If you know someone with Asperger’s syndrome or if you are an Aspie yourself, you know that an Asperger’s meltdown is very different to just having a “bad day”.
A bad day might just be feeling in a bad mood for a few hours, being a bit grouchy with your co-workers or feeling like everything is going wrong like spilling your coffee on your freshly ironed shirt first thing in the morning, just missing the train by 10 seconds and watching it pull away as you are running late to a meeting or perhaps getting dumped by the latest love of your life.
All these things would be rational reasons for having a bad day or even a quiet sob in the bathrooms. But usually you pull yourself together, put on a brave face and continue with the tasks you must do that day.
So What Are The Signs Of An Asperger’s Meltdown?
An Asperger’s meltdown is quite different.
You might see thrashing about of the body and limbs.
Some violently pull their hair and stamp their feet.
Some hit themselves violently or hit the walls with their hands- even to the point of suffering broken bones.
Some are extremely verbal and cry out in frustration or use repeated phrases.
To the outside observer, sometimes, these meltdowns seem unwarranted and occur for very minor disturbances. Remember there are different levels of Asperger’s syndrome. Most sufferers are very well high functioning people most of the time. Aspergers syndrome is on the Autism Spectrum.
After an Asperger’s meltdown, it is very common to feel completely drained.
It takes an enormous amount of energy and the person might be drained and unable to function properly for a few days to a full week.
They are lethargic and can barely go to work, focus on anything or have a normal conversation.
To try to help the person recover more quickly, help them to focus on what they love to do- it might be the latest hobby they are interested in eg building a new bike from scratch, perhaps they will engage with watching videos on how to do it. Or watching the latest Star Trek behind the scenes clips if they are a trekkie.
Sometimes eating comfort food helps to soothe and get them back to their normal self more quickly.
What Triggers An Asperger’s Meltdown
Usually an Asperger’s meltdown is triggered by either internal or external factors.
Maybe they are tired and cranky from lack of sleep.
Insomnia and difficulty getting to sleep is very common in people with Asperger’s syndrome.
There is often an element of sensory overload…so it could be too many noises, too many strong smells or too much going on.
Their sensory system is overloaded and they can’t cope. It feels like there is a build up of internal energy and this then has to explode and get released.
It might be an external factor like their normal routine got disrupted. For example if the person had planned to go to store and buy pasta and sauce for dinner that night and they got there and the store was closed, it could trigger a major meltdown.
People with Asperger’s syndrome love routines. They have lots of mini routines as part of every day. They do not cope well with changes to the routine.
The person might feel huge panic, experience an increase in anxiety, shortness of breath, even chest pain.
How To Help Someone Having an Asperger’s Meltdown?
Obviously you want to try to calm them down. This is easier said than done.
Try to remind them to breathe deeply, slow down the breathing. Reassure them that everything will be alright.
Try to ensure they are not harming themselves.
Help them to see an alternative to solve the problem.
So for example if the store was closed, remind them that there is another one 100m away or suggest we will order take away tonight instead.
Pre-empt And Reduce Triggers For Asperger’s Meltdowns
If you know the person well, maybe it is your child, your family member, your significant other or yourself, you will begin to know what the triggers are.
It might be the smell of the local deli, or the sound of loud music. Try to avoid the trigger if possible. Often travel sets off meltdowns as it can be super busy, lots of sensory overload and it is almost impossible to control timings precisely. Lots of plans get changed without a moments notice.
If you have plans for the day, try to come up with a plan A, B and C.
If you are going to have a day out, bring extra food and water. Plan how you will get there and get home and have alternatives in case the planned route cannot occur for whatever reason.
Discuss it with the person in advance so they know there are alternatives and the plan will be followed whether that is plan A, B or C.
As the person with Asperger’s starts to be more aware of their own patterns and triggers, they can start to help avoid the triggers, help plan alternatives and plan their own coping strategies. Asperger’s meltdowns will occur from time to time and it is important to help them through it as best you can.
Try to keep a diary of what the trigger was to build a up a pattern. This can bring awareness to the situation which can then be avoided or at least planned for and worked around.