Outbursts and meltdowns are difficult enough to deal with at any time, but when they take place in public they are even more awkward. It may be at an incredibly inconvenient time, or there may be groups of people around who try to interfere, and ultimately it may end up putting the autistic person, and whoever is with them in danger; for example if the meltdown takes place near a busy road. If the person with autism is able to tell you what you can do to help if they have a meltdown in public, then listen to them. If not then below are some tips you might find useful.
Meltdowns happen when somebody is stressed, or is having an emotional or sensory overload. These can occur anywhere, but in some people can be more likely to occur when out in public; it might be something such as as not being able to handle a noisy supermarket. The most important thing that can be used to deal with these kinds of meltdowns is developing the mind-set that other people don’t matter. What this means is that it might feel embarrassing or upsetting that others are witnessing the meltdown, but their reactions are not important. All that is important is helping the person with autism to remain safe, and calm down in their own time, in the same way they might do if they were at home
People will often pass comments and try to interfere, but they should be ignored. This might be easier said than done, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary. A way of avoiding these kinds of meltdowns is to talk to the autistic person beforehand about where they are going, and what they might struggle with when they are there. Also, if they can’t communicate very well, observing where they have had meltdowns in the past, and trying to work on getting them more comfortable in these areas – possibly going for a short amount of time to begin with and building up. It is also worth trying to work on a system where the autistic person has a sign or card they can show to indicate they are becoming overloaded – if this is shown before the meltdown occurs it can help to avoid one. It may well be hard for them to recognise these feelings in themselves, but that can be worked on. How it will be achieved will differ from person to person.
If out in public a meltdown could take place near a busy road, train tracks, or any other manner of dangerous location. And if the person is no longer a child, strangers, or even the police may intervene. This means there are a lot of dangers to having meltdowns in public. The key thing whenever one takes place is to put safety first. However important something may seem, once a meltdown occurs that should take precedence. There is no point fighting on and trying to finish a journey, or a shopping trip if somebody is so overwhelmed they may be putting themselves at risk. Safety should always be the number one priority whatever the circumstances.
Meltdowns are serious wherever they take place, but in public they can be even more serious because of the dangers that are all around. There may also be a level of humiliation due to the actions being witnessed by the general public; parents may feel embarrassed in front of strangers if their child is having a meltdown for example. Unfortunately meltdowns in public may not be entirely avoidable, but there are ways to lessen their impact on the person with autism, and the person supporting them – the main one being to focus on the person having the meltdown, and trying to block out interference from on-lookers.
For more thoughts on meltdowns in publicgo to Paddy-Joe’s blot here: http://askpergers.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/outbursts-in-public-when-to-step-in-and-when-to-keep-out/