0 Blogging About Autism: Autism Meltdowns in Adults

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Autism Meltdowns in Adults

This blog post is aimed at helping people who do not have autism to understand what autism meltdowns feel like from the perspective of an autistic person.

When children with autism have meltdowns many people just assume they are spoilt or naughty. This is far from the truth and it is not fair to judge them or their parents based on behaviours that are a direct consequence of living with a disability.  There are so many misconceptions around autism and meltdowns it is discouraging to live in a world that can often show so little understanding.

Autistic Adults Have Meltdowns Too

When meltdowns happen to me they cannot be predicted or prevented. I can be entirely happy one minute then in absolute pieces the next. If I wake up thinking nice thoughts it does not prevent meltdowns. If I try to look on the bright side it doesn't stop them either. If I have gotten into a good routine it never lasts because once a meltdown occurs I am too exhausted to resume what I was doing.  Autism is not simply a case of mind over matter and meltdowns are not a cry for attention. Autistic meltdown constantly knocks me off track and it constantly steals my energy. I have to fight very hard to get my routines back every single time it happens and it only lasts until the next meltdown and then the cycle begins again.

Meltdowns are an outward sign that I am suffering on the inside and that I can no longer withstand all of the overwhelming feelings, things in the environment around me or the flood of unwanted thoughts going through my mind. Often meltdowns are all of the previously mentioned things combined. Writing this I am aware that there are people out there who find it ridiculous that a grown adult can struggle with their emotions and self-regulation. I would ask those people to be aware that nobody on this planet would meltdown unless they were suffering to a great extent. Meltdowns are a time in the life of an autistic person when they are at their most vulnerable. They don't have any more energy to mask their struggles and emotional pain starts to feel like physical pain too. Try to remember if you ever do witness an autistic adult meltdown how long that person must have gone keeping all of that inside so as not to inconvenience others.

I sometimes realise I am having a meltdown and  I can't even identify why it began. Times like that can be extremely frightening and confusing. I find meltdowns significantly more difficult to handle when I am out in public. If I am walking near a busy road in the middle of a meltdown. My mind instantly switches to a looping thought process based around ways to make it stop. I sometimes get extremely dark thoughts that revolve around self-harm at that point. My brain is too exhausted to think of rational ways to calm myself down and it seems easier for my brain to come up with negative solutions. I have problems with flexibility in thinking which are a direct consequence of living with an autistic brain. At that point, I could compare it to trying to escape from a cage but you can't because the cage is your own brain.

I try desperately to calm down and my fiance is usually always with me so I try talking through how I am feeling with him. I try speaking because I am trying to connect the dots and make sense of why I am feeling that way. No matter how much I speak to my fiance I cannot identify what I am feeling or even why. I love how much he tries to understand and help me through meltdowns though. At that point, my mind is just looping over thoughts of urgency to escape the horrible feelings and the situation.

How Meltdowns Feel to Me

When I am in meltdown I could guess it is a mixture of intense sadness, fear, embarrassment and anxiety. I think that might be why it is so hard to find out what I am feeling because I am feeling all of that at once. I also feel paranoid during meltdowns and I suddenly feel like everyone is out to get me or like something bad is about to happen. If I am outside I try to focus on visual things to calm myself down. If I can't see anything that feels calming I panic more. My inflexible thoughts get worse in meltdown to a point where I sometimes can't even decide what to eat and this can lead to me going extended periods of time without eating. If I try to explain to someone who doesn't understand and they just assume I am being difficult it is very hard to cope with their reaction. How can they be thinking that when I am feeling this unbearable emotional and sometimes physical pain?

My brain is constantly trying to understand other peoples perspectives and see things as they do but I can never truly grasp the world from an NT view because I don't have an NT brain. I often find this sort of thought process spirals into depression when I realise that they can't and probably sometimes don't even want to understand. Even the people who know me inside out can be completely dismissive or forget I am disabled because I don't look disabled. I would compare it to what it might feel like if you were drowning close to shore and everybody was there but no one could see you. It is soul-destroying to feel like you are dying a slow death on the inside and have people think you are just being difficult. Or for them to assume that you are coping so well with autism when actually you are hanging on by a very fragile thread.


  1. Thank you for this post. I'm late dx'd 50yr old just beginning my research. I truly had NO idea that there are others like me.

    1. Hi that’s no problem I am glad it was of use to show that you are not alone.

  2. Thank you for sharing your life and vulnerabilities. This must be difficult but it will help many people understand and promote acceptance.

    1. Thank you for reading and that is what I really hope to do.


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