Meltdowns aren’t always sudden. Sometimes autistic people can sense a meltdown coming on for several hours or even days. Like cracks that grow in size and number, our coping mechanism begin to crumble. Fatigue sets in. Burnout flares up. Our focus fades, and our voices dry out.
This isn’t a post about meltdown prevention. While tips on curtailing meltdowns can be helpful, the reality is that many autistic people wind up in situations where preventative measures can’t be taken. Even so, as we feel the meltdown take us over, we often desire to communicate the coming storm to those around us, which can feel next to impossible. Here are a few ideas for cueing others on our current state:
1) If we’ve become semi- or nonverbal: A major issue with being unable to communicate is that many allistics think that asking the “right questions” will reopen our words. In fact, these repeated attempts at conversation can cause deeper nonresponsiveness. To avoid this entanglement, we can try texting our companions about our current state or prewritten cards that explain the situation. If neither of these are available, I might go to my room, shut the door, and feign sleep.
2) If we’re too overstimulated to speak without lashing out: Many allistic people feel as though autistic people are moody and explosive. The truth is, if we are nearing a meltdown, our emotions reflect the chaos of overload. If I’m able to speak in those moments, I warn my loved ones that I’m beyond overstimulated, that my harsh tone is not directed at them, and that I want to discontinue conversations for the next few hours, as I won’t be able to speak without anger.
3) If we’re too exhausted to move: Forcing ourselves to take on daily activities while we’re sliding into a meltdown will most likely trigger the meltdown. Yet, our loved ones, unaware of the seriousness of our state, may make the usual requests that we start chores, work, etc. In these moments, I tell those around me that I’m not feeling well, that I need to rest more before moving.