Friday, April 12, 2024

How To Deal With Autism Meltdowns In Adults

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Signs Indicating That An Autistic Child Is Going To Have A Meltdown

Autistic Meltdowns: What to do?

3. Is there an audience for the childs behavior or not?

Tantrum is a way for children to get the attention of their parents and adults and to lead them to do something that the child wants. Therefore, tantrums always happen when there is an audience.

For example, if the child is alone or not with parents or direct caregivers, they would not have a tantrum.

Autistic meltdown, however, is not an act to attract attention and reach a goal. Therefore, they can happen in any situation and especially more often when children are away from their parents and they are dealing with new people and new situations. Based on the type of sensory sensitivity one individual may have, they can happen in various environments and they are not necessary coming after a request is denied.

Managing Autism And Anxiety With Medication

Since anxiety is a distinct disorder, it can be treated separately from other domains of ASD. Anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, and beta-blockers are used to treat anxiety in the general population. Few studies have been done discerning whether these drugs are equally effective in adults with ASD. A small study5 from the Cochrane Collaboration found that the drug Luvox may help treat obsessive-compulsive behaviors in adults with autism, and fluoxetine may likewise help with anxiety. The conclusion was that these drugs should be used on a case-by-case basis to treat OCD and anxiety in adults with ASD.

Other studies6 on fluoxetine in adults and children with ASD demonstrated improvement in repetitive behaviors, but a controlled trial showed that citalopram worked no differently than a placebo in reducing repetitive behaviors. Also, some patients had negative behavioral effects, such as hyperactivity, impulsivity, and insomnia. Medical professionals should keep in mind that patients with ASD may be sensitive to low doses of drugs. These adults present significant variations in treatment responses and adverse reactions to medications.

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Autism Meltdown Strategies For Children

Youve heard the saying: When youve met a child with autism, youve met one child with autism.

Because every autistic child presents differently, with varied skills, levels of relatedness, communication, and sensory processing profiles, it is impossible to have a one-solution-fits-all approach to managing meltdowns.

The following are some tips and strategies that have helped other parents, but you will have to consider these in terms of your individual childs needs.

Wed all like to avoid meltdowns completely, but thats not possible. Instead, some parents find it helpful to put strategies in place to minimize the stress and anxiety of daily life that may contribute to a meltdown. This is typically referred to as a sensory diet and can be beneficial in preventing and managing autism meltdowns.

Some common ones that support regulation across the day:

  • Visual schedules
  • Check off lists
  • Activity or task schedules
  • Routine sensory diet activities, for example, using a weighted blanket during sleep, engaging in deep pressure activities at certain times in the daily routine, etc.

Some parents find it helpful to schedule quiet time for their child, in order to allow for the downtime proactively before the activity of the day gets to be too much. Building in a surprise or question mark to visual schedules helps to shape behavioral responses to unexpected changes in routines that are often stressful.

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Read Also: Can Autism Be Diagnosed At Any Age

Why Neurodivergent Meltdowns Might Be Uniquely Difficult For Adults

TL:DR Shame, persistent life stress and lack of resources may make Neurodivergent Meltdowns harder for Adults.

Meltdowns are commonly attributed to ND children. However Neurodivergent adults also experience them. More frequently than many people realize.

Why? Because Neurodivergent children grow up into Neurodivergent adults of course!

We may get better about managing our day to day triggers but that doesnt mean meltdowns stop happening past a certain age.

And while having meltdowns as a kid is undoubtedly miserable, they are uniquely difficult to deal with as an adult. This is because of a few reasons, the biggest among them being shame.

What Is A Meltdown

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A meltdown is an intense response to an overwhelming situation. It happens when someone becomes completely overwhelmed by their current situation and temporarily loses control of their behaviour.This loss of control can be expressed verbally ,physically or in both ways.

A meltdown is not the same as a temper tantrum. It is notbad or naughty behaviour. When a person is completely overwhelmed, and their condition means it is difficult to express that in another way, it is understandable that the result is a meltdown.

Meltdowns are not the only way an autistic person may express feeling overwhelmed.They may also refuse to interact, withdrawing from situations they find challenging or avoiding them altogether.

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How Can You Say If Your Child Has An Autistic Meltdown Or A Tantrum

Tantrums and autistic meltdowns may look similar at the surface. They both can represent with screaming and crying, kicking, hitting, and breath holding. There are several points that can help us to differentiate meltdowns from tantrums. However, often the most important way to identify them relies on the parents experience. The parents know their children the best and over the time, often they are quick to discriminate meltdowns by experience.

Next, we go through 3 main points that can help to identify tantrum vs autistic meltdown:

1. Pay attention to the underlying situation and what has happened before the behavior:

A tantrum is a goal-oriented action, so there is always an unmet request before the tantrum. The child may be asking for a sweet or a toy, want to play games or not to leave the playground. Tantrums may happen in any situation if the child is tired or hungry or bored, but at any situation there is goal for the tantrum!

An autistic meltdown, however, is not related to a specific goal but rather caused by too much overload. It shows that the child is not able to handle the situation. There may be too much sensory stimuli in the environment, too much information, or the child just feels too much pressure from unpredictable situations and getting out of their routines.

2. There are often signs of distress before a meltdown:

Prevention Strategies And Treatments

Contemporary meltdown treatment and prevention strategies include various therapy and medical techniques. Many approaches incorporate behavioral and physical therapies to help with bodily autonomy and emotional control. Before any treatment or prevention plans are created, your patient/loved one will likely need to complete a Functional Behavior Assessment or a similar screening process to identify the functionality of meltdown symptoms.

Creating a behavior log to find patterns in context and surroundings leading up to meltdowns can help the evaluation. Behavior logs also assist parents and caretakers in understanding signs leading up to meltdowns. Learning these timelines allows greater insight into what sensory issues or comorbid conditions may cause meltdowns. Once the context is better understood, you can begin to practice calming techniques before meltdowns occur and teach your loved one or patient to identify their feelings before they happen.

Treating underlying comorbid conditions associated with autism is also essential. Sensory or emotional issues are often the result of uncommunicated pain or discomfort related to such conditions . If you have tried cognitive behavioral therapy and meltdown severity or prevalence hasnt decreased, consider speaking with a gastroenterologist, psychologist, or other medical specialists to address underlying issues.

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What Not To Do In A Meltdown

Try not to:

Talk about punishment, consequences, damage, and cost.

Use reason when the person is too emotional to be reasonable.

Interrogate, that is ask for an explanation as to why the person is so agitated or distressed.

Encroach on personal space.

Turn the situation into a lesson.

Make sudden movements.

Match the persons mood with your speech.

Criticise the person for being overly dramatic or selfish.

Use physical restraint.

Make critical, demeaning, or patronizing comments.

A Meltdown Is Not Personal They May Say Things They Dont Mean Or Feel

How To Help Stop Autism Meltdowns

Try to remember this is not personal, its not about you at all. Often I say things which I really do not feel, Im finding fault with the whole world and unfortunately no-one is exempt. Everything is wrong inside and Im having difficulty expressing that in a constructive way. If you keep this in mind then perhaps it will be easier to stay calm and see this for what it is. A reaction to overwhelmed an overstimulated brain.

Im hoping that this will be helpful, personally to those around me and for other autistic adults and those that love and support them.

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Qualities Of An Autistic Meltdown

An autistic meltdown is bigger, more emotional, longer-lasting, and more difficult to manage than the average temper tantrum. They are also qualitatively different from the average tantrum because they generally occur for different reasons, are surprisingly predictable, and have different outcomes in children with autism.

Specifically, autistic meltdowns are characterized by the following features:

What To Do During A Very Loud Very Public Meltdown

When our child has a meltdown, parents often want to stop the tears because it hurts our hearts that our kids are struggling. Or were running low on patience and just want peace and quiet.

Many times, were coping with the fifth or sixth meltdown that morning over seemingly simple things like the tag in their shirt being too itchy, their sister talking too loudly, or a change in plans.

Autistic children arent crying, wailing, or flailing to get at us somehow.

Theyre crying because its what their bodies need to do in that moment to release tension and emotion from feeling overwhelmed with emotions or sensory stimulations.

Their brains are wired differently and so its how they interact with the world. Thats something we have to come to terms with as parents so we can support them in the best way.

So how can we effectively support our children through these often loud and thrashing meltdowns?

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How Can Adults With Autism Deal With Meltdowns

These five strategies can help autistic adults better cope with meltdowns.

1. Identify triggers.

I have written before about considering emotional regulation as a timeline. Autistic adults are advised to develop strategies to notice where they are on that timeline in order to get a sense of how easily triggered they might be at a particular moment. They should pay attention to their mood, as well as notice how tired or stressed they already are.

Ask: Is there a potential for me to be more easily triggered? Is the type of situation I’m going into the same type of situation that has triggered a meltdown in the past? Can I avoid putting myself into that situation until a time when I feel more rested and less stressed?

2, Get the right support.

No one likes losing control. If our actions have affected someone else, were probably going to feel bad about it. However, its important for autistic adults to explain to those people close to them whats happening when a meltdown occurs to ensure theyre supportive and understanding.

Several of my clients have shared the criticism they receive from relatives, friends, and partners when they have meltdowns. Elaine, for example, told me, I recently went into total meltdown after being grabbed unexpectedly by a friend. I managed to get out of the situation and ended up outside, banging my head until it bled. My husband was so embarrassed and critical of me afterward.

The Importance Of Handling Meltdowns With Compassion

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Meltdowns dont just happen to autistic childrenthey happen to autistic adults, too.

Meltdowns in adults might look a little different and individuals typically can recognize what is happening and try to calm themselves down, but it still is outside of their control.

Lyric Holmans, the autistic self-advocate behind the internationally recognized neurodiversity lifestyle blog Neurodivergent Rebel, says:

A meltdown is beyond an autistic persons control. Their brain is overwhelmed & cant take anymore. They might start crying or fall to the floor because theyre just mentally done completely overwhelmed.

The fight, flight, freeze response has been triggered, almost like a panic attack kind of a feeling. Its a horrible feeling.

The fact that people with autism continue to have meltdowns into adulthood shows that they are not just childish temper tantrums but a normal part of life for many autistic people.

Thats why its so important that we handle them with compassion, especially when they happen to our children.

Compassion shouldnt be limited to our children experiencing autistic meltdowns. All of our children deserve compassion, even when they are throwing a temper tantrum.

We dont have to give in and give a child throwing a tantrum what they want, but we can approach the situation with empathy, compassion, and understanding.

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Aspie Adults & Anger Problems

Aspie adultsâ anger issues often carry over from their childhood or teenage years. It is an integral part of the syndrome and may be exacerbated by circumstances and frustration. Here are some of the ways that controlling anger may become apparent in Aspergerâs adults:

  • A change to plans or routines can cause anger in an Aspie adult as they try and retain their stability and security.
  • Sensory overload can cause an outburst of anger and demands.
  • Insensitive comments can be hurtful and arouse anger.
  • Aspie adults have rigid ideas of right and wrong and may become angry if these are not adhered to.

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Our Best Strategies For Dealing With Autism And Anger

Have you ever wondered about autism spectrum disorder and its relationship to anger? What can cause anger outbursts in children with autism? How can we help children with autism deescalate from anger? We will answer these questions and more, but first, lets consider autism symptoms.

The symptoms related to autism spectrum disorder vary greatly among individuals. In addition, these symptoms fall along a spectrum, with some children demonstrating more severe symptoms compared to others. Generally speaking, individuals with autism will experiences some degree of the following symptoms:

  • Language difficulties-including language delays and repetition of specific words or phrases
  • Learning difficulties
  • Trouble with attention and problem-solving
  • Emotional difficulties, including depression, anger, and anxiety

Anger is often an emotion that is associated with autism spectrum disorder. Most children with autism do not express their anger in the same way as typically-developing peers. This anger can be directed towards others, or towards themselves . Anger may manifest into aggression and could include hitting, kicking, biting, or throwing objects.

There are several reasons children with autism may experience intense anger or aggression, including:

August 28, 2020 by Dr. Tasha Oswald

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Identifying Emotions As A Step Towards Managing Moods

Autistic children and teenagers can find it hard to identify emotions. They might have difficulty telling different emotions apart for example, your child might feel all negative or unpleasant emotions as anger.

If autistic children and teenagers can learn to be more aware of their emotions, this can help them change and manage their moods. So the first step in handling emotions is identifying and naming emotions.

To help your child identify different emotions, you could create a social story about a particular emotion.

Heres an example of a social story about happiness:

  • When something good happens to me, I feel happy.
  • Some things that make me happy are playing computer games and swimming.
  • When I feel happy, I smile and laugh.

Pointing out your childs emotions can also help your child recognise them. You could say, Youre laughing and smiling you must be happy, or I can see that youre frustrated. It must be frustrating to not be able to play that bit right on the guitar. Try starting with emotions like happiness, fear and anger. Then move on to more complicated emotions, like jealousy, sympathy or embarrassment. You could also try pointing out emotions in family members or characters in movies.

Drawing a picture of the body to show where people feel emotions can help some autistic teenagers. Another idea is for you and your child to look at pictures of faces that show different emotions.

Heres how it might work with anger on a scale of 1-5:

Meltdowns And Life Stress In Adults

How We Deal With Autism Meltdowns

Another reason why Neurodivergent Meltdowns in adults might be uniquely tricky: life stress.

A lot is expected of us as adults. We have to deal with work, family, intimate relationships, finances, friendships, etcetera etcetera. In our house, laundry is a never ending battle and we say that dishes are a river that never stops flowing.

Constant and persistent life stress is enough to drive even Neurotypicals up the wall. Its double difficult for Neurodivergent people as were often also dealing with Executive Dysfunction and co-occurring mental and physical issues6.

While they have their own relative stresses, most children dont have to deal with the persistent and frustrating life stress that adults do.

And ND people have lots of life stress that others may not have to deal with. For instance, Autistics have higher rates of unemployment7 which adds to financial stress. ADHDers have a higher rate of stress at work due to Executive Function challenges8. Intimate relationships can be extra difficult for us due to the unique challenges of being Neurodivergent.

We all know prolonged stress can be dangerous. But as weve seen, life stress can also be especially toxic to Neurodivergent people and can lead to more meltdowns.

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What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder or ASD is a developmental disorder that can impact behavior and communication. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association, diagnostic criteria includes:

  • persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts
  • restricted, repetitive behaviors, interests or activities

These autism symptoms must be present in the early developmental period and are unable to be explained by intellectual disability or global developmental delay. To diagnose ASD, the symptoms must cause clinically significant impairment in areas of functioning that include social and occupational.

The DSM-5 merged four distinct autism diagnoses into the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Individuals previously diagnosed with one of these are included in the new ASD diagnosis. These included:

  • autistic disorder
  • pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified
  • Aspergers syndrome

Autism is a spectrum, which is why we cant categorize individuals with autism into one simple group. We also cant treat autistic people the same, as each person is unique and has their own needs.

Not all adults with ASD need special assistance however, depending upon their ability to function independently, some need continued help. This might entail working with:

  • an applied behavior analyst
  • a home health care aid who comes in daily

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