Reflections of a Meltdown

Note: Adapted from the article from the Aspergian and related to my last meltdown

It wasn’t a bad day, in fact it was pretty good. I had worked out earlier in the day and it stormed in the morning, later I would learn that my parents had issues with their broadband service.

They had called our provider, who by far is the best in the region. They came out and had seemed to repair the issue. Later, we discovered that the Internet was not working after my mother was told that she needed a new router.

In the process of reconnecting, we discovered this and as such had to call the broadband provider again, which they are very nice. After troubleshooting, which when they are over 100 miles away they do their best given all the advances in technology a small provider has, although because of one thing or another we were not having success.

But lo and behold, they put it on and I started getting irrate. I couldn’t even feel it coming on.  I was cursing, I was stomping around slamming doors. I said irrational things like “I needed to cancel all my serice (although I don’t live with my parents) and that the person on the phone needs to “pay.”

Of course they scheduled a service call, but the damage had already been done.  I was crying, cursing, screaming…  I was having what many autistic people described as a meltdown.

After the fact, I could reflect a little more about why that event was so triggering.  Because I had mentioned the “Time Tunnel”  and then being told it isnt true, I was continuing to be mad, however I spent the rest of our visit telling the truth about the past year.

Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines a meltdown as a breakdown from fatigue or overstimulation.  It’s a good starting place to describe what exactly is happening.  The Interactive Autism Network describes a meltdown as an “instability.”

Think of it like this: you’re working with a computer, and you’re giving it too many commands at once.  What does the computer do?

At first, it kind of shuts down.  It doesn’t respond to any of the input that you’re sending to it.  But then something interesting happens: everything starts flashing, windows start opening and closing all at once, maybe keyboard strokes from moments ago start appearing on the screen.

You can say the computer has reached an instability and is responding as best it can to all of the input that it has received.  That’s kind of what it is like in the autistic mind when a meltdown occurs.  The whole system– not just the brain– becomes overwhelmed.  This can happen for many reasons; for instance, in my situation last week, it happened because I had the best intentions and had planned something to happen.  What actually happened was totally contrary to what I expected…  thus: meltdown.

It can be very difficult for neurotypical people to understand exactly what’s going on during a meltdown.  They can also be difficult to describe as every autistic person experiences meltdowns slightly differently.

When I feel one coming, it’s like mental pressure building, my movements become more agitated and jerky.


The fact is, meltdowns are not something that we choose to do.  These aren’t just emotional reactions to not getting our way.  They’re not tantrums, not even in children.  They are very much an overloading of our mental circuity.

What is the way forward?  What is the best way to deal with meltdowns?  It’s all about putting more tools in your tool chest.  Knowing your own personal signs and triggers, knowing what it feels like before having a meltdown, will help you be able to prevent them.

If you’re autistic, you need to know it’s okay to to set healthy boundaries for your loved ones by making it clear that you might need to wear ear plugs or sun glasses, stim to help regulate your nervous system, decline some invitations, or take social breaks during events.

If you are a loved one of someone who is autistic, be gentle and kind while the person is having a meltdown and after.  Often, they need space.  When the person is calm and having a good day would be a good time to talk about how you can best support them when they feel meltdowns coming on, during a meltdown, and afterwards.

Also I think that practicing radical acceptance is key–not only for autistic loved ones, but for those of us on the spectrum, as well.  I am autistic and just as much as my ability to pay attention to details is a part of who I am, meltdowns are also a part of who I am.  I can get better at avoiding them, but overwhelm will still happen.

It doesn’t make me a bad person, it just makes me autistic.  I tend to be a spiritual person, so I see myself exactly as God planned me to be.  Learning how to accept and embrace my autistic self– that is my life’s goal.

Teens’ Autonomy – A decision I took to advantage at that age that bites me today!

Note: The featured photo is my 8th Grade School photo, taken a few months before the behavioral health symptoms took me down the path of my recovery journey, I saw this linked to an Autism Adovacy blog ant thought the need to reference my story on that road two decades ago.

Before a recent law in Washington State, Adolescents age 13 and older were generally entitled to make their own decisions about their need for mental health services and to decide whether to allow their parents to be given any details about their condition, diagnosis or treatment. Pennsylvania has a similar law on the books, however the age is 14 years of age.

14 years of age is the magic number of legal decision in Pennsylvania. 20 years ago, I began showing my puberty and sytmptoms of needing care.

Starting in November 1999 and lasting until August 2000, I was hospitalized five times before being placed into residential treatment for a nine month period.

20 years ago, it was a normal day, another day of acting out at school to come home to yet another day of wraparoud. I had been acting out for a few hours, as such, I was mobile crisis was alerted and I was triaged at the local emergency room beore landign a bed in a locally renowned specialty psychiatric hospital over an hour away from my home.

Once there and begining the admission process, I leard because I was 14, that I was at the magic age of consenting to “whatever I felt fit about my treatment”

Think about it, you can’t make any other legal decisons at that age, however in the mental health community, when you are sheltered in at the moment, you have the right to do whatever you please.

At times, I used this to my advantage, and I have to admit it wasn’t pretty.

One time in particular, when I was on my sprees, I had the bright idea to sign myself out of the hospital, still to this day almost 20 years later, I don’t know why, but I wish I could tell that 15 year old to think twice.

For it cost me (and my parents) years of heartache, mentally, physically,  and financially.

In that instant that I got the bug up my rear to sign myself out, my father, who was working at the time, dropped everything on a dime and drove the hour and a half to pick me up from the hospital.

Think about it, I could have roamed the neighborhoods of that hospital or make a very dangerous decision.

As such, my parents took severe, costly legal protections to secure my individual freedoms, something 19 years later I often think about.

With the reecent relapses, I think, do I make the right decisons for what I know?

The truth is when I am medicated, I am the pleasant, loving, Dustin that everyone wants to be around

When I forget excessive doses of my medication I am the Dustin that people worry about.

Thats why, I now know the importance of following a medication regimen because it is what I have worked so darn hard to get on to feel to be the one loving person everyone loves so dearly.

As I started becoming myself recently, I informed my mother of that roller coaster ride, and she said these starch, stern words to me as I was getting out of her car to go home one night.

“If you do not take your medicine, I will not talk to you.”

This coming from the parent who oftentimes manipulates her needs and resources to do whatever I may need and oftentimes want, really brought not only what I was doing the past year, but when I was experiencing symptioms 0 years ago into perspective and that I should have followed orders, and that if I did, my family wouldnt have had to incur into the investment that thet did.

And fot that I truly apologize and take responsibility, because I just was not healthy, and knowing that the medication cocktail was the one that kept me well over the past two decades was the one.

However, crossing that line and brushing that line by relapsing wasn’t the smartest idea, but I felt I needed to know.

Now I know, and I don’t plan on going back down that road that I was on the last 10 months. I am returning to the normal self that everybody loves and I am also fighting for my individuality, and I know that I have to clean up the past and make amends with it, and that too is a teatous process and it must be done and I feel certain that I am in the mind to do so.


Autism and Maturity

This week has been quite the busiest week for individuals on the spectrum far and wide. We’ve seen a brave 16-year old Girl from across the pond strive and come to the states to press the needs for changing the way we think about the planet. We’ve heard of the middle schooler that was given a desk to use in a unutilized school washroom in order to be sensitive and meet “accomodate” his needs. We’ve seen the little six year old placed in handcuffs that would be traumatic for any six year old, let alone one with behavioral challenges the list goes on and on.

I spend time now and then browsing the Facebook Pages news feed to hear about issues concerning individuals through the lifestages and in all across the spectrum. I’ve seen accomplishments, achievements, awards, caregivers at the end of their rope, and so forth. One of several that I thought was good that I will be writing on in the coming days is that of maturity. I saw a 27 year old individual post on a group that they were 27, but knew that they in no way acted as such. For several decades, I believed that because I was living with my family in the time tunnel and could not see the light at the end of it.

Now you are all thinking that I dislike my parents. That is absolutely not true one single bit! When they both were at the end of their rope and wanted could have thrown me to the system, they overvome whatever obstacles necessary for me to get the care possible to become successful, because they saw that potential when no one else did , but too therapies and learning techniquies in autism have jumped leaps and bounds since my adolesence, and I did have a great deal of trauma as a result, but I am working on it slowly. Also, for a decade after becoming an adult and still living with my parents, I had resentment for the care that that they sent me to, and I have known that in the end when my mother wanted to give up because as many know we “hurt the ones that we love the most” lives tried and true, that my parents almost broke up as a result of my behaviors, but in the end, it when it was time me to return to the family, it was my dad who advocated for me to be a part of our family and held the glue and supported my mother throughout the good and bad (By the way, in a few months will be married for 40 years, talking about commitment!, my maternal grandparents were married just over 70, of which they loved me significantly too!)

Anyway, as it often referenced when we are with immediate family, we are often situated with immaturity, and for me to this day is something I continue to struggle with weekly! Even before I moved independently, I acted like a grown adult that was very articulate and matrure, however when I was/am in the surroundings of my parents or in their home, I revert back to the 10 year old brat who wants whatever they want and have to be right, I cannot deny that there are similar family dynamics that play a part and I am not going to get into them, but I will make it known that I am not as vulgar and while I shout because the parents’ voices are raised, and I do react in the same manner, it is usually with kind words and not hateful ones. As I mentioned prior, I love my parents and I know they will suppport me in almost anything that seems possible, probable and likely, however, I know that respect is mutual and giving that is of the utmost importance in a family dynamic!

In closing we can be the activist fighting for climate change or we can be the one in need of brushing up on those skills, but it can be done with the right help, momenntum and willpower for those accomplishments!