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Autism Meltdowns in Adults
We’ve all had them. That moment when everything feels like it’s too much and you just can’t take it anymore.
And you just shutdown.
But autistic meltdowns can be triggered by seemingly small things, like a change in the weather or a noise that most people wouldn’t even notice.
It is important for those close to autistic adults to understand what meltdowns are and to support them so that they can better manage their meltdowns.
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What is autism meltdown in adults?
Autism meltdown in adults is a crisis point during which a person may show extreme behaviors such as shouting, self-harm, aggressive behavior and repetitive behavior. Meltdowns can be seen as a way of letting go of or releasing the extreme emotions that have built up. It is usually triggered by high levels of stress, social and sensory overload.
During a meltdown, an adult with autism may feel overwhelmed by information, senses, and social and emotional stress and display extreme emotions such as anger, sadness and fear. They may also have difficulty with thinking and memory and not feel like themselves.
Why do autistic adults have meltdowns?
Autistic adults experience meltdowns due to sensory processing, emotional regulation, and over-stimulation. Meltdowns can be triggered by sudden changes in an environment or unexpected physical contact. They are often characterized by intense emotions such as fear, anger, and sadness, as well as difficulty with thinking and memory.
Autistic adults may feel overwhelmed by the information, sense and social and emotional stress they are experiencing. These factors contribute to meltdowns, making them difficult for autistic adults to manage. Many autistic adults may not have strategies in place to deal with these meltdowns, which can make them even more difficult to handle.
Autistic meltdown shame
Feeling shame or embarrassment when experiencing an autistic meltdown in front of others? It is important to remember that meltdowns are a natural response to overwhelming sensory input or emotional stress, and they are not a sign of weakness or bad behavior.
Meltdowns can be challenging for both the individual experiencing them and those around them, but it is essential to approach them with understanding and support. It is helpful to have a plan in place for managing meltdowns and to communicate this plan to those around you, such as family, friends, or coworkers.
High functioning autism meltdown in adults
High functioning autism meltdowns in adults are extreme reactions to overwhelming stimuli that can be caused by a number of factors, such as sensory processing issues, emotional regulation issues, and changes to daily routine.
For many adults with high functioning autism, meltdowns can be difficult to anticipate or manage, and may have consequences such as relationship difficulties, job losses, and feelings of guilt and self-punishment.
Autistic meltdowns in female adults
Autistic meltdowns can occur in individuals of any age and gender, including female adults. Autistic female adults experience meltdowns due to their heightened sensitivity to sensory, informational, social, and emotional stressors. These meltdowns often involve extreme emotions such as anger, sadness, and fear, and can result in loss of logic and memory.
However, there are some unique factors that may contribute to meltdowns in female adults with autism.
One factor is that females with autism are often underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed, which can lead to difficulties in understanding and managing their symptoms. Females with autism may also learn to mask or hide their symptoms, which can lead to increased stress and anxiety and potentially trigger meltdowns.
Another factor is that females with autism may struggle with social cues and expectations, leading to social anxiety and increased stress. They may also be more sensitive to sensory input, such as loud noises or bright lights.
Female adults with autism may experience autistic shutdowns even if they possess a higher functioning form of autism. As such, it is important for adults with autism to develop strategies to identify triggers and develop healthy coping mechanisms in order to effectively manage meltdowns.
Strategies such as recognizing potential triggers, letting go of shame, avoiding the shame spiral and having strategies in place ahead of time can help autistic adults better navigate their meltdowns when they arise.
Autism meltdowns at night
Autism meltdowns at night can be particularly difficult to manage as they can be harder to predict and disrupt sleep. The best way to deal with an autism meltdown at night is to try to identify and address the underlying cause of the meltdown. This might be something like managing stress levels or reducing sensory overload. Strategies such as mindfulness techniques, sensory integration, and deep pressure calming activities can also be used to manage meltdowns.
Additionally, it can be helpful to create a supportive environment and provide reassurance, as this can help an individual feel more secure.
Types of situations that may cause autistic adult meltdowns
1. Sensory Overload
Sensory overload is a condition that occurs when the senses are so overstimulated that it causes impaired functioning and distress. It is particularly common in autistic people and can lead to meltdowns. Signs of sensory overload include confusion, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and physical distress. It is often caused by an environment that has too much stimuli such as bright lights, loud noises, or a crowded area.
In addition, sensory overload can be triggered by situations that require too much focus, such as a test or presentation, or even by sudden changes in plans or routine.
Autistic people may also experience sensory overload from physical contact, even something as simple as a handshake.
2. Lack of Understanding or Support
When an autistic adult experiences a lack of understanding or support, it can cause them to become overwhelmed and eventually lead to a meltdown. This can be caused by external triggers such as too many demands being placed on them, unexpected changes in plans or routines, and sensory or social overload.
It can also be caused by internal triggers such as feeling shame or guilt, feeling inadequate, or feeling like an injustice has been done to them. When these triggers accumulate, they can be the “straw that breaks the camel’s back,” resulting in a meltdown.
3. Intense Emotions
Autistic adults commonly experience intense emotional responses, such as anger, frustration, fear, and sadness. These emotional responses can be triggered by sensory overload, communication issues, and/or social situations.
For those who experience meltdowns, it is important to find ways to reduce tension and stress to prevent an emotional outburst before it occurs. This could include spending time alone in a quiet and calming environment, engaging in calming activities, or seeking out a mental health professional for additional support.
4. Change in Routine
An example of a change in routine that may cause an autistic adult to have a meltdown is having to go a different route to school due to roadworks. This change can cause feelings of anxiety, which may trigger a meltdown.
5. Social Situations
Social interaction, particularly in unfamiliar or crowded environments, can be a difficult challenge for autistic adults. Examples of situations that may cause an autistic adult to meltdown include: communicating and interacting with peers; feeling anxious in social situations; attending noisy parties; experiencing sudden life changes such as having a baby; dealing with a toxic work environment.
6. Too Much Stimulation
Too much stimulation for an autistic adult can result in a meltdown, which can be caused by a variety of factors. Too much stimulation can occur when a person with autism is exposed to sights, sounds, and other sensations that are too intense.
This can be due to sensory overload, which is when the person’s senses become overwhelmed by the amount of stimuli in their environment.
7. Difficult Tasks
One example of a difficult task that can cause an autistic adult to meltdown is dealing with persistent and frustrating life stress. This includes work, family, intimate relationships, finances, and friendships. For example, Autistics often have higher rates of unemployment, leading to increased financial stress. Intimate relationships can also be challenging.
Another example of a difficult task that can cause an autistic adult to meltdown is trying to keep up with daily tasks such as laundry and dishes.
How to deal with autism meltdowns in adults
This could include having a “safe space” where the person can take time out and have a calming activity at hand. It can also help for the individual to accept that meltdowns are a part of autism, and letting go of any associated feelings of shame.
Parents, partners, and friends of those with high functioning autism can also help by being mindful of any signs of distress, and offering reassurance and support. Ultimately, understanding and acceptance are key to managing meltdowns in adults with high functioning autism.
1. Identify the cause of the meltdown
Complete a diary over a period of time, and record what happened before, during and after each meltdown. This will help to identify any patterns that may emerge, such as particular times, places or situations.
2. Reduce the stimuli
- Avoid physical touch, as physical contact may be overstimulating.
- Give the person space, but don’t leave them alone. Leave the door open and check in with them regularly.
- Provide the person with calming sensory items, such as fidget toys, plushies, weighted stuffed animals, beloved movies, sleeping with a weighted blanket. Weighted blankets for autistic persons are a good choice in general.
- Separate the person from the trigger or environment as soon as possible.
3. Provide calming techniques
When a meltdown occurs, it is important to have strategies in place to help the adult manage their emotions. Such strategies include taking control of the situation, remaining calm, validating the person’s emotions,suggesting calming or distracting activities such as listening to music or playing with fiddle toys, providing a quiet retreat area, engaging in physical activities to release emotional energy, and praising calmness.
Additionally, providing a sensory-friendly environment, utilizing headphones with sensory-friendly music, and creating a safe space can be helpful in calming the individual during a meltdown.
4. Give reassurance
- Remain calm, reassuring, and confident
- Provide reassurance that the rest of the routine remains the same. This will help to provide comfort and reduce anxiety related to the change.
- Affirm and validate the depth of emotion
- Use calm, slow body language and minimal speech, explain that the feeling will go away.
- Suggest an enjoyable memory
5. Talk about the meltdown afterward
- Start by acknowledging the meltdown. It can be helpful to let the adult with autism know that you understand their experience and that it is okay to have had a meltdown.
- Ask how they are feeling. After the meltdown, it is important to check-in with the adult with autism to see how they are doing.
- Discuss what might have triggered the meltdown.
- Express understanding.
6. Practice self-management techniques
- manage anxiety, such as a stress ball in their pocket.
- Build relaxation time, quiet activities, eg taking a walk, listening to music, reading, using fiddle toys, or more strenuous activities, eg jumping on a trampoline or going to the gym.
- Get the right support. Seek out professionals who have experience working with autistic people
7. Provide structure and predictability
- Increase structure around ordinary transitions. Use timers to count down to transitions
- Offer visual supports to explain changes.
- Create environments that don’t overwhelm the senses. For example, allow the person to wear ear defenders in noisy rooms or dim the lights if the environment is too bright.
8. Have a safety plan in place
A safety plan is an important tool for dealing with autism meltdowns in adults. It is a plan that is developed in advance to help manage and reduce the potential severity of a meltdown when it occurs. It outlines strategies for avoiding triggers, managing anxiety, and self-care techniques that can be used to help an adult cope with difficult emotions and manage the stress of a meltdown.
A safety plan can help to reduce the amount of fear and anxiety associated with the unknown, as it gives the person a plan to follow in an unpredictable situation.
9. Deep Pressure Therapy
10. Give professional support
A therapist can help individuals develop coping skills and strategies for managing overwhelming sensory input and emotional stress, as well as provide support and understanding for the challenges that come with autism.
What are the symptoms of an autistic meltdown?
The common signs of an autism meltdown can include hand flapping, head hitting, kicking, pacing, rocking, hyperventilating, being unable to communicate, and completely withdrawing into oneself. These behaviors are often a way of coping with the heightened sensory processing, which can increase sensitivity to light, smell, heat, sound, taste and touch.
Underlying feelings of anxiety, stress or ambivalence can often make the sensory overload more severe. Autistic meltdowns can also be external and include aggressive behavior, agitation, or extreme emotional responses.
How can family and friends help an autistic adult during a meltdown?
- Stay calm. It is important to remember that meltdowns are out of the control of an autistic adult. Keeping your anger or frustration in check is key.
- Reduce verbal communication. It is best to use visual representations and “yes” or “no” questions rather than trying to talk your loved one out of their meltdown.
- Show support. Letting the person know that you are there for them and that it isn’t their fault is a great way to show support. Additionally, providing clear direction and support prior to the meltdown can help to prevent it.
What are the differences between an autistic meltdown and a temper tantrum?
The key differences between an autistic meltdown and a temper tantrum include the age of those experiencing the outbursts, the purpose of the outburst, and the warning signs of distress that usually precede a meltdown.
Generally speaking, tantrums are far more common in children and are goal-oriented, often related to a want, while autism meltdowns are not limited to children and may involve anyone with autism.
How to deal with asperger’s meltdowns in adults?
Identify Triggers, understand the timeline of emotional regulation so that you can recognize the point at which you may be more easily triggered.
Let those close to you know what is happening during a meltdown and make sure they are supportive and understanding. If your meltdowns are intense enough, consider seeking help from a therapist or counselor who can help you develop coping mechanisms and explain your autism.
Do autism meltdowns improve with age?
Autism meltdowns are not limited to young children on the spectrum, and can occur in adolescents, teens, and even adults. While the intensity of meltdowns may lessen over time, they can still occur even among adults with the highest functioning forms of autism.
Are panic attacks the same as autistic meltdowns?
No, panic attacks and autistic meltdowns are not the same thing, although they may share some similar features.
A panic attack is a sudden, intense episode of fear or anxiety, which can be accompanied by physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, and shortness of breath. Panic attacks are typically triggered by a specific event or situation and can be experienced by individuals with or without autism.
An autistic meltdown, on the other hand, is a response to overwhelming sensory input or emotional stress, which can result in intense emotional and behavioral reactions such as crying, screaming, or physical outbursts. Meltdowns are not typically triggered by a specific event or situation and are a specific feature of autism.
What does autistic meltdown feel like?
During an autistic meltdown, a person with autism may feel a range of intense emotions such as fear, anger, frustration, or anxiety. They may also experience physical sensations such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, or a feeling of being overwhelmed. They may engage in repetitive behaviors, such as rocking back and forth, flapping their hands, or pacing. They may also experience difficulty communicating or processing information.
Individuals with autism may feel a loss of control during an autistic meltdown and may have difficulty calming down or stopping the meltdown once it has begun. The experience can be distressing for both the individual with autism and those around them.