I had a meltdown today. This is what it is like for me.
We often put autism on parade through television and social media, as we portray the meltdown as uncontrollable violent outbursts that endanger everyone around them. Meltdowns happen to just about every autistic person, and is the term used to describe any kind of system shutdown or emotional overflow that occur after over stimulation. Each person with autism experiences their meltdowns in different ways. As a child, I was much more prone to fits of crying or screaming, especially when I was frightened. As an adult, I freeze and disconnect from the world.
As a public speaker, and one who is vocal about having autism, I am regularly put under the microscope. More times than not, I am able to navigate my autism. Focusing on my strengths, I come across to crowds as confident; but I am also scrutinized as not understanding the full spectrum of autism as I appear to them “high functioning.” I have heard the words “but you are not autistic enough” or “your autism must be pretty mild” or “you must be higher functioning than my kid.”
I dislike the terms higher functioning and lower functioning because it pulls our focus from a competency model. Just because a person with autism is non-speaking or has trouble controlling their movements, does not mean they are lower functioning. In fact, many of my non-speaking students and friends are exceptionally bright people, who struggle to get their bodies to reflect their thoughts. One of my non-speaking students compared herself to Stephen Hawking, bright on the inside, but frozen on the outside.
Throughout the varieties of autism spectrum disorder, most of us see our autism as much a part of us as our race or our gender, something that cannot be cured our removed otherwise it would change us too much at a fundamental level. So, we focus on strengths, working each day to grow and influence our world. When the meltdowns overcome us, we withdraw, self-heal, and start all over again.
This past Sunday, I had one such meltdown. With so much change in my life, though all of it positive change, my world is unstable and difficult for me to navigate. I am saying goodbye to friends, building a new business, taking on my 15 year old autistic sons’s challenges, and far away from people I care deeply about. These are emotionally charged changes, which I do not handle as well as logical problems. My emotional vibrations within, which I call the Phoenix, become so overwhelming they are consumed by their own fire.
Instead of retreating to my room, I decided to turn on my webcam, allowing you an inside look of what a meltdown is like for me. Every autistic person experiences their meltdowns in their own way, much like people grieve in their own way. My experience might not be the way for other autistic people, but by sharing I hope you are able to approach other autistic people with compassion, love, and a deeper understanding.
As always, be kind and love louder.