Note: I apologize for this post being late. I had this post completely finished yesterday afternoon and my internet connection glitched and I lost 50% of this post.
Reading Gavin Bollard’s article, Adult Meltdowns and Problems of Restraint, prompted me to ask several of my Facebook and Twitter acquaintances the following question:
As adults, how do you anticipate/prevent meltdowns? Or handle the situation post-meltdown?
The subsequent responses on twitter and Facebook were so helpful to me, I wanted to share some of my favorites ideas.
When the sensory and neurological system becomes overwhelmed to the point of loss of control. This can look like rage or a tantrum but it is deeper than that. – Lynne Soraya
There seems to be three parts to meltdown control.
#5 – Know your Triggers. (@Sunfell) The first step to any of this is understanding what prompts a meltdown. For some this can be primarily sensory. For others it is more emotional stress.
#4 – Get enough down time. (@Lynnesoraya) While down time can mean rest, it can also mean spending time participating in activities that are relaxing. Living life at a stress level 8, creates an environment in which it isn’t difficult for triggers to push you into a 10+.
#3 – Rest, don’t function tired. (@Narkito) Getting enough sleep can helps prevent meltdowns. This is true in the typical world as well as life on the spectrum.
#2 – ID danger signals before a full meltdown to take evasive action. Look for subtle warning signs such as stress, over-arousal or lack of feeling. Noticing patterns in your emotions can help. For some the subtle warning sign isn’t even an emotion but rather the lack of emotion, a numbness (@Lynnesoraya)
#1 – I think this really sums it all up: Self Awareness. Through self-contemplation and resulting self-awareness, we learn to recognize emotions and our responses to those emotions. (@Lynnesoraya). This is an ongoing process. Through the years the crucial emotions may change. Some people indicate that as adults the emotions that are indicative of a looming meltdown changed to feelings of withdrawal, depression, etc. Mindful meditation can help in the journey of self discovery. Another form of meditation that helps is Yoga (@gongtopia)
Control (or mitigating damage):
# 5 -Have a bailout plan or exit strategy. Sitting down and putting together a thought out meltdown-exit strategy when you are calm gives you options that can be quickly accessed when a meltdown hits.
#4 – Find a safe environment (@Narkito). This of course means you need to know what constitutes a safe environment. For many on the spectrum, quiet is key component. Quiet is more than just lack of noise. For my son, quiet also includes a lack of activity and bright lights. If you can’t just leave the loud environment carrying and using sunglasses and earphones or plugs can be a key component of your exit strategy. (Shauna S. – Facebook friend)
#3 – If you can’t avoid a trigger, limit your interaction with it. For example, playing video games can help drown out the trigger and facilitate decompression (@Ni_Tak)
#2 – This one is for the parent/caretaker/teacher/etc. When a person on the spectrum heads into meltdown remember to stay flexible in your thinking, lower your voice, be present but not threatening and look to assist them in climbing out of the spiral they are experiencing. (@Orbitingplanetd)
Meltdowns often occur in the middle of stressful situations such as problem solving. The first step for a parent/teacher after recognizing that a meltdown is in progress is to immediately set aside the agenda or project in order to focus on assisting the person. Once the meltdown begins, any responses from the person experiencing the meltdown are no longer responses to the parent/teacher but rather responses to their overwhelmed state. By setting aside the project and remembering not to take the person’s responses personally, a parent/teacher can open their mind to allow flexibility in their thinking.
By lowering their voice, the parent reduces the sensory input in the situation while making the parent less threatening. However, continuing to stay with the person verbally reassures them that the parent is still present. Threatening during a meltdown is pointless and agitating. Instead the parent should work to listen to find cues to what is triggering the meltdown. Those cues can lead the parent to effectively assist the person in finding a safe place and decompressing.
#1 – Better to be sad than mad. Screaming and violence will get you in trouble. Crying is a better option – Temple Garndin (via @lynnesoraya). If you can learn to channel the outburst into a form that will prompt a desire to help rather than defensiveness from those around you. A crying person elicits compassion and help, while a person screaming and flailing makes people defensive. Side note: if you are a boy, you this can be tricky. You have to know you are in a place where crying will not make you the target of bullying, etc.
#3 – Have a recovery plan (@Narkito). Again, this is a form of self-awareness. You need to know what helps you recover well. Moving to a safe place and stimming or participating in an activity that you find relaxing will be the bases of an effective recovery plan.
#2 – Understand your trigger because the recovery can depend on the trigger. (@TheIteratedtrio) Earlier I noted that understanding the emotions that were precursors to a meltdown was an important. It is also important to match your recovery with your triggers. Sometimes a trigger can cause depression, sometimes over-stimulation and so you may need a different recovery for each.
#1 – Music. @Lynnesoraya uses evocative music. She uses music that evokes sadness to break her out of the numbness (the emotion that indicates a meltdown for her). The sad music prompts crying which leads to relief. She then switches to uplifting music to pull her out of the funk. She has the tracks for each type of music pre-recorded as part of her recovery plan.
My most favorite suggestions came from an exchange between @lynnesoraya and @Orbitingplanetd regarding acting or theater classes. In theater they found acceptance. Getting into character they found a socially acceptable outlet for troubling emotions.
Because tension causes stiff, lifeless characters, acting classes teach calming techniques and body work. Acting classes teach how to read body language in a structured and safe environment. In these classes, participants receive feedback on their own body language.
Method Acting is a family of techniques that teaches people to think like their character would think and extrapolate the emotional response to situations, conversations, etc. For those that struggle with empathy, these are systematic lessons that teach techniques that can be applied in real life.
Lastly, improv can be used in stressful circumstances. The three rules of improv are you can’t say no, just go with it, and redirect. These rules are easy to remember. Also, practicing improv can be a great way to practice responding to the spontaneous situations of real life.
Lynne Soraya – Thank you for facilitating the twitter conversation. Lynne has Asperger’s and is passionate about raising awareness. Check out her column for Psychology Today or follow her on twitter @Lynnesoraya.
Orbitingplanetd – Planet D can be found on twitter @OrbitingplanetD or Planet D
TheIteratedtrio – These are three-minded siblings on the spectrum. Check out their blog or follow on twitter @theiteratedtrio.
Narkito – A narcoleptic from Chili. Check out her blog Intoxicated by Madness or follow her on twitter @Narkito.
Ni_Tak – Nish Takeuchi is a freelance editor and SEO writer. Follow him on twitter @Ni_Tak.
Sunfell – “Philosopher-geek. Tech-Mage. Stray Brain. Free-Range Metaphysician. Synchrondipity Nexus. Dubstep wubwubwubber. Aspergian Autotelic. Audiophile.” On twitter @sunfell.
Gongtopia – Michael Bettine is a percussionist, composer, writer and Aspie. Check out his blog or follow him on twitter @gongtopia.