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Meltdowns in Adults with Aspergers & High-Functioning Autism

Can an adult with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism have a meltdown just like a child with the same disorder? 

The answer is ‘yes’ – but the adult’s meltdown-behavior looks a bit different than a child’s. Under severe enough stress, any normally calm and collected individual may become “out-of-control” – even to the point of violence. But some individuals experience repeated meltdowns in which tension mounts until there is an explosive release.

The adult version of a meltdown may include any of the following (just to name a few):
  • aggressive behavior in which the individual reacts grossly out of proportion to the circumstance
  • angry outbursts that involve throwing or breaking objects 
  • banging your head
  • crying
  • domestic abuse
  • pacing back and forth
  • quitting your job
  • road rage
  • talking to yourself
  • threatening others
  • walking out on your spouse or partner
  • yelling and screaming

On the mild end of the continuum, the adult in meltdown may simply say some things that are overly critical and disrespectful, thus ultimately destroying the relationship with the other party (or parties) in many cases. On the more extreme end of the continuum, the adult in meltdown may attack others and their possessions, causing bodily injury and property damage. In both examples, the adult often later feels remorse, regret or embarrassment.

Meltdowns, usually lasting 5 to 20 minutes, may occur in clusters or be separated by weeks or months in which the Aspergers adult maintains his/her composure. Meltdown episodes may be preceded or accompanied by:
  • Chest tightness
  • Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head
  • Increased energy
  • Irritability
  • Palpitations
  • Paranoia
  • Rage
  • Tingling
  • Tremors

A number of factors increase the likelihood of experiencing a meltdown:
  • A history of physical abuse or bullying: “Aspies” who were abused as kids have an increased risk for frequent meltdowns as adults.
  • A history of substance abuse: Aspies who abuse drugs or alcohol have an increased risk for frequent meltdowns.
  • Age: Meltdowns are most common in Aspies in their late teens to mid 20s.
  • Being male: Aspergers men are far more likely to meltdown than women.
  • Having another mental health problem: Aspies with other mental illnesses (e.g., depression, anxiety disorders) are more likely to have meltdowns.

The meltdown is not always directed at others. Aspergers adults who experience meltdowns are also at significantly increased risk of harming themselves, either with intentional injuries or suicide attempts. Those who are also addicted to drugs or alcohol have a greatest risk of harming themselves.

Aspergers adults who experience meltdowns are often perceived by others as “always being angry.” Other complications may include job loss, school suspension, divorce, auto accidents, and even incarceration.

If you're concerned because you're having repeated meltdowns, talk with your doctor or make an appointment with someone who specializes in treating adults on the spectrum (e.g., a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, etc.).

Here's how to prepare for an appointment with a professional:
  1. Make a list of all medications as well as any vitamins or supplements that you're taking.
  2. Write down any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
  3. Write down key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes.
  4. Write down questions to ask your doctor. Preparing a list of questions can help you make sure you cover everything that's important to you. 
  5. Don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.

There's no one treatment that's best for Aspergers adults who experience meltdowns. Treatment generally includes medication and individual or group therapy. Individual or group therapy sessions can be very helpful. A commonly used type of therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, helps Aspergers adults identify which situations or behaviors may trigger a meltdown. In addition, this type of therapy teaches Aspies how to manage their anger and control their typically inappropriate response using relaxation techniques. Cognitive behavioral therapy that combines cognitive restructuring, coping skills training, and relaxation training has the most promising results.

Unfortunately, many Aspergers adults who experience meltdowns don't seek treatment. If you're involved in a relationship with an Aspie, it's important that you take steps to protect yourself and your kids. Any emotional and/or physical abuse that may be occurring is not your fault.  If you see that a situation is escalating, and you suspect your partner may be on the verge of a meltdown, try to safely remove yourself and your kids from the area. 

Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

14 comments:

  1. Yup! It may look different to the observer, but a meltdown is a meltdown.

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  2. I really appreciate this post. Many of us adult aspies as children were not understood and became survivors, figuring out how we personally tick hiding from a system we don't quite fit. It's nice there is a lot more understanding and help.

    When I was a child I had intense firery tantrums. As an adult I'm defiantly more composed and am discovering healthier coping outlets to place my frustrations and recognizing when it's building up.

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  3. totally...and often without warning, in my case

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  4. I had a few meltdowns, and my last one led to my walking out on my job and apartment, and never returned, since then I had myself assessed and am now offcially an Aspie.

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  5. What if you're pushed to the breaking point over and over, and it makes no difference to anyone that you're breaking inside? I tell people to leave me alone when I am getting stressed, and they all of the sudden follow me around and ask questions, bother me, and harrass me. I say two more times to please leave me alone, I need a break. I make it to my quiet place, but they follow me there.

    And it's somehow MY fault if I cannot control any possible violence to myself, someone else, or property? When all they have todo is respect me? Bullshit. I am the one being abused, and I have nowhere to go. I have been suicidal for YEARS, but I live with it, containing it always.

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    Replies
    1. I used to feel that way but now I am 35 years old with a wife and 2 kids and i can not blame any one else for my meltdowns but my self im trying out meds i don't want to hurt my kids and my wife i love them

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  6. I had one Saturday.. :-( and after reading this I think what happened Tuesday was one as well.

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  7. I recall a particular meltdown after reading the article , which was distressing for my then partner and emotionally distressing and physically exhausting for me . It also sadly played a part in ringing the death knell for that relationship .
    It is a painful memory I also thought of them as somewhat like a non physical tornado from out of nowhere and chaos inducing .

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  8. I am dating an aspie, and his melt downs are not usually violent, just frustrating because I can never figure out how to handle his meltdowns. I have difficulty reading him, and the last melt down he had i broke down and started crying myself. I eventually realized what was happening and regained control of myself so I could calm him down, but this is the person I am hoping to spend the rest of my life with. I love him and want us to work, but if that's going to happen I need to learn how to handle the meltdowns better. Any suggestions?

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  9. pure embarrassment and shame. I ruined almost every relationship I had with these very rare but very remembered and forever used against me meltdowns. can't say I really blame them just wish I remembered what I said. iq's are over-rated when it comes to this- mine and especially theirs- the professionals.

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  10. I learned later in life (like three years ago) I was diagnosed with autism and I just blew up at my roommate. My caregiver tried to contain me but the roommate insisted that I wasn't the person to talk to concerning Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign, and such. When he works on audio stuff he goes all like "I went to school for this." When in fact I went to school for art... He openingly devalued my opinion (after many little scuffs before hand) and I just blew it. Normally I'm really quiet and skiddish (I'm five seven in a world of six footers) and I speak slowly and at reasonable volume. I may be seen as a tool but I just like being nice.
    Anyways... I blew up and shouted (I never shout) the word "F*** YOU!" to my roommate for like a minute straight and then took 20 Ativan and two trazadone. My boyfriend stopped me. I feel like the most horrible thing to ever live, and I'm including viruses in this, I just so awful and I'm still recovering. I'm still shaking. :-(

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  11. Hi, I live with my (maybe ex) partner who is an aspie. We are currently having serious difficulties in our relationship in regards to them have meltdowns and their aggressiveness towards me as a result (they will not accept that it feels like this is aimed towards me even if it isn't- even though they get upset/angry if I shout around them). I seriously need some help/guidance in regards to this as I seriously think this could be the end of our relationship if we cannot find a (permanent) solution. I love them more than anything in the world but sometimes I cannot cope with these issues due to personal difficulties with other people being aggressive/hurtful towards me.

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  12. My Daughter is the one with the meltdowns, although some are just angry outbursts. She is 21 and has had these outbursts/meltdowns her whole life. Now that she is an adult, it is more difficult for me to "take" these attacks, and keep my own self respect. I actually called a suicide hotline myself yesterday and am desperately working to understand her better so I don't push her buttons. She lashes out when she feels I am not respecting her. She has good friends and can hold a job, just can't drive yet. The bad days are really bad and it is amazing I live through the tough moments, especially the ones in public like the two in stores today. Trying to get her to see a Psychiatric place that specializes in Autism...waiting for them to approve her. I feel like she hates me much of the time, and I feel like a prisoner in my own house. She doesn't like me to be away because she gets lonely. I need to reach out to others who either understand her or me.

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  13. yeah... my problem is my parents never thought I had asperger's, only dhd, and I have such a cognitive deficit and executive function problem, PLUS my natural personality traits of being a libra sun, virgo moon, scorp rising, that I just... I was in terror most of my life, and felt alone, becuase whenever I tried ot tell ANY ADULT AUTHORITY FIGURE something was wrongf wiht me, in the best way I could, they didn't pay attention. I was alone, and very angry, even though i had parents and school and a doctor. ;my dad, who has asperger's, can get SO LOUD and scary when he yells... I'm 30, and still live at home. I had to take ritalin for my adhd... but it made my nerves ten billion times worse,so bad I licked my lips as a child till they were raw and bleeding. ;( He msut hve scorpio rising too, though, because he is so scary. he thnks I'm worthless when my meltdowns and his conjoin... it's not pretty. one day, somebody's gonna die of nobody helps us. And it won't be anyone's fault. that's the sad thing. my mo mchased me into my closet once after a fight, screaming that I should stop acting autistic. :O My dad SCREAMED at me once (scorpios look scarier than they think they do, hence my abject fear) becaues I couldn't understand my homework one night in elementary school. I'm no picnic either. we need help, not being treated like retards by EVERYOne we've ever tried to get help from. ;( sad right now. Anybody would feel paranoid after all that and ritalin and being bullied in school and your parents not understanding or helping and making fun of you and yelling, saying all the while thatthey love oyu. My mom sat on the couch once and plotted against the neighbors suddenly, one day, when was ten I think... i suddenly looked at her and was very afraid. I didn;t recognize her... after year ten, I realized I was completely alone in the entire world. nothing much has changed. but I'm still here god damn it. I trained MSELF to think around my issues... and STILL it isn;t enough. But I'm here. god damn it I'm HERE. Be well my friends... be well, and know that I love you, even if no one else in your life does. Can't do much about it becuae I need to be alone, but can't be due ot other needs.. but I DO love oyu. It won't always be like this for us. Take heart. ;)

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