Inside an Autistic Meltdown… I  D i s a p  p  e   a   r    . . .

Long post….

I’m going to try to take you inside MY meltdowns.

This might be useful for family and friends of folks with #Autism, particularly high-functioning.

Just remember, although we share many traits, it seems to me, we on the ASD spectrum each have adapted to our differences from neurotypical society in different, sometimes unique ways.

An analogy may help….

I had a tomcat I loved, Jaws. Sweet. Affectionate. Playful. Mighta been part Maine Coon.

He was feral, or at least abandoned, when I took him in. Affectionate from the first meal… Lol.

Very shortly after I adopted him, another cat came to the glass door onto our deck. Jaws rushed the door, hissing, spitting, growling thru the glass.


Foolishly, I tried to help.

I approached him. Tried to pet him, thinking that would soothe him.

Faster than I could see, he whipped around, sank his teeth into the fat of my thumb, clamped down… and held on with locked teeth.


A survival response. He was in life-or-death mode. Pure fight or flight. Pure instinct. And aroused to the point of overstimulation.

I was lucky there wasn’t a great deal more damage. It was weeks before I could use my thumb without pain…

This cat loved me, slept with me, cried when I left, greeted me when I came home, purred in my lap…

But when cornered, startled, or overwhelmed he became a different being entirely.

That is how I experience a meltdown, whether it manifests as panic attack, “autistic rage,” or shutting down (dissociation, withdrawing to sleep).

For a moment, or longer, the me I’m accustomed to being disappears.

I may pace.

I may become loud.

I may repeat the same word or phrase over and over.

I may become angry.

Okay… Frequently, I become angry. I think it’s a distraction from the chaos inside…

I scream.

Weep or sob uncontrollably.

Bang or punch my own head.

Rock incessantly.

Flap my hands.

Hit the floor and have all-body shakes.

Even assume a fetal position on the floor and simply shut down.

My language becomes very basic. Nouns, verbs. Mebbe just nouns. (People may interpret this as curtness, or rudeness. It actually seems to be some kind of difficulty creating semantic structures.)

There’s more, but to parents of autistic kids, parts are likely to sound pretty… familiar. Trouble is, I’m 66, intelligent, educated, articulate…

Nobody is prepared for this shit…

And years of counseling, cognitive therapy, anger management, a little dialectical behavioral therapy, a ton of meditation…

Haven’t changed a thing.

At rest, and in comfort, I am a compassionate, educated, intelligent guy. Can be funny. Can be loving.

Startle me?

Overwhelm me with noise or pain?

Push me past my social abilities?

Hurt me? Criticize me?

Confuse me?

Present me with sudden, unexpected change?

Let me become tired or physically fatigued enough?

I become a snarling cat.


It’s an expression, I think, weird as it looks, of the basic higher mammalian instinctual survival loop.

Fight. Flight. Freeze… Or Appease.

I am so sorry. And ashamed afterward. And apparently early on, learned to usually hide these behaviors for private moments.

Not always successfully.

A lifetime of trying to control, hide, or deny these facts has brought great pain to me… and loved ones.

Accepting it, planning my life with this in mind, warning folks may be the path out.

We’ll see. I’m hopeful so far. Things are improving.


My at-first unconscious strategy of trying to “pass” as normal certainly didn’t work out for me.

Maybe owning my Inner Cat….


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4 responses to “Inside an Autistic Meltdown… I  D i s a p  p  e   a   r    . . .”

  1. […] My mind flashes on memories of instant panic… powerless to speak… sometimes in rage… Those are the hints of my meltdowns. […]


  2. […] or may not… be preceded by a meltdown. It’s not a response to over stimulation… at least, not exactly. It’s more like […]


  3. […] Meltdowns, Shutdowns, Depressions, Decompensations… when I lose skills for weeks… or months… […]


  4. […] My mind flashes on memories of instant panic… powerless to speak… sometimes in rage… Those are the hints of my meltdowns. […]


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