Breaking down a Melt Down. What do they feel like to an Aspie

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.

It is about time I try to explain what an Aspergers melt Down really is. After all what I am looking for is understanding, so maybe this will help the NT’s who want to understand.

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.


19 comments on “Breaking down a Melt Down. What do they feel like to an Aspie

  1. Sharon says:

    Thank you for such an awesome post. This is amazing! It helps me understand my son so much more.

  2. katie says:

    Thank you I will show this to my family who, as much as they love my son, don’t ‘get’ it : ) I smiled at the trust part too as for many years my ex has been blaming me for being lax as he never has Melt Downs with him and I know it’s not true (sometimes maybe) but nice to have it confirmed.

    • aspiewarrior says:

      You are welcome. I know getting family to understand can be very hard. Sons Grandmother spend a year nagging us because we were not doing enough to cure my son. She kept asking when will he grow out of this. :-)

  3. poprice says:

    Such a great post. Thank you kindly for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Cynthia says:

    I don’t know if my loved one is an aspie (as homeschoolers we didn’t have to go for a ‘diagnosis’ so we have just lived life) but I *do* know he has had epic meltdowns that don’t feel very good to him. One book saved our family life by suggesting a 20 minute cool-down period when things are headed that way, and that has been huge for us.
    My question is, what other things could you recommend that help a loved one recover from a meltdown?
    Thanks for the great post!

    • aspiewarrior says:

      A big thing that works in my house is teaching that actions and choices have consequences. He now understands that being mean will get him in trouble every time. We can watch now as he chooses to walk away rather than hit or yell at someone when he is melting down. Teaching him that he can control his actions and his behavior even if he can’t control his melt downs.

  5. Bonnie says:

    Thank you for this.

  6. Akira says:

    Thank you for writing this I thought I was the only one who felt like this.
    This allows me to understand myself and my aspie friend even more.
    I wished my late mother and family were more kind to me because I felt this.
    I wasn’t allowed to feel emotion growing up.

  7. Sarah King says:

    Can I be brave and ask what do you do with your son WHEN he has a meltdown? How do you teach him what is acceptable for him to do and how do you get the message across about what is unacceptable? I have a 5 year old son in the process of being diagnosed but am certain he is AS. We talk about acceptable/ unacceptable behaviour & that’s ok until he melts down!, then it all goes out the window, he kicks, bites screams, throws & breaks stuff,hits out etc. I have made his bedroom into a ‘safe place’ so I put him in there until he’s calm.. He hates being touched or spoken to when melting down so I just leave him until he stops then we can talk. Any more ideas?? Thank you in advance! :-)

    • aspiewarrior says:

      It sounds like you’re on the right track. I know you said he hates to be touched when melting down, but on of the most effective things I found is a hug. When he is biting, kicking, etc try wrapping your arms around him in a way that pins his arms to his side. Normally about 60 seconds of this drains much of that physical lashing out.

  8. Diana says:

    Thank you for such a comprehensive well written post. As a Mum of a teenage Aspie who is “blamed” for his meltdown behaviour ,in the education setting, this will give me a tool to use to help them better understand if they are willing. We try but they usually think as a parent you are making excuses rather than fostering understanding . Blogs like yours help spread the word and hopefully one day the world will be a kinder, more accepting place. To the lady with the 5 year old we too would hug and speak little during these times and he would come out the other end exhausted. As time goes on you recognise the triggers but it’s hard when they are not with you which is why those he comes in contact with need the education from blogs like this a.
    Have a great day all of you.

  9. Spencer says:

    A good thing to stop these meltdowns is to just try and rationalize your problems. Are they worth getting upset over? What “level” of a problem is this? If it’s not that bad, then maybe you can calm down. I wish I had thought of doing that before when I was a kid with my meltdowns. I hated it when my parents would say that in front of other people “he had a meltdown”, but I had no idea that was the official term. I wish all the time that I could do my school years all over again and show everyone that I was capable of calming myself down and managing my emotions. But it was hard, and the fact that it’s difficult for me to remember all of the times I might have been able to calm myself down, empathize with others, face up to my bullies, etc. makes me worried that I was never able to do it. Hopefully I’m wrong and I just can’t remember all the times I resisted.

    My parents read all those books, but they simply said I was unwilling to change or learn anything. Maybe they were right, but couldn’t they have at least tried?

    Thankfully, though, God used these experiences to draw me closer to Him when I finally became aware of what I had been. Just because I have a neurological condition that predisposes me to fits of rage or selfishness or anything else doesn’t let me off the hook for my behavior, even though I’d like to be. I can choose to control myself or I can let myself go over the edge. And I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t do what I needed to so many times. I wish I could just go back and do it over again, to make it perfect. But I can’t. All I can do is learn from my mistakes and prevent future ones.

  10. Iris says:

    This is exactly how I function, sometimes, unfortunately.
    But I am a woman, and have a funny hairstyle and odd political thinking, so psychiatry condemned me with borderline pd, cause women with meltdowns all have that right?
    Not blaming ppl w bpd here, or any other, just the approach to the exakt same problems is very different.. If you are considered having bdp, you will be intentionally shamed and blamed for your behaviour, by family and proffesionals alike. And nobody else ever has a part in your behaviour, no matter what youre the crazy one…
    Its just striking to me how you describe exactly what I feel when I lose control. And for you its called something else and is treated differently.
    I really feel psychiatry is non-sciense and diagnoses are a lottery. My son also does this.. what ticket he gets is still to find out. We are all humans and some more sensitive to frustration than others, something we must learn to cope with ourselves but also we should all try to be understanding and helpful to eachothers sensitivities regardless of any daignose or not. Thanks for writing, at least Im not the only one who cant handle it sometimes feels good to know.

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