All human beings have breaking points when becoming irritated. However, autistics have certain triggering and breaking points that because of sensory or other overload or triggers of information that may be empathetic of how their day is that it becomes the point that they reach their breaking point.
Everyone has their breaking point where they snap. It isn’t something that anyone is proud of, yet it happens and specifically in the autistic community, there is a well-respected author who developed various stages of a meltdowns. Different to neurotypical children experiencing this behavior, this as autism does, continues into childhood. The warning signs before an autistic reaches their breaking point is known as the rumbling phase. They may start with an intense plea to exit a situation or make gesture that signal that something isn’t right, such as one putting their hands over their ears to diffuse sounds. If the individual is in a situation that you know can be triggering or stressful to them, as a mentor do the best of your ability to redirect the person to focus them to another thing or to take a sensory break or go to a quiet place, that shouldn’t be used as a consequential place to be, it should be encouraged for them to take a break as necessary and be safe and sound.
These rumblings are warning signals and every autistic expresses them differently. The best thing is to have a plan so you as the caring person are aware of what that person’s triggers are and at the point they are near that breaking point, get them to a space where they feel safe and calm. It is also important to know that responses to stress or sensory overload is not meant to be a sign of manipulation.
There are points that interventions don’t occur because they aren’t recognized or they don’t do their part to solve the problem. Therefore, a meltdown will be almost inevitable. What autistics need during this time is your care and support because we become overtaken by our emotions bolting, hitting, self-abuse, crying, screaming are all possibilities. For me in the last decade it has been limited to screaming, which can be perceived as frightening and even dangerous, especially when an autistic individual is physically large.
When a full meltdown is in progress, for the autistic individual, it can be hard to manage as well as those around them in the room. Of which, safety is of the utmost importance. It may be necessary to retreat to a quiet room until the meltdown is over and it may require the skills of more than one person in order to avoid injury.
For the autistic, including myself, one of the worst parts of an autistic meltdown is the recovery stage because at that point you realize the destruction that you made and while you know that it’s because of your disorder, it hurts inside because it shows the worst of you and others are likely to remember that moment, especially those that took the lashings of a meltdown because they are hurt and disappointed in the process you made and when you seem as you are putting your best foot forward it seems like taking a step back. It also isn’t easy to take responsibility for a meltdown because there is a feeling of uncertainty as to whether those you hurt in the process are going to accept your apologies or not. What I advise is to learn from each meltdown by evaluating and processing what went wrong that built up to set off the trigger or breaking point that caused you to come into the rage stage. What could have you done in order to prevent the meltdown from happening? While we can’t go back and relive every meltdown, it often replays in our massive brains over and over and we can sometimes have difficult returning to the scene of where it once occurred because we have feelings of remorse and judgement for the actions that were likely beyond our control, but If we have the cognitive ability of an adult, we must use the brain that is given to us and resolve our issues, learn from them and move on.
Note: Some material for this post was adapted from this article.