Sometimes, the time after a meltdown can be the most difficult for everybody involved. When it seems that the person with autism has calmed down, things can still be tense and uneasy. Emotions are still running high with everybody, and autistic people can find this very stressful. The aftermath of a meltdown can be very unpleasant for everybody involved. Below are some tips on how to avoid making this an extremely stressful time.
Everyone affected by the meltdown is going to be feeling stressed, frustrated, and even angry. If possible, the best thing people can do is separate, and have some time on their own. The person with autism can do something that helps to calm them, and any neuro-typical people involved can do the same. The means that when they meet up they will obviously still be stressed, but they will be a lot less frustrated, or angry. This gives much more chance of them being able to talk, and resolve the issues. This might not be possible if the meltdown takes place outside, but as soon as it is possible, for example when the autistic person gets back home, it should be done. If the person with autism is unable to be left alone, then try to create a calming environment – quiet, and peaceful – with access to something you know will help them to relax.
It is also important for the neuro-typical people involved to remember that trying to tell the autistic person off is pointless. They have not done anything on purpose, therefore treating them as if they have will not achieve anything. All it will do is lower the autistic person’s self-esteem, and make them less able to deal with their emotions. Often, being positive about meltdowns is the best way to get results. For example congratulating a child on calming down quickly – though this is beyond their control it can help with confidence if you let them know that you have noticed any effort they have made – or on being able to try to talk about their feelings after the event, rather than telling them off for having a meltdown in the first place.
Try to think about how the autistic person must be feeling. If somebody has a severe meltdown it may make them feel light-headed, or even physically sick. Meltdowns can cause pain in the chest and throat, for example. They may cry and feel horrible about themselves. It is an extremely intense emotional state, but also has a huge physical drain on the person. And it needs to be remembered by neuro-typical people that both the emotional and physical effects remain long after the person has stopped shouting, or showing other obvious signs of meltdown. Likewise, autistic people need to try – to the best of their abilities – to imagine what it must be like for the neuro-typical person who has been shouted at, or even physically attacked. It is important for both parties to be open and honest about how they feel, and not to hold back because they don’t want to hurt the other one`s feelings,. If the autistic person can`t express their feelings then trying to help them do so should be a main priority. If it is possible, both parties need to discuss what has happened, and how they might avoid it happening again. This isn’t about attributing blame, it is about trying to bring something positive out of a bad situation.
Meltdowns are likely to be a part of most autistic people`s lives. They can`t be avoided altogether, and they are going to happen. But when they happen the crucial thing is to deal with them correctly, and to look at how they leave all the parties feeling in the aftermath. And to try to use those feelings in a positive way, to prevent any further meltdowns.