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Breaking Down Adult Autistic Meltdowns

Adult autistic meltdown

We all talk about meltdowns when it comes to our Autistic children, but what about meltdowns in Autistic adult individuals? Sometimes it seems that our Autistic adults are cast aside to lay focus on our children. There are so many areas of the Autistic adult’s lives that are in need of further examination and understanding.


They need wider acceptance and awareness to the fact that they too have meltdowns, in their own ways. Much like when an Autistic child has a meltdown, the severity and presentation of said meltdown depends on the adult Autistic individuals level of functioning.

High Functioning (HF) Autistic Meltdowns

Unless they are low functioning most adult Autistic individuals have learned some coping techniques for their meltdowns via various therapies, and no doubt kick butt parents never giving up on them. There will always be moments that are too much for them though; much like a neurotypical person has moments that are too much for them. Sometimes the presentation of an Autistic adult meltdown essentially resembles that of depression. Don’t be fooled though, having a level of self-awareness for your meltdowns as an adult can sometimes lead to more intense meltdowns when they do happen.

Ways that Meltdowns Present themselves in HF Autistic Adults:

  • Sobbing to themselves
  • Isolating themselves to their rooms
  • Crying aloud instead of having violent meltdowns
  • Cursing aloud

Another way to look at it, instead of relying on you to comfort them during a meltdown, many Autistic adults are looking to themselves for comfort in these moments. Adult meltdowns can be even more daunting for a parent at times because we are left with self-isolating adult children, wishing that they would react in the same way they did as children- so that we parents knew what to do to help them better.

Moderately Functioning Autistic Meltdowns

The moderately functioning autistic adult probably has the hardest time coping. There is no reasonable expectation of how their meltdowns are going to present. They can present much like the more HF autistic adults do one time and the next present like a LF Adult Autistic Adult does. I’d imagine it feels like constantly riding a roller coaster of emotions. Never knowing how or when you may explode because of overstimulation or routine change, it must be extremely unnerving for them.

Lower Functioning (LF) Autistic Meltdowns

The more severe Autistic Adults seem to still present much like children do. They are prone to the aggression and they often still need help calming down during a meltdown. Severely Autistic Adults sometimes still require being restrained until they calm. Essentially you may have a 5, 6, or 7-year-old child trapped inside of a 25, 26, or 27 year old’s body. They are going to act accordingly. Coping strategies and therapies are the best route in these cases.

Common Causes and Consequences of the Adult Meltdown:

The common causes for adult meltdowns are much like that of a child’s causes.

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Things such as:
-sensory issues-Some individuals are affected by noise. Others are affected by smells. Or textures. Or lights. It can be any number of things, but if too many inputs can lead to meltdowns or shutdowns. Screaming, rage, yelling in public. It can all happen when the senses get into a traffic jam.

-social challenges-I once moved across the country from the midwest to Arizona. It was a culture shock for me. I didn't understand what people were saying most of the time. When people were laughing-I assumed it was about me. This is what individuals on the autism spectrum go through on a regular basis. Of course, each person is unique, so they may experience more or less of this social confusion, but the stress can take it's toll over the course of the day. Too much stress, and the boiling point can be reached.

-stress-Combine long term stressors of sensory overload and social challenges, along with all the regular hassles that make up daily living, it's not surprising that individuals on the spectrum may "lose it" over small situations. And a spouse or parent of this individual, you may feel confused by the intensity of the meltdown.

The consequences of said meltdowns can be much greater though.

Per PsychologyToday some common consequences:

-Loss of Job: this is a big possibility in an autistic adult’s life. Becoming overwhelmed at work is a very easy thing to do for any person, handling it can be even harder for an Autistic adult. The long-term stressors of holding a job make a work time meltdown "almost imminent." Employment is essential to social interactions for most Autistic individuals and is a great way to learn responsibility and how to manage money as an adult. Therefore, working on managing workplace meltdowns is key to any working autistic individual’s life.

-Loss of Relationships: Sometimes break-ups are just too much for anyone to bare, let alone someone with problems coping emotionally. Much of the time after a breakup it becomes too much for an Autistic adult to bare and they end up isolating themselves. You must help break them out of this in a lot of cases.

-Embarrassment: Embarrassment is a powerful emotion for an Autistic individual. In a lot of cases it is hard to cope with. It is synonymous with remorse and with shame to some. In fact, many Autistic adults as well as children report not remembering much of what happens during a meltdown, leading to embarrassment issues for them.

-More Stress: Often times the culprit of excess stress is the meltdowns themselves. The adult spends their time obsessing over how unpredictable their next meltdown will be and how impossible it may feel to fit into society.

-POLICE ACTION: In some cases, such as a wreck or domestic/personal issue case the adult is more likely to feel a great deal of stress and is most likely feeling very overwhelmed. This is a trigger that a majority of adults with Autism can recognize and know to remove themselves from the situation. They know to use their coping skills. In a lot of cases the police are the ones that themselves don’t know how to handle the situation, leading to accidents and death. Once the police are involved the opportunity to remove themselves for the Autistic individual is gone. It’s quite ordinary for the adult autistic individual to react in fear once put in this situation. Violent outbursts can lead to very sad situations.

More Research Needed:

Age also seems to be an underlying factor in the adult autistic meltdown. The way the meltdowns present themselves seem to change the older the person gets. Whether they explode, shutdown or hold their feelings in depends not only on their autism severity but their age it seems. We don’t have complete data in this field though, there just isn’t enough data in the field of meltdowns in individuals over the age of 45. Either way, it is essential that we not forget that our children’s meltdowns don’t go away because they grow up, they simply evolve.