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Signs That Your ASD Partner is Approaching “Meltdown”

“My partner [with ASD] will periodically ‘meltdown’. And I would like to know what to look for ahead of time to possibly prevent these from happening, because once he starts ‘losing it’, it’s hard to put that Genie back in the bottle.”

 

A true meltdown is an intense emotional and behavioral response to “over-stimulation” (a form of distress for the individual). Meltdowns are triggered by a fight-or-flight response, which releases adrenaline into the blood stream, creating heightened anxiety and causing the person with autism spectrum disorder to switch to an instinctual survival mode.
 

Common Features of Meltdowns—

  • transitions may trigger a meltdown
  • novel situations or sudden change can elicit a meltdown
  • meltdowns are time-limited
  • meltdowns are due to overwhelming stimulation
  • meltdowns are caused by sensory or mental overload, sometime in conjunction with each other
  • meltdowns are a reaction to severe stress, although the stress may not be readily apparent to an observer
  • cognitive dysfunction, perceptual distortion, and narrowing of sensory experience are associated with meltdowns
  • people in the middle of a meltdown will likely become hypo-sensitive or hyper-sensitive to pain
  • after the meltdown, there may be intense feelings of shame, remorse or humiliation, and a fear that relationships have been harmed beyond repair


Causes of Meltdown—

  • the individual does not receive understandable answers to questions
  • he or she is taken by surprise
  • is given too many choices
  • is given open-ended or vaguely defined tasks
  • has a sensory overload
  • does not understand the reason for sudden change


Warning Signs of Meltdowns—

  • stuttering or showing pressured speech
  • repeating words or phrases over and over
  • perseverating on one topic
  • pacing back in forth or in circles
  • increasing self-stimulatory behaviors (e.g., wringing of hands)
  • extreme resistance to disengaging from a ritual or routine
  • experiencing difficulty answering questions (cognitive breakdown)
  • becoming mute
  • becoming very quiet and shutting down
  • becoming defensive, argumentative, blaming, critical, etc.
  • yelling, cussing



It's important for NT partners to realize that the level of stress in the ASD individual is directly correlated with the amount of data that needs to be processed – and the amount of data that needs to be processed is directly correlated to how much sensory data is picked up and the complexity of the person's personal planning. A logical and consistent structure often helps these individuals.

 

Resources for couples affected by ASD: 

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

==> One-on-One Counseling for Struggling Individuals & Couples Affected by Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

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