The older a person with autism becomes the more severe their meltdowns can appear to others; the behaviour itself might not change, but it will appear worse as the person gets bigger and stronger. If somebody is still lashing out, and shouting well in to adulthood then the reactions of those witnessing these meltdowns will be more severe. Sometimes – when there is not the right level of understanding – this can lead to problems both inside, and outside the home. Below are examples of some of the possible dangers that might exist around explosive meltdowns for some people – please note this is not always the norm, just examples of things that can, and have happened.
The problems inside the home are obvious; if someone is a grown-up and they are lashing out at their parents, this could lead to serious harm for the autistic person and those around them. They don’t mean any harm, but if they do lash-out it will be a lot more dangerous than if a toddler was doing the same thing. A meltdown that takes this form can also lead to more severe problems outside the home. In the first instance it can put the person with autism, and whoever they are with, in physical danger (See Part 5 Meltdowns in public) but can also bring unwanted attention from on-lookers, or interference from professionals witnessing the meltdowns.
Sometimes parents may need to place their child/young person in respite care for the simple reason that they need a break. This may not be ideal, but it is not a terrible thing, and can actually be positive for the parents and the children. The problems arise if the respite care, is not up to the standards that it should be. Sometimes autistic individuals are placed in Assessment and Treatment Units, with the best of intentions by families who are looking to help and support their loved one. Neglect, and abuse by members of staff may not be commonplace, but it does happen. This is the main problem of having to entrust the care of an autistic individuals to an organisation.
Unfortunately sometimes the decision is taken out of the parent’s hands, and it is becoming more of a common occurrence for young people with autism to be sectioned, and forcibly taken in to facilities that are not designed, or equipped to cope with their needs**. The debate about whether people with autism should ever be sectioned under the mental health act is one for a complete other article, but the reality of the situation – as it is now – is that they are being. Sometimes these individuals are not allowed to see their families, or have sanctions placed on them as their meltdowns are seen as bad behaviour by professionals who have no understanding of autism.
It is unfortunate that there isn’t a level of understanding about quite what meltdowns and outburst are, and how to deal with them. Often people are being taken in to these inappropriate facilities, and contained there, rather than helped. Obviously the stress of being somewhere new and so far away from their families is too distressing, and the individual may have increased meltdowns, therefore starting a vicious cycle.
Outbursts and meltdowns are a natural part of autism for some people. They are not easy to deal with at any age, and especially in older teenagers and adults. But the sheer lack of understanding from society makes them even more challenging. Often the dangers are not simply connected with the outburst/meltdown, but with how others will react to what they have seen. Dealing with meltdowns will never be easy, but would probably be a lot easier if there wasn’t constant judgement from those who actually know nothing about the subject.
**Below are links to some of the individuals with autism, who have been placed in inappropriate settings. Obviously the situations are complex, and not just meltdown related. Please take a look at these campaigns, and give them your support.