Dear autistic kid,
I just wanted to let you know that autistic adults have meltdowns too. I still have meltdowns as an adult sometimes. I hate it when everyone is staring at me when I have them, especially in public, because I don’t want to be angry or yell at people or cry, but I can’t help it when it’s happening. And sometimes the people around me don’t know what’s going on, which is extra frustrating. Sometimes when I know I’m going to have a meltdown though and I’m in a safe spot at home, I’ll punch a springy pillow to tire myself out and I’ll scream too, so I don’t yell mean stuff at people. When I’m having a meltdown or sensory overload, I really want to hit my head sometimes because it feels too pressurized/like it’s on fire, but I try not to do that if I can. One time I just pushed really hard on my forehead with the palm of my hand instead, which seemed to help a little.
But sometimes a meltdown can just happen out of nowhere and there’s nothing you can do about it. And it’s not your fault. It’s really not your fault. I used to think I was supposed to be able to control it as a kid, but suppressing those emotions doesn’t help. It takes a lot of willpower to try to keep everything in until you get home from school – I don’t recommend this technique from personal experience. I tried to hold my feelings in as much as I could as a kid, but it didn’t make anything better. I was angry all the time, even at home. In elementary school I would be internally angry all the time because of all of the sounds. I would brace myself for the bell to go off in the classroom because it hurt my ears – I tried to hide being in pain. My ears felt like they were being stabbed. I just assumed I was “supposed” to put up with that, but I wasn’t! No one should have to put up with sensory input (light/sound/touch) that is painful. They should be accommodated with sensory supports, like quiet rooms, headphones, earplugs, or sunglasses.
When I have a shutdown or meltdown, I try to think of it as waiting for my brain to calm down. My brain just gets too overloaded and I’ve had to learn to wait it out. I can be really tired and frustrated after I have a meltdown though. Sometimes when I’m really overloaded from sounds, I get really angry and upset. It really hurts, and I can get really angry inside because people may not understand that or may not respect my boundaries. They’re not intending to hurt my ears, but it still hurts my ears!
After elementary school and junior high school, things got better in terms of meltdowns and sensory overload. I had more control over my environment. I knew how long I could be somewhere before I would get sensory overload, and knew when I needed a break in a quiet room, or when I needed to leave. I learned how to work with unexpected plans or changes, though that can still be hard sometimes. In college, they don’t even have bells, which I really appreciate! I was in a smaller class size, and I could choose where to go when I did homework. I wasn’t stuck in a room with 10-20 other kids for 7 hours in a row like in elementary school and junior high school. I believe you can get through school too, even if it can be rough sometimes.
I wear headphones now so sounds don’t hurt my ears as much, and my life is so much more manageable and less confusing. I’ve had time to learn how to recognize my emotions (it was so much harder when I was your age. It may get easier as you get older).
It’s frustrating when people, other students your age, might judge you, or teachers might judge you for having a meltdown or saying or doing certain things. I’m not going to say that it’s not frustrating (it really is frustrating). But if people ever judge you for having a different type of brain, remember that they are only showing you how narrow-minded and judgmental they are. Their words that judge your behaviors? Don’t take those words to heart.
Remember that it’s okay to be autistic. It’s okay to wear headphones or sunglasses, or use weighted blankets or fidget toys (lots of us autistic adults do!). It’s okay to want things a certain way. It’s okay to not look into people’s eyes. It’s okay to be you. Don’t let people, or society in general, take that away from you.
I used to look down when I was crying and having a shutdown. I felt shame for crying. I thought I wasn’t supposed to cry around other people, that crying was seen as “being weak” (it’s not weak).
I don’t look down when I cry anymore because I don’t think other people should be judging me for crying. If they’re judging me for crying, that says more about them than it does about me. We’re allowed to have emotions and have those emotions spill over sometimes. And emotional regulation truly does get easier over time, as you grow up. Having control over your environment as an adult makes such a huge difference.
There are a lot of autistic adults in the world. And all of us have had meltdowns before. Just remember that you’re not alone in that.
an autistic adult
Dear autistic kid,