An autistic woman (Asperger’s Syndrome) named Nena explains what it’s like to have an autistic-related meltdown.
For those who don’t know what an autistic-oriented meltdown is, it’s basically an emotional stress-related nervous breakdown of sorts or what Nena calls in the video, a kind of panic attack, that is related to something not being right in the autistic person’s world.
What causes the panic to increase is that the person doesn’t really understand in the moment, how to get out of that emotional storm, hence adding more fuel to the fire they are already in. It’s like becoming hysterical because you are tied-up, while you are being robbed.
The interesting thing is that this “meltdown” is similar to the meltdown people in high-stress situations have, however the difference between autism and non-autism is what is determined as a high-stress situation. Autistic individuals may have many universal melting points that are different than non-autistic individuals. (And depending on where the person is on the autistic spectrum, they to can be stressed in the same situations non-autistic people would normally find highly-stressful.)
The big difference comes when we evaluate how autistics and non-autistics are supposed to view their reactions to their high-stress situations. An autistic, knowing that they are not “normal” in the sense of being in tune with the emotional customs of the rest of their social peers may learn to question their reactions to situations. Therefore allowing themselves space to understand their reaction and evaluate if that reaction was appropriate. This is done so that the autistic can better regulate themselves in the future.
In the non-autistic world though, unless your emotional reactions are holding you back from being successful in some way (money, love, sex, etc), non-autistics are rarely asked to evaluate their reactions and the thoughts that fuel their reactions. “Am I over-reacting, am I acting on a false belief, what is fueling my behavior right now?”
So what non-autistics can learn from autistic people is how to suspend some of the thoughts that fuel over-reactive behavior. In psychology, this process is called decentering [link]. (And I think, in Buddhism, this is the practice of non-self.) If everyone learned this skill of questioning themselves, our personal relationships with each other could be so much better.
If, for example, you were dating a woman (or man) and she freaked out because you weren’t doing or you were doing something that caused her stress, how would you handle it? Would you just say she’s having a tantrum and then say she’s just being a [insert name here]?
But, what if she was on the spectrum and she couldn’t tell you because she hadn’t yet developed that skill of knowing what was going on and being able to articulate what was going on?
Would you still call that a tantrum? Would you show more concern for her? Would you ask her what was going on, ask her to describe her feelings in the moment? What if you universally assumed this attitude about every woman you encountered, on the spectrum or not?
What if you treated every person who befriended you or you befriended this way, would that change your relationships with them?
What if you treated someone who is from a different cultural/socioeconomic background than your own this way? (It is known that these people face obstacles in adjusting to communities they have not been socialized in.) How would that affect your relationships with those people?