A meltdown is a behavior that happens to autistic people when they are overwhelmed, overstimulated, or feeling other strong emotions.
It is very important to note that a meltdown is not a tantrum. The differences are listed below:
- Affects people of all ages
- Not the autistic person's fault
- Due to emotional or sensory reasons
- Common for some autistic people (others may experience shutdowns instead)
- May be unaware of what is going on around them
- May be cognitive dysfunction*
- The person is not likely to have capacity at this time*
- Due to someone wanting something they cannot have
- (Uncontrolled) outburst of anger
- Usually performed by children
- The person will occasionally check other's reactions to see if the tantrum is working
An autistic person's meltdown may be mistaken for a tantrum due to their surface-level similarities, but they are very different in both cause and subjective experience.
Autistic Meltdowns can look very different for each individual. Please ask what a meltdown looks like for the individualm
Autistic Meltdowns can't be "cured" or "treated", but developing a care plan or prevention plan with the person can be helpful for some.
In order to prevent meltdowns, it is important to learn what causes stress and how to reduce it, if you aren't able to eliminate it altogether. There are (or soon will be) articles about the many different senses (there's more than 5!) and how to compensate them.
There are also steps to take when going somewhere, like knowing where the exits are, if there is a room you can retreat to in order to calm down, letting someone with you know that you might need to do so, etc.
If taking a shower is a major stressor, maybe consider taking baths instead. If that is not an option for whatever reason, I've heard turning off the lights can help some people. If the whine from the showerhead is an issue, maybe turn on some music, a podcast, or a show to focus your hearing on instead.
- Managing Meltdowns by Deborah Lipsky