes too much to bear. If possible avoid melting point by having alone/quiet time/safe time as much as possible away from noise, lights, humans, shops, post offices, place of work, study, socialising, or whatever is stressful for the person.

Avoid too many appointments and commitments in a week, space things out with ample breaks. Use essential oils or other tools of support. Deep breathing, tapping, meditation, love, Harry Potter.. or whatever the person loves and feels comforted by.

Understand that meltdowns are a normal part of living with Autism and can actually be a HELPFUL release and bring things back down to a comfortable place once they are over. I heard this at a Minds & Hearts forum with one of the most world renowned experts on the topic Tony Attwood and it was a huge relief to hear him say this. My meltdowns were ok and a release for me. But it’s not so easy for the people on the outside of them..because let’s be honest I can be a massive asshole when I’m melting down and it could be very easy to take my behaviour personally. It’s not.. I love you and I’m sorry and I feel deep shame, regret and embarrassment for my behaviour once it’s over.

What To Expect

Here’s some of the things you can expect from a meltdown in adults with Asperger’s and High Functioning Autism taken from this post. I don’t experience all of them and it could be different for each person.

The adult version of a meltdown may include any of the following (just to name a few):

  • aggressive behaviour in which the individual reacts grossly out of proportion to the circumstance
  • angry outbursts that involve throwing or breaking objects
  • banging your head
  • tapping fingers or repeated movements of hands
  • withdrawing
  • not being able to verbally communicate what is going on for them
  • hiding and rocking
  • crying
  • pacing back and forth
  • road rage
  • talking to yourself
  • threatening others
  • walking out on your spouse or partner
  • yelling and screaming

On the mild end of the continuum, the adult in meltdown may simply say some things that are overly critical and disrespectful, thus ultimately destroying the relationship with the other party (or parties) in many cases. On the more extreme end of the continuum, the adult in meltdown may attack others and their possessions, causing bodily injury and property damage. In both examples, the adult often later feels remorse, regret or embarrassment.

Meltdowns, usually lasting 5 to 20 minutes, may occur in clusters or be separated by weeks or months in which the Aspergers adult maintains his/her composure. Meltdown episodes may be preceded or accompanied by:

  • Chest tightness
  • Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head
  • Increased energy
  • Irritability
  • Palpitations
  • Paranoia
  • Rage
  • Tingling
  • Tremors

A number of factors increase the likelihood of experiencing a meltdown:

  • A history of physical abuse or bullying: “Aspies” who were abused as kids have an increased risk for frequent meltdowns as adults.
  • A history of substance abuse: Aspies who abuse drugs or alcohol have an increased risk for frequent meltdowns.
  • Age: Meltdowns are most common in Aspies in their late teens to mid 20s.
  • Having another mental health problem: Aspies with other mental illnesses (e.g., depression, anxiety disorders) are more likely to have meltdowns.

The meltdown is not always directed at others. Aspergers adults who experience meltdowns are also at significantly increased risk of harming themselves, either with intentional injuries or suicide attempts. Those who are also addicted to drugs or alcohol have a greatest risk of harming themselves.

Aspergers adults who experience meltdowns are often perceived by others as “always being angry.” Other complications may include job loss, school suspension, divorce, auto accidents, and even incarceration.

How Can You Help?

If you, they or others are obviously at risk physically call the police.

Otherwise first and foremost please do not PERSONALISE the behaviour. Pulling away. Withdrawing. Not being able to verbally communicate what is going on for them. Screaming. Trying to run away. Shouting insults. These are all part of the meltdown. They are not a personal attack or because we don’t love you.

If it is your partner or loved one and they will allow you please just BE WITH THEM. Hold them if they are open to that. Stroke their hair if they are open to that (I love it, some may hate it). DO NOT expect them to talk. Ask instead if they would like to write it down or text/message you. If not be ok with that. You do not need to fix. Just be there. They need you but they can’t express this need. For me just being held until I calm is best.

If they are open to it apply essential oils to their feet, Balance and Vetiver can be particularly helpful and Peace to the heart chakra, back of neck and wrists.

If you don’t know the person again, be with them, maybe sit beside them quietly, don’t ask them to verbally communicate. Offer them your phone or a notepad to see if they would like to write. If not again just be with them until it passes. Again offer to apply essential oils if they are open to it or if you know reiki or another form of energy healing offer that. Otherwise just quietly being with them is good.

Seek outside support for them if appropriate. Cognitive behaviour therapy has been found to be particularly helpful as well as meditation, physical movement such as yoga, pilates, dance or whatever they enjoy. And of course as mentioned plenty of down time, good food, deep belly breathing and love.

And know that we are sorry for the shit we say and do when we are melting down..

If the behaviour is abusive again seek outside assistance.

I hope this is helpful for you.


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