Autism Awareness #3
Meltdowns and Shutdowns
Fire and Ice
Most people these days have heard of autistic meltdowns and shutdowns but may not really understand what they are. I think it can help to think of them in a similar way to anxiety (meltdowns) and depression (shutdowns).
For me a meltdown is usually short, sudden and red hot... it will literally happen over a few minutes, although it may have been building up for longer and the repercussions may last for a long time afterwards. They are often caused by sudden changes that an autistic person's brain just cannot handle - e.g. sensory overload, overwhelming social situations, unexpected changes to routine etc. I liken them to severe anxiety or a panic attack, and for me personally I think the two are connected.
Shutdowns feel more like a short depressive episode. And again I think there's a lot of that in there for me. I just can't deal with anything - people, work, hobbies, household tasks. For me shutdowns often follow a meltdown and usually last a few days. I need to be left alone and am quite uncommunicative and non-verbal. I think of shutdowns a bit like my iPhone, it might have still been on 20% battery but suddenly just dies and shuts off completely and won't turn back on without a total reboot and recharge.
I think meltdowns and shutdowns are possibly one of the reasons why a lot of autistic people struggle in relationships (or why they are often drawn to other neurodivergent people who understand). These are a few suggestions of what partners/friends can do to help if faced with meltdowns or shutdowns:
* Recognise that, if you know the person is autistic, that they are having a meltdown and not just being a mardy arse (there's a difference).
* Resist the urge to argue back, shout at them or diminish the feelings they are having... for example, don't tell them they're overreacting or being silly.
* Unless the autistic person is doing something to endanger themselves, or others, try not to lay your hands on, or restrain, them and try not to get up in their face.
* Try to speak quietly, calmly, kindly... show compassion, even if you have no comprehension of why they are reacting that way. Listen to them.
* Offer to help them leave the situation, i.e. privately ask them if they'd like to go outside. There's no lonelier feeling than being autistic in a room filled with neurotypical people.
*If an autistic person has shutdown try to give them space and peace & quiet. Encourage, without trying to force, them to do things. Be kind. Ask them if there's anything you can do and if they ask to be left alone for a while, respect that.
I think the bottom line, as with most situations in life, is to listen, try to understand and to be kind.
Hope this helps a little (and makes sense!)
Hope everyone has a great weekend xx