Meltdowns – Part 7 – Meltdowns in Public, and how autistic individuals can help themselves

A previous article in this series covered meltdowns in public, and how to helps someone else. This article gives advice about how to help yourself if you are an individual with autism, and you feel you may be likely to have a meltdown in a public place.

Obviously when somebody with autism is having a meltdown they are not in control of themselves, therefore unfortunately there aren’t really many ways in which they can make themselves calm down.  Some people may respond to signs or techniques administered by other people before the meltdown takes hold, but when somebody with autism is having a full meltdown their brain is not functioning at the level it normally does, and it is difficult for them to formulate strategies in their head, let alone execute them. 

The best point at which to prevent a meltdown, and which an autistic person can help themselves, is before one occurs – when the warning signs are there, but the individual still has control over the situation.  This may require the person to be able to recognise their own emotions – which can be very difficult for somebody with autism – and also to have a plan they can put in place to try to avert the meltdown. 

Recognising emotions is an incredibly complicated task and the best way to do this will vary from person to person, but sometimes, it isn’t even the emotions themselves that need to be recognised – there might be certain triggers; for example the person could look back on all the times they`ve had meltdowns in public before, and write down where they were and what they were doing.  They might, for example, look at this list and realise that half the time these meltdowns happened in supermarkets.  They might decide that instead of doing a big supermarket shop in one go they may go more often, but spend less time there – maybe only a few minutes at a time.  They may decide to do an on-line shop, and take the stress of the supermarket out of their lives altogether.  This would also have a knock-on effect of leaving them more able to deal with other situations in their life. 

They may realise that they have had outbursts when they have been with large groups of friend, and decide it is best to bring this topic up with their friends. Their friends may be able to point out to them some outward signs of an oncoming meltdown – which the autistic person is unaware of – when they are out together in the future.  This way the person with autism can step outside for some quiet time, or remove themselves from the situation altogether.  Often going out multiple times in one day can lead to outbursts/meltdowns, and this is something that people with autism might want to think about when making plans – it can help to have a chart of what needs to be done, and try to organise this so that they can get `social breaks` in between activities. 

Obviously when a person is in a public place it is very difficult for them to prevent themselves from having an outburst/meltdown.  But the person should remember that the most important thing is to get out of the situation; taking a break and getting those few minutes alone could be the difference between having an outburst, and not having an outburst.  Even if the person might look rude walking out of the situation, it will be a lot better than them having a full-blown meltdown.  

The autistic individuals’ safety and dignity are the most important things in this situation, and these are best served by the person removing themselves from the stressful situation – and having some space to reduce any sensory or emotional overload they may be experiencing. 

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  • Anne says:

    Good advice, Paddy-Joe. I especially like the idea of bypassing supermarkets, which can be very stressful.
    Keep up the good work!

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