Tag Archives: meltdowns

Autism, Illness and Meltdowns:

The signs are all there – so why can`t I recognise them?

I normally have an outburst before I get ill.  It doesn’t mean I get ill every time I have an outburst, but it does mean that if ever I am coming down with something, in the days before it fully becomes apparent that I am ill, I will have some kind of meltdown or outburst, or at the very least be snappy, and even more short tempered.

I find it hard to recognise when I am feeling ill.  And so where a lot of people would say that they are not feeling too great and perhaps adjust what they were doing to suit that, I just carry on as normal and my negative feelings come out in other ways.  It might seem strange; how can you not know if you are feeling ill?  But what you have to understand is that with autism comes stress and anxiety, and with stress and anxiety come physical traits that can be similar to being ill: stomach pains, headaches, and tightness of the chest, nausea and dizziness.  These are all common, sometimes daily, occurrences for me and other people who have high anxiety levels.  So how am I supposed to know when they grow worse that this is actually down to me becoming ill?  I also, as I have discussed before, have a high pain threshold.  This has a lot of bonuses of course, but also means that things like infections can take hold and become serious before I even notice I`ve got them.  It is not uncommon for me to be ill for several days before I actually realise it.  And in those days I tend to have an outburst (meltdown) This happened again recently.  I had an outburst and was short tempered for the next couple of days, and then I became ill.  The same old pattern.

But it raises questions.  The biggest and most obvious of which is `if it is the same old pattern and it has been going on for years, why can`t I spot it?  The honest answer is I don`t know.  I think it is a combination of things.  As I`ve said before, symptoms get lost.  I don`t feel pain the same way other people do.  But also I think I get so caught up in the short term impact; if I am feeling ill then things such as noise, or other sensory stuff will affect me much more than they normally do.  So I need to deal with this.  In the moment I can`t stop and think `why can I not handle so much talking? ` I just need whoever is talking to shut up so that is what I tell them to do.  My Mum tends to react to that, but I still need her not to talk so I tell her again, and things escalate from there generally.  We can both see this perfectly when we look back at it, but in the moment neither of us seems to be aware.  It is something that we both need to work on.  But I am sure you can see how difficult it is trying to spot illness in somebody or even in yourself, by how they/you speak or react to things – days before any symptom of the actual illness become apparent.

Have any of you ever experienced anything like this?  And if not how does illness impact on you, if you are autistic?

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January Meltdowns …..

Christmas and New Year have been fun, but also quite stressful.  I think however old you get, or however many strategies you put in to place, this time of year will always be difficult if you are autistic.  The amount of change and transition, plus the sensory issues means that Christmas and New Year can`t be anything other than a difficult time.  This doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable as well.

For me, I finished my first semester at university, and then had the change, and transition of Christmas and New Year.  All of these things together meant that my behaviour, and mood was affected quite severely.  I began to have more meltdowns than normal, and these also increased in severity.  I don’t think that this is uncommon at all among autistic people.  In fact, I think you would struggle to find someone who doesn’t get like this after Christmas, or during Christmas.

Early January can actually be the most difficult time because at least during December there are the positives of Christmas and New Year, so the good comes with the bad.  But January can be a pretty miserable month for people anyway – everything goes back to normal.  While this can be a positive thing, it is also not the easiest thing to deal with for anybody, let alone somebody with autism.  From my point of view it is even stranger as I don’t actually start university again until early February.  All my assignments are handed in so it is as if I have transitioned to another stage – it`s kind of a holiday, but not really.  I am not complaining about getting so much time off, it is just a little bit odd as I was just getting used to university, and I am sure that in some way this must have contributed to what`s been going on for me.

December is a strange time of year for people with autism and their families.  It is very positive and there is a lot of fun to be had – I am not trying to take away from this at all – but I also think it is the most difficult time of year.  I have written about why this might be previously, and I am sure everybody reading this will know anyway from personal experience, but for me early January has always been a bit more difficult.  It is harder to find the positive edge in all the changes and transitions that are going on, but it is possible.  It may be the case that some people are excited to get back to their old routine; may be they want to see friends they`ve not seen for a while?  There could be all kinds of positives to the transition back to everyday life, but it can still feel overwhelming.

The other thing to remember is that while meltdowns are not good – and it`s always best to ward them off, or at least resolve them quickly if possible – just because they get worse in January doesn’t mean that they will stay at this level for the rest of the year.  Things pass, and calm down.

In order to make sure things aren’t too much of a problems in December and January it is important to plan far in advance.  I think last year, may be because I am older, or simply because we were so busy, we didn’t put anywhere near as much planning in to Christmas and New Year, and the transition back to everyday life as we normally do.  And my Mum and I have both felt the effect of this.  We created strategies and techniques to make this transition easier, but for some reason we didn’t put them in to place this year.  My Mum was diagnosed with autism in the build-up to Christmas, so obviously this had quite a big impact on her life, and mine.  But one positive to come from this is that going forward in to Christmas and New Year this year, we can look at not only how it might affect me, but how it might affect Mum.  We both obviously struggle with these things.

What I am trying to say in this blog isn’t anything particularly negative; I just think that it`s important to make the point that things such as the stress created by change don’t simply go away as people with autism get older. Strategies and techniques are not things simply to be used in childhood and then left, especially for things like Christmas which only comes around once a year.  There is so much time in-between each event that the techniques and strategies need to begin afresh every time.  Even though we didn’t take our own advice for the Christmas and New Year just gone, hopefully some people reading this will have done, and had a more peaceful Christmas and New Year holiday than we did.  I wrote lots of articles and blogs in the lead-up to Christmas offering advice and tips that we know work – and we will certainly be using them next Christmas and New Year J Paddy-Joe

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Bonfire Night

A guest post from Jane 🙂

Bonfire Night

Many children/adults with autism may look forward to Bonfire night and want to join in, but still struggle with the sights, sounds, and smells.  Others may dislike the whole event, and just wish it would go away.  Either way, it can help to prepare and support the autistic individual through this time to minimise any stress that may be experienced, and reduce the risk of meltdowns, which can be distressing and exhausting for all concerned.

  • Prepare your child based on their level of understanding – talk to them, watch programmes about Guy Fawkes and the gun-powder plot, write/draw about bonfire night, make collages – anything that you feel will help to get the information across to your child about what bonfire night is, and what might happen.
  • Make a calendar and do a countdown to Bonfire night – this can be a very visual thing, where the child ticks off the days – I used to draw and cut out fireworks that my son had coloured in, and we would stick them in a row on the wall, removing one each day until November 5th.
  • Prepare your child for the noise by playing a DVD or CD with the sound of fireworks on – you can do this very quietly at first and then gradually increase the volume. If your child is doing something they enjoy with this noise in the background, it can help to desensitise them to the noise of fireworks – maybe not completely, but it can certainly help them to be not quite so distressed by the noise of the real fireworks.
  • If your child wants to join in the activities but is experiencing anxiety, the above tips should help.  Also, if they are going to a bonfire, maybe let them wear ear muffs to drown out some of the noise, a peak cap to block out some of the visuals, and stand further back from the display to cut down a little bit on the other sensations.
  • It can help to have a set time of arriving and leaving so the individual with autism can enjoy the event, but not be exposed to that level of sensory intensity for too long.
  • When returning from a firework display the person with autism may need peace and quiet, and time to themselves – don’t mither them with chores or homework, just leave them alone.
  • If the person with autism prefers to stay home you can keep them occupied with a calming activity, may be centred around their special interest if they have one.
  • They can still wear headphones/ear defenders in the house, or turn the music/T.V. up to block out some of the noise.
  • If the individual is experiencing sensory overload then turning up the volumes may not be a good idea, and trying to keep everything calm and low key can help.
  • If the autistic person can tolerate the smell, then use aromatherapy oils such as Lavender, which can be calming, and also help to mask the smell of smoke and burning that pervades our homes during this time.
  • In the days leading up to Bonfire Night, and the days following avoid going out with the person after dark as people tend to light fireworks for days before, and days after November 5th.
  • The sensory overload experienced by many during this time of year can lead to meltdowns.  If you as an individual with autism, or a loved one with autism has a meltdown during this time it will be understandable.  However, it is possible that the meltdown may not occur until sometime after, when all of the fireworks have stopped, and things seemed to have returned to normal.  This is due to a build-up of emotions during this time, and the trigger for the explosion may be something seemingly small and unrelated – so be aware of this and be patient.
  • Sensory overload can cause some people with autism to `self-harm` as a direct response to their stress levels.  Following some of the above advice should help to minimise this risk.  If self-harming does occur then you need to deal with it in a calm manner so that you don’t add to the sensory overload.  If you are the person with autism who is self-harming then please seek help from someone you trust, or the National Autistic Society on how to deal with this. I would suggest doing something that you normally find calming, which can be a distraction from the cause of your distress.
  • http://www.autism.org.uk/living-with-autism/understanding-behaviour/challenging-behaviour/self-injurious-behaviour.aspx
  • Animals can experience the same level of fear and distress during bonfire night, and it can help the person with autism to spend time with their pet (if they have one) or someone else’s, as animals can be a very calming influence for some people with autism, and in this situation they could help each other.
  • The above are just a few tips which may help you as an individual with autism, or a loved one with autism to cut down on sensory overload, and the risk of having meltdowns.  I hope you find them useful, and please do share your tips with us in the comments box below – the more tips we can share, the better we can support people with autism at this time of year   Jane xxx

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