Meltdowns are one of the annoying parts of the autism spectrum. They’re hard fot the autistic person and for his family or friends. Before elaborating on the subject, let’s have a look at what meltdown really is.
The term itself was first used in 1956. The Merriam-Webster dictionary offers 3 definitions and meanings:
1.the accidental melting of the core of a nuclear reactor,
2.a rapid or disastrous decline or collapse
3.a breakdown of self-control (as from fatigue or overstimulation).
In terms of autism and Asperger’s all three definitions seem fitting and relatable, although officially the third one actually reffers to ASD. A meltdown occurs when a person becomes overwhelmed either from sensory overload or emotional overstimulation. Understanding this, one must acknewledge the difference between a meltdown and a temper tantrum. The first is involuntary and the latter is purposly used to achieve a certain goal. The two should be clearly distinguished. There is another significant difference between them in the sense of manifestation. A temper tantrum always requires audience, otherwise it is pointless. A meltdown occurs regardless of who is present to witness it. Description of the term in medical literature is somewhat stereotypical. Loss of control over oneself’s behavior, resulting in screaming, banging head, pulling hair, throwing oneself on the floor. Pretty dramatical. What the medical literature won’t tell you is the fact that there is another kind of meltdowns of which occurance is impossible to describe in terms of frequency and manifestation. The silent meltdown.
The silent meltdown is a common thing among aspies. When dealing with overstimulating world long enough, you learn a thing or two about meltdowns. For instance, the aftermath. Beside from being exhausted you are faced with shocked bystanders of your outburst. Sooner or later you develop a coping mechanism and learn to internalize the meltdown. This may include some seemingly mild reaction, like finger tapping, pinching yourself or teeth grinding, or it can happen with completely no physical manifestation. The whole meltdown occurs, evolves and eventually dissolves in your head, leaving you emotionally and mentally even more drained as if you would throw a fit. But at least you avoided being frowned upon by judgmental lookers-on, so it’s a win after all. Note that most aspies are well aware of the fact that the society already considers them freaks and weirdos, so they do whatever they can to avoid standing out more than they already do.
My son has silent meltdowns in school. And guess what? Reputable ASD experts in Central Europe told me that he’s only a spoiled brat because he doesn’t act out publicly. In their opinion, meltdowns can not be controlled in any way. Being an aspie myself, I tried to explain to them it’s like an itch: say if your butt itches at home you can scratch all you want, but if it itches in public you just silently suffer not wanting to embarras yourself by publicly scratching your behind. They didn’t get it. The concept of silent meltdown is completely unacceptable to them because it doesn’t fit in their box. Sadly the so-called professionals have certain expectations about who people on the spectrum are and you have to fit into that paradigm, whether you like it or not. After all, they are the medical and educational experts, they have read some articles and books, they have met a few aspies in their career. Who are you to tell them about yourself. You, who have been living and functioning as an aspie all your life.