, 30 tweets, 9 min read Read on Twitter
Meltdown thread?

Meltdown thread. Let's go. /1
#autistic #autism #AskingAutistics #AutismAwareness
Tonight's stroll through the parks and glades of #autistic life will descend into one of the darker, more chaotic valleys of autism - the concept of the 'meltdown'. This will be emotive for all autistic readers and I'm sorry if I don't manage to communicate this well. /2
The term 'meltdown' has connotations of disaster. We all know that a nuclear meltdown, for example, is a less-than-ideal situation that may be worth avoiding at all costs. This is why there's some sensitivity around the use of the term for #Autism. Is it too negative? /3
But rather like the misguided idea that 'person-first' language is better, I've found that #autistic people seem to quite like the term meltdown, and for good reason - it's an extremely apt term for the phenomenon. /4
In a nuclear meltdown (bear with me) the hot nuclear material in a reactor heats up out of control and literally melts, downwards. It melts the base of its container and continues downward, like a light saber cutting through marshmallow. It ain't nice. /5
If the material hits water (ie the water table, which tends to squat just below the ground) it can explode with unpleasant force, spreading nasty radioactive poop all over the shop. (This is rather potted explanation, feel free to correct me below) /6
You see, this is a very appropriate term for what happens to an #autistic person when their ability to cope with a stressful situation is overwhelmed. It can be catastrophic, for all concerned. And I speak as one who has them reasonably frequently. /7
As I've expressed before, #autistic people exist mostly in a state of extreme stress. Stress from surroundings, people they can't understand, troubled communication, need for order, routine, patterns. Things can go very wrong. /8
If an #autistic person is kept beyond their capacity for stress for a prolonged period (it varies) then a meltdown is a possible result. It is a reaction to prolonged exposure to stress, warranted or not. /9
In a meltdown, an #autistic person will be acting more on instinct and in panic than anything else. Rationality will be out the window, as will logic and even basic self-preservation. This is important to remember. Meltdowns can be very dangerous for the person. /10
Once a meltdown starts, it can be a little like a seizure, in that there isn't really anything you can practically do to shorten or stop them (though this is not always the case). Thus, you have to help manage it, stop it getting *worse*. /11
Please note - an #autistic person is *not* doing this for attention. Nor are they 'over-reacting'. You have to gift them the benefit of the doubt, even if their behaviour is strange and alarming. Take it seriously and realise they are having a *horrible* time. /12
Meltdowns can vary in how they go, and all #autistic people will have their own way of getting through it, but I think it's fair that generally speaking they are either quiet and passive, or very active. /13
Passive meltdowns are my speciality 😕. For me, it's a kind of inward collapse, like my eyes and ears have inverted so all I can experience is in my head. Total passivity, even catatonic behaviour at times. Can't focus on anything. White noise in the head, like a 90s TV /14
If I'm not somehow removed from the stressor, this just gets worse. I'm not going into any more detail than that. But it's hard. Even though it's quiet, passive, it is *exhausting*. Almost the most tiring thing ever. Afterwards I get a 'hangover' that can last days. /15
And if you're generally good at masking and present as neurotypical much of the time, it can feel like a failure. Like you've let the mask slip and your true self loose. I remember a time I had a meltdown at work, Sainsbury's night shift, years ago. I was *ashamed* after. /16
Not that I knew what had happened, of course - I wasn't diagnosed. But I remember feeling so embarrassed afterwards, like what the hell was wrong with me? It prolonged the misery considerably. /17
But no one understands. No one has a frame of reference for meltdowns because we're not taught about them, or told what to expect, or what to do. So #autistic people are ashamed and neurotypical people are confused, scared, upset, angry. It's a shitty situation. /18
Active meltdowns are different. They can be loud, frightening, physical, aggressive. They are also more commonly known of by the general public, due to their visibility. /19
Lots of different behaviours can happen but they are all trying to do the same thing, as far as I can tell - get yourself away from the stressor or get the stressor to go away. But things can get very unpleasant. /20
I'm going to carry on in the morning as I'm exhausted.
Some things that might happen during an active meltdown are: shouting, screaming, punching, kicking, running away, breaking things, hitting walls, breaking glass - all sorts. But remember, it's almost never rational or even conscious.
The sweetest, quietest #autistic people can have very aggressive meltdowns, which can be quite a shock to witness. But it's a safety valve that's blown. The person has had to deal with too much. /22
A meltdown is often seen as a failure on the part of the #autistic person, but this is no good. Its a natural result of our neurology. We can no lore change it as we can change the length of our toes. The failure, if we must use that word, is elsewhere. /23
The failure is with the external. I'm aware this is controversial, and I don't want to suggest #autistic people can get away with murder (autistic people can be dickheads too!) but in the case of meltdowns, the fault lies with the world. /24
Too little understanding. Too much willingness to push an #autistic person beyond their capability to cope. Too much aggression naturalised in neurotypical behaviour. Too little agency on the part of autistic children. /25
It is the world's responsibility to ensure #autistic people are pushed into meltdown as infrequently as possible. Not all can be avoided, but *loads* could be with just a little more compassion. /26
Meltdowns are awful. I cant stress this enough. The feeling of terror and powerlessness is something you don't forget, and you don't want to relive. Afterwards #autistic people can be utterly exhausted, often for days. The embarrassment. God, its dreadful. /27
So wherever you can, please help with this. Know that if you are pushing an #autistic person, this is a likely outcome and stop pushing. Let the take a minute. Don't cause avoidable meltdowns. Please. /28
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