The woman on the phone was not listening. I had called her for help and quickly realized that she would not be able to help me.
“I told her never-mind. I’ve made a mistake. I’m going to let you go.” She kept asking questions. Every question she asked I said – “I don’t know. I don’t have any more information. I am going to let you go.”
She kept asking. I told her again – “I need to let you go. You cannot help me.” Her overly helpful insistence that I not hang up the phone was about to make me blow up.
Finally, in a harsh tone I told her – “Look – I was trying to be nice but I am hanging up now because there is NOTHING you can do for me.”
I slammed down the phone and ran quickly out of our office in a panic. My heart was beating fast and my mind was racing. Everything was a blur. I wanted to scream, cry, and hit someone. More than anything I wanted to get away and be alone.
Run. Run. Escape. Escape.
Bursting into the hallway I frantically looked both ways – I wanted to go someplace without people. The bathroom? Elevator? Emergency stairwell!
Hyperventilating I burst into the stairwell. It was dark and quiet as most people take the elevator. I rand up and down the stairs until finally I collapsed exhausted on the bottom floor.
I sat for a moment, curled in a ball rocking. Grateful for the moment alone – I sat breathing in and listening to my breaths.
Coming back to reality, feeling much better after my tiny explosion (this was a very small meltdown), I realized that I had left my key-card in the desk as I ran out in a panic, so I exited the stairwell and took the elevator back to my floor.
Back at my desk I sat down like nothing ever happened – as if I hadn’t just had a meltdown at work.
When an Autistic person is having a meltdown they are unable to think clearly. The flight or fight response is triggered so forcing them to engage with you can actually cause more stress.
We are all unique individuals but I like to be alone during a meltdown. If I get up and run away don’t chase me – this is flight and if you corner me my brain can switch to fight. I’m on autopilot and running has become the way I protect myself (and those around me).
If I’m having a meltdown please do not touch me. My senses are whirling out of proportion and I am not thinking clearly. I may become unable to communicate other than one word answers and trying to communicate makes me feel worse – so don’t ask me explain what’s happening.
If you are in the room with an Autistic person having a meltdown – turn off the lights, get them a blanket or pillow and some space. A favorite stim toy might also be a good thing to offer.
You can stay in the room if the person you are with does not mind, but give some space and sit quietly. Accept that they can’t control what is happening to them. Sometimes we feel the meltdown coming but other times it hits without warning.
Once started the meltdown has to run its course. Just wait, let me meltdown and don’t try to stop it. We may feel tired after a meltdown but sometimes we may feel a relief as the pressure may have been building for quite sometime.
Remember – as hard as watching a meltdown may be for you having a meltdown is horrible for an Autistic person. The pain is mental and physical. Autistic people having meltdowns are in crisis mode and our brains are lashing out at us. We don’t mean to freak out and are often embarrassed after having a meltdown.