Once a meltdown is underway, it's hard to put that bullet back in the gun.
==> Online Group Therapy for Couples and Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder
Since the symptoms of an autistic individual who is “high-functioning” can be so subtle, multiple, and difficult to pinpoint - it’s hard for an NT spouse to know whether things are normal or not. For example:
It will take some time for the NT to recognize and articulate concerns about such issues.
Even after a diagnosis, the NT spouse will face a multitude of feelings before she can grasp effectively with the glaring truth that her husband has a “developmental disorder.” The NT may even mourn over this new reality:
One of the biggest challenges NT spouses may face is the big gap between what their ASD husband can do – and what he can’t do. Oftentimes, the ASD spouse is very smart, can reason well, knows a great deal about his favorite subject, yet can’t follow through with the NT’s simple requests.
You may be telling your autistic spouse to “try harder.” But in many cases, he is trying his heart out. These individuals often have to work 10 times harder than their typical peers, but are still labelled as uncaring, selfish, insensitive and narcissistic.
Another piece of the puzzle for the NT spouse lies in how difficult it can be to differentiate between a spouse who “can’t” do something versus one who “won’t” do something. For example:
• “How far should I ‘push’ my husband?”
• “How much should I reduce my expectations?”
• “How much ‘spousal control’ should I exert?”
In this uncertainty, the NT may even ask herself “what is wrong with me?” – instead of asking “what trials and tribulations is my husband having to face?” Shifting this focus can be beneficial for both spouses.
All of this takes time and energy that is exhausting!
Observations from your spouse is the best tool for identifying “low frustration-tolerance” in yourself. Ask your spouse to pay attention and be aware of the warning signs. She can keep her eyes and ears open, and can help you to look for patterns and connections.
8. Identifying physical symptoms: Often there are physical symptoms that go along with impending meltdowns. Your nervous system kicks into high gear when a trigger is present - and can cause several identifiable sensations (e.g., rapid heartbeat, flushed cheeks, rapid breathing, cold hands, muscle tension, etc.).
What do you feel in your body when the trigger you are experiencing is present? When you are aware of the warning signs your body gives you, it can serve as a natural cue to put the new plan you came up with during your problem-solving discussions into action.
9. Dealing with anger: Since “meltdown triggers” and “angry feelings” are directly related, having discussions with your spouse about anger (during those times when you are calm) can help you establish a foundation to build on when identifying your triggers. Ask yourself some important questions about emotions (e.g., what makes me angry, happy, sad, etc.).
The purpose of this is to learn how to identify various feelings, to learn what it means to feel angry, happy, sad, disappointed, etc. - but not to give you an excuse for “acting-out” behavior. This also helps you to communicate your feelings to your spouse clearly so that she is in the best position to help you cope in high-anxiety situations.