How do you deal with an aspie in meltdown? I deal with it very badly, even though I'm on both sides of the fence. When I'm in full lava flow down the hill myself, I'm in no mood to be dealt with at all; but when RT Teen is being the lava, I feel like I should fix it.
Even knowing how he is feeling and how supremely, outrageously aggravating the whole world has suddenly become, I still tip-toe in and try to help. I poke him with verbal offers of help, I reach out a hand (I must be insane) and try to give him a comforting pat. I talk to him from a distance, hoping logic will prevail (you can guess the result).
I don't do this to make it all worse, though I know it might. I risk making it all worse to make it better. And sometimes it does help, just not very often. But there is that magical moment where you can stop the meltdown before the volcano has done more than choke out a few smoke sobs and done a bit of lava-spitting.
When RT Teen has a meltdown these days it is much more emotionally charged than when he was little and that makes it harder to deal with. When he was younger, he was a raging ball of sorrow, fury, anger, despair - you name the negative emotion and he was the raging of it. I treated him like when he was younger still and let him calm down on his own, unless there was something breakable between him and his predicted crash site.
The smallest things set him off then. Once he was given the choice between sweets and candy floss at the Christmas fair. He chose sweets and ate them, but then we walked past the candy floss stall...
The result was a full-on meltdown: legs, arms, head held in that special arc of protest which gives the lungs their best chance of shouting to the heavens. He also would not move. (Only an aspie in full meltdown can somehow be a flurry of action without moving from the spot).
In a crowded Christmas shopping centre what could I do? I couldn't let him bellow out his temper with an audience like that, so I did the next best thing: I moved him to a place where he could bellow it out in peace. I lifted him by the back of his coat (carrying him normally would have meant getting hurt by flailing limbs) and I carried him through the whole of the fair, back to the car.
The walk was a long one. At two hundred yards, it wasn't long in steps but in terms of suffering, it lasted a very long time. Right through the crowd, screaming six year old being carried by his coat, his arms and legs pointing downward but moving like his batteries were on overdrive; his head pushed back as far as he could manage while he screamed, maroon-faced, eyes clenched shut in pure, candy-floss-deprived anger.
Whispering, voices, stares, pointed fingers, tutting, shoulder-turning: a general wave of why-isn't-she-doing-anything as I struggled through the crowd. Not Helpful. What might have been helpful was to recognise I was actually doing something - I was carrying my raging child out of their way and back to a safe place.
I know now that all the whispers and condemnations were probably not what they seemed and some were a result of me feeling so watched and judged. Now, I can look at a situation like that and recognise a child on the spectrum, along with struggling parent. Then, as the parent, I felt alone amid a sea of people whose children had stopped this behaviour before they were three.
Now, with RT Teen as an almost-adult, I couldn't carry him through the town if I had to, so I suppose it's a good thing that his meltdowns happen mainly at home and are so focused on emotions rather than frustration-fuelled physical activity. But even so, you can look to the child he was to see what must be done.
If someone has reached the stage of meltdown, be they child or adult, and you have missed your chance to stop it before it starts, then all you can really do is make sure they are safe (and the rest of your house/pets/family are safe) and let them be.
You know that volcano analogy? Imagine you could pop a top on it, just as it's about to erupt. The relief as the lava is held in, the terrible, ravaging destruction is stopped, the world is safe. But then, you know, volcanoes do not erupt because of forces coming down on top of them, do they?
They erupt because of pressure building within, beneath the seen, under the visible part. They erupt because they are forced to and nothing in the world can stop them reacting to that build-up of pressure. The only way to be rid of the pressure is to allow it to pass.
Putting a lid on it and forcing down the eruption does nothing to stop the pressure building underneath. What it does is the opposite. That pressure now builds even more, it has to if it is to escape and re-set the balance. It now has to push against your imposed control, as well as what has built up within the volcano. It has to break through two barriers instead of one. And the eruption, once the pressure builds enough, is far, far worse than it might have been.
When your aspie is having a meltdown, try to help if you still can. Otherwise let them be, let it out, let the pressure rip through the air instead of through your aspie's feelings and defences - and then through yours. Let the meltdown do what it is designed to do, which is to reset the balance.
And when it is over, take comfort from the fact that if your aspie did not erupt and could not let go of the pressure, they would not be the person you know between times.
How to deal with an aspie meltdown? Just be there, somewhere, for when it's all over.