As an autistic person, I’m going to try to describe to you what a meltdown feels like for me. This is my own experience and it may differ from person to person. Remember that autism is a spectrum disorder so therefore not all autistic people present exactly the same.
I’m going to start out with letting you know some of my triggers.
Too much sensory input
I don’t process or regulate sensory input very well. If my brain is receiving too much information, it causes a meltdown. Examples being too much bright lights, too much noise(even background noises going on at the same time), even too much touch when I’m already sensory avoidant. To resolve this, I prefer to hide in a dark or dim room away from any sensory input.
Not enough sensory input
Because I’m mostly a sensory seeker, I tend to feel like my body is floating away if I don’t have weight or deep pressure to keep me grounded. I always jump from feeling way too much to feeling nothing at all and both can trigger a meltdown. On days I need to seek sensory input, I may stim more, I love crawling in my sensory swing, I crave tight hugs and cuddles and I love watching my sensory night light glow and play calming sounds.
Too strong emotions
I can’t regulate my emotions so strong emotions can trigger a meltdown. Having to battle major depression also doesn’t make things easy on me.
Change is very hard for me especially if it’s in the last minute and no warning. If I spend days or weeks mentally preparing myself for the plan, it can’t just change in a blink of an eye. I need enough time to process the change so please give me fair warning way in advance to decrease any chance of me melting down.
When I’m having a meltdown, my whole body is literally in physical pain. My brain goes blank trying to process the thing and it being unsuccessful. My nerves in my body go haywire and I can’t tolerate any kind of input. I feel like I’m suffocating. I tend to hit myself in the head, I may violently squirm around, I’m crying and screaming, I can be destructive and this can go on for a few minutes or more than an hour. At this time, nothing really helps me. The meltdown just need to run its course and once I’m finally settled down enough to speak, that’s when my loved ones are able to intervene and make me feel comfortable and secure. This is the time when deep pressure works wonders. It is not a good idea to ask me any questions when I’m actively having a meltdown because my brain absolutely can not process conversation at that moment. I can’t hear you over all the background noise that’s excessively loud in my ears. Also don’t make it worse by trying to argue with me or saying something you know will upset me even more. Also, please don’t tell me to calm down. I’m trying really really hard and you can’t possibly understand if you don’t have sensory processing issues. My meltdowns are not intentional. I can’t just flip a switch and make it stop once it has started. Also, please don’t raise your voice at me, because I will get aggressive and fight off the trigger. As I already stated, I can’t tolerate noise at all during this time. Please be patient with me while I try to recuperate. Meltdowns are so draining and my energy levels drop drastically for the rest of the day. Sometimes it can take me a week or more to fully restore myself from a severe meltdown.
I absolutely hate being seen during these vulnerable times, especially by the public. I’m not a brat or defiant. My brain just receives way too much information and I can’t fully process it all the same way others can. I always feel ashamed and filled with guilt every time because I always feel like people have a negative view of me and I always fear abandonment from my loved ones. I was made to feel like a burden most of my life so I still have those past traumas internalized in me. After a meltdown starts to subside, I still feel afraid, lonely, dissociated and tired. I do tend to shut down, which I’ll go into further details about in another blog. I may or may not have a seizure. I also may or may not go nonverbal due to being burned out from that meltdown. It really affects me mentally and physically.
I really hope this blog helps you all understand what it’s like for me having a meltdown and also to let you know that even as an adult, I still do have meltdowns. Thank you for reading this blog.