How many times has my kid been called a spoiled brat when he melts down? How many times have I been treated with contempt for my melt downs? The irony is that many of my melt downs are caused by the very people who judge me for having a Melt Down.
I can’t explain a Melt Down without first explaining what causes them. There are three triggers; emotions, sensory over load and frustration.
People with Aspergers have very intense emotions. We just struggle to get those emotions out. So when we become overwhelmed with any emotion; love, hate, anger, it builds inside like a tea kettle. We try to articulate those feeling and we can’t. Then frustration builds and the steam needs to escape. Ok a tea kettle is a bad example, think pressure cooker instead.
Another trigger for a Melt Down is sensory over load. We Aspies all have one or more overly active sense. For me it is sound and vision. A lot of movement in a room makes me have dizzy spells. Driving past a line of orange barrels on the highway makes me intensely agitated. I grip the wheel, get tunnel vision, breath heavy as my heart pounds. I am also sensitive to sounds. Someone sneezes and I will launch 10 feet in the air. Multiple people talking at once makes me want to run from a room. It is so overwhelming.
Then there is frustration. Frustration from not being able to get feelings out. Frustration from being trapped in an overwhelming sensory over load. Or maybe frustration from a lack of fine motor skills. Want to see me melt down? Make me put line back on the weed eater or ask me to build a model.
Then there is the frustration over right and wrong. Aspie have a deep sense of right and wrong. When you’re doing something I perceive as wrong it drives me nuts. I get frustrated watching it. I’m at a loose for words… Frustrating.
An important note here: children do not have a developed sense of right and wrong. So to a child Aspie it may be very wrong in his eyes if you forced him to go shopping (sensory over load) and you don’t buy him a toy. Please set those expectations BEFORE you leave for the store with the child.
The frustration screams for peace. The pressure cooker needs to let off steam. It doesn’t want to explode. It would rather just escape the heat.
It is much like the reaction an NT would have running out of a burning building. Panic, fear, pain, anxiety! Now imagine trying to escape that fire and people are blocking your path. Not letting you escape. Mocking you for trying to get out!! You would go into a type of rage. Not because you hate them but because you hate not being able to escape.
These things hurt! I can’t deal with the whirl-wind! MAKE IT STOP! MELT DOWN COMING!!
The melt down itself is almost surreal. I won’t say we are out of control. There is always a line we would never cross. I would never physically hurt someone. Although in my youth I directed all that steam into hitting walls, trees, cars…We don’t even want to melt down. There is this voice screaming ‘I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS!’ You try so hard not to say something you will regret. For me it is cursing. I don’t like to sound like that, but sometimes no other words work during a melt down. For my son it is the word ‘hate’. He hates me, hates his mother etc. In truth he is a very loving child. And he always feels so terrible after a melt down For saying those things. It breaks my heart.
Then there is the aftermath. The exhaustion. The shame and guilt. The feeling of judgment. The resentment of those who caused the melt down.
And the fear. Melt downs scare us. It is that same fear of escaping that burning building.
There is a plus side to seeing a melt down. Most Aspie won’t melt down in front of people they don’t trust. So if you are with an Aspie and he gets to that point, take comfort in knowing you are in his inner circle.
Are we the spoiled brats and selfish jerks that NT’s judge us to be…? Think about that the next time you get angry at you Aspie child for embarrassing you by melting down in public. (yes I meant that to point out your selfishness).
I will however say this; melt downs can’t go unchecked in children. No one is stricter on my young Aspie about his melt downs than I am. I help him understand them and understand how to avoid them. But I do not let him accept unacceptable behaviour. He must learn that he cannot say he hates people. He cannot throw his toys. At the same time he has to learn to avoid burning buildings altogether, thus avoiding the melt downs.
There are many times I KNOW I need to walk away and breath. That takes discipline and maturity. It isn’t easy to slow down and walk out of a burning building.