Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

FAAAS, Karen Rodman, and the Autistic/Asperger Meltdown Stereotype

Many of us think that we have no problem recognizing ignorant, prejudiced stereotypes when we see them. I discussed a particularly egregious example when I wrote a post last week about a newspaper article that claimed, without any factual basis whatsoever, that autistic individuals were prone to sudden fits of rage. The article even went as far as to quote Karen Rodman of the Massachusetts hate group FAAAS, who advocates exclusion of autistic children from the public schools, for the proposition that an autistic adult would be likely to explode in sudden rage if "you gave them the wrong sandwich."

As I also mentioned in my post last week, this stereotype has been conclusively debunked in the scientific literature. Statistical analysis has shown that autistics are no more likely to commit violent acts or violent crimes than their non-autistic counterparts (Murrie, Warren, Kristiansson, & Dietz, 2002; Barry-Walsh & Mullen, 2004). Let me say that once more, just to make sure there's no one who has missed the point.

Fact: Autistic people are no more violent than anyone else.

So why haven't we been able to bury this ugly stereotype? Is it because the haters are too strong and have the power to spread it everywhere, no matter what we do? Well, no, that's not really what is going on. To find the primary culprit, the autistic community needs to take a good hard look in the mirror.

All too often, when we get upset because we can't do something that a non-autistic person would take in stride, or when an autistic child gets upset for reasons that the parents may not understand, these behaviors end up being characterized as a "meltdown" or as an "autistic meltdown." Many people within our own community take it as gospel that it is a uniquely autistic trait to lose one's temper in everyday situations. Some of us even write blog and forum posts that describe anger issues as an "Asperger symptom" from which we suffer, or similar language.

And that's just plain wrong. To become upset and frustrated when struggling with difficult situations is not a uniquely autistic trait. Rather, it is a characteristic of the human species as a whole. Such behaviors happen just as often in the non-autistic population, but because the triggering events often are different, our society does not look at them in the same light.

Here's a brief scenario to illustrate the point: Let's say a mother takes her two young children, one of whom is autistic, with her when she does the grocery shopping. The autistic child starts crying because he is overwhelmed by the bright lights and the busy, crowded, noisy environment. The mom grabs a few groceries and hurries to the checkout. Then the non-autistic child starts whining and crying because the mom wouldn't buy her a toy. The mom pays for the groceries and angrily marches the kids out to the minivan. When she gets home, she's still fuming, and after sending the kids to their rooms to take a nap, she goes to an Internet support forum and vents about her son's "autistic meltdown" for the next half-hour or so.

All three people in this scenario lost their temper because they had trouble handling a stressful situation. The autistic kid hadn't yet developed the coping skills needed to deal with the sensory difficulties of the supermarket; his sister didn't know how to manage her frustration when she was not given the toy she wanted; and the mom got upset because of the noise the children were making and, perhaps, because of the embarrassment of being in a public place with two noisy children. But only the autistic kid was described as having a "meltdown."

Instead of using such negative and inaccurate language to describe our own behaviors and those of our children—which has the effect of stereotyping ourselves and giving the haters the rope to hang us with—we should take a proactive and non-stigmatizing approach and recognize that these problems are situational, rather than specifically autistic. When stress becomes a problem, we should consider what changes to our environment would help to reduce our stress. And—last but not least—from now on, let's reserve the word "meltdown" for circumstances where its use is more appropriate.

Such as, for instance, Chernobyl.

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  • This is very well stated. Thank you for pointing out how the "meltdown" stereotype contributes to views of autistic people as out of control and dangerous.

    By Blogger Bev, at 4:36 PM  

  • I've never understood what exactly a
    "meltdown" is, to be honest. It seems to me like a lot of people (usually parents of kids with disabilities) use the word "meltdown" without defining it, but they all somehow know what it means.

    And frankly, "meltdown" seems like the same kind of unchecked hyperbole of "train wreck" or images of autism as a child-stealing monster. (I guess I just don't understand comparing a person to a nuclear disaster).

    Also, part of the problem is that the term "meltdown" describes something by how it appears to other people, rather than by what it actually is. Like, you can be overwhelmed or frustrated and cry and yell and argue, and you can be overwhelmed or frustrated and go silent or not be able to do anything at all, etc. (And you can be the same person and do them both at different times). But I've seen people call the former "meltdown" and the latter "shutdown." Or maybe someone who is more likely to "shutdown" says that the person who is more likely to "meltdown" is disruptive and should get control of themselves, blah, blah, blah. (Which is BS).

    Long story short ;-), I think that "meltdown" is too narrow and melodramatic a word for whatever it's supposed to describe.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:58 PM  

  • "Meltdown" doesn't have much to do with anger, in many situations. It just means there's too much stress for you to cope with. It can happen to NTs, but because the sensory and social environment overwhelms the coping skills of autistics much more easily, it happens more to autistics. A "meltdown" is something we can't help. (We can learn to prevent them, though.)

    We can also have classic spoiled-child tantrums. :)

    But meltdowns aren't violent in an outward-directed way--not unless someone tries to pin us down during one, anyway. Many times, they're not even noisy. Nowadays, many of mine look like me sitting very, very still, staring, as though I've been drugged. The "noisy" ones are just plain crying, as anyone might do.

    But you're right in saying that meltdowns aren't something specifically autistic. And there's nothing really to be afraid of if you're with someone who goes into a state like that. An autistic child is probably less likely to deliberately hit someone else during a meltdown than a non-autistic child, for the simple reason that if you're extremely overloaded, you can't do the planning necessary for violence.

    By Blogger Chaoticidealism, at 7:53 PM  

  • Additionally, another stereotype we could look out for is how we refer to routines or repetitive behaviors.

    Repetitive behaviors are often called "stims", short for "self-stimulation". However, the principal investigator of the autism lab I work for and later on myself both agree that it would not be a wholly appropriate noun because it is trying to attribute an intention of energizing oneself that may or may not be there (i.e. the behavior can show excitement, create comfort, or defuse stress). Plus, to me the word stim seems to have connotations of drugs and addictions. All the more ammo for the behaviorists.

    By Blogger MeridiusMD899, at 11:21 PM  

  • I agree with chaoticidealism. Meltdowns are not by any means exclusive to autistics, but we are more likely to experience them, partly because society is not set up for us. For some of us, meltdowns are more intense than most "normal" people have, they can continue when we're at older ages, and meltdowns may be more likely to occur in public. This does not mean that being autistic is worse than being NT, by any means, but to me it does feel fallacious to suggest that meltdowns occur in NTs in the same frequency and intensity. Oftentimes, that's not true, and I sometimes struggle to explain to people that no, this is not what "everyone" experiences.

    I can see how meltdowns can and be used to demonize autism. I think we should acknowledge that this is a reality for some of us, though. Some of us may even lash out during particularly stressful times, but this can usually be avoided if the situation is dealt with properly. I want people to know that I am not a scary or violent person, even though my problems oftentimes are different from what most people are used to seeing from an adult woman. This means I am autistic and need support and understanding. If people interpret that as meaning I need to be "cured," then that's really unfortunate and I will certainly correct them.

    I agree with chaoticidealism in that education and understanding are what's needed. I would like to see the money going towards a cure going to research which helps us to cope and adapt instead. More funding for assistive technology would be great, too. I'm sure that a weighted blanket would help my stress levels, but they tend to be pretty expensive. I'll probably end up getting one soon anyway.

    We should combat stereotypes, but I'm not sure that "NTs experience this just as often, with differne triggers" is a thorough or accurate way to go about this.

    I also think that true meltdowns should be distinguished from intentional violence. Autistic people do that, too--but no more than the general population.

    Thanks for commenting on my blog, BTW. I've been meaning to respond to comments there, and this comment touches on some similar issues.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:19 AM  

  • I'm neurotypical; my kids are neurotypical -- and I loathe and reject the word "meltdown" to describe anybody's behavior.

    "Dysregulation", yes (it gives a clue as to how to move on -- into regulation), or "Overwhelmed by [circumstances] [environment] [specific overwhelming triggers]", yes (again because the language gives clues how to return to coping/calm). Even a family neologism, "heat pressure" ("heat prostration" misheard by a 5 yo family member, and adopted by all of us Trans-Alpine types when the temperature reads above 90 F.) -- again yes, because it assigns the behavior to a particular cause.

    That's my 2 cents, anyway.

    By Blogger Liz Ditz, at 1:01 AM  

  • Odd, I actually find 'dysregulation' way too medical-sounding for my tastes.

    And I agree with a few others who say that what most of us refer to as a 'meltdown' isn't about anger or necessarily even frustration, and doesn't have to be violent at all.

    I often find that in the haste of some people in the autistic community to avoid being stereotyped as anything they consider negative, they immediately distance themselves from those of us who do have loud or otherwise messy reactions to overload. (Not anger, not frustration, not 'not getting our way', not fear, overload.)

    Moggy Mania did a very good description of the difference between a temper tantrum and a meltdown awhile back.

    I've seen non-autistic people have meltdowns as well. Generally it takes an incredibly extreme situation to provoke one. The ones I'm thinking of were not particularly violent, but quite different from an emotional display of anger or frustration.

    For autistic people, as others have said, it takes a less extreme situation to overload us, so they happen more often.

    I've had problems with anger management (mostly occurring after severe abuse), and I've had problems with meltdowns (my entire life), and they've taken very different strategies to deal with. Yes, there's a common thread as far as stopping negative actions once they start. But that's where the similarities end.

    With anger management, it's possible to go back far enough to control the thought patterns that lead to the rage. With meltdowns, far more of the emphasis has to be on dealing with and avoiding situations that trigger overload: There's no such thing as a pattern of thought that prevents overload (calm helps overload but doesn't eliminate it).

    But basically, just because you don't like FAAAS using a particular stereotype against us, doesn't mean that this word doesn't actually mean something, and refer to something, that is real and very distinct from the comparisons you're trying to draw here.

    You've got a valid point that autistic people are no more violent than non-autistic people.

    But that's where it ends. Past there... it reminds me of people who see that most autistic people learn to speak (a true statement), and then start saying that those of us who either don't learn or can't sustain speech "really just have mental retardation or other conditions causing speech difficulties because obviously if most of us learn to speak and if non-autistic people have speech problems too, then speech difficulties in autistic people are just the same as the ones in non-autistic people and have nothing to do with autism in any way" (which is, to say the least, not true). And who then proceed to distance themselves as far as possible from autistic people who can't speak, as well as from the whole concept of "mental retardation" (while being fine with reinforcing stereotypes towards that group of people).

    The point there being -- just because difficulty doing something occurs in a minority of autistic people, doesn't mean it has nothing to do with autism.

    The same thing goes for positive traits... most autistic people are not savants, but there is clearly a correlation between autism and being a savant, and savants are not irrelevant to the autistic experience. Just because there are non-autistic savants and savants are not a majority of autistic people, doesn't mean they have nothing to do with each other.

    Most abilities or difficulties that have something to do with autism, are going to be in the minority, but it doesn't take the relevance of autistic brain structure away from those things.

    You're also erroneously assuming that every time someone talks about a meltdown, they are talking about a violent outburst, and that if you count up the number of autistic people who have violent outbursts then you are counting up the number who have meltdowns. That's not accurate, and when autistic people talk about having meltdowns, many, perhaps most of us, are either not talking about violence, or not talking about major violence.

    Please don't commit the mistake of creating another damaging stereotype in your haste to get away from this one.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:00 AM  

  • Okay, it looks like some clarification is needed here. When I wrote "Such behaviors happen just as often in the non-autistic population," I was referring specifically to the sentence earlier in the paragraph about becoming "upset and frustrated when struggling with difficult situations."

    I was not referring to overload, as such. Sometimes an autistic person can become upset and frustrated as a result of being in an overloading situation and not having effective ways to deal with it (like the little boy in my example who started crying in the supermarket) but many of us react in different ways. When I get overloaded I tend to pace around, feeling all keyed up and hypervigilant, while having a hard time processing what is going on around me. I know other people who will just put their head down on a table or desk and take some deep breaths until they feel better.

    In my opinion, those of us who have been describing reactions to overload as "meltdowns" should use different language instead. With its connotation of nuclear disaster, the word is just too melodramatic for its intended use, as Tera said; and it is very easily misinterpreted and confused with violent behavior.

    By Blogger abfh, at 10:22 AM  

  • "When I get overloaded I tend to pace around, feeling all keyed up and hypervigilant, while having a hard time processing what is going on around me. "

    Cool. I thought I was the only one that did that.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:59 PM  

  • I do it as well, when my body permits, but it's not my only response to overload. (And I often actually, alternate between being able to understand but not move, and pacing around with no understanding. I consider both of these things, shutdown.)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:38 PM  

  • Cool. I thought I was the only one that did that.

    You should see the end of an AutCom conference sometime. (Or even the middle, but by the end there's a lot more pacing people, including me if I'm able to stand. I remember at one point just sort of locking my knees and leaning against a wall and staring at nothing, but my peripheral vision kept catching a huge number of pacing autistic people.)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:43 PM  

  • Yeah, I do the pacing, too, along with flapping and mumbling. Or I can have a near catatonic response to the same stimuli under slightly different (internal or external) conditions. I can see those things being called "shutdown," but not "meltdown." Even the more dramatic hand biting and head smacking, I think these could be described without referencing the "m" word.

    By Blogger Bev, at 6:11 PM  

  • I don't really like the word "shutdown" either because it suggests that a person is completely nonfunctional, like a computer that has been switched off. I think that plays into stereotypes of autistic people being disconnected from the world and oblivious to what is going on around them, etc.

    By Blogger abfh, at 12:19 AM  

  • Okay. Any ideas for words that:

    1. Mean the same thing.

    2. Do not blur the meaning into several unrelated things. (Example of a word that does that: "tantrum".)

    3. Do not sound overly clinical. (Nobody will ever in my entire lifetime get me to use the word 'dysregulation' or 'episode' to describe these things.

    4. Isn't the kind of neologism that I find really hard to either keep track of the meaning of, or use.

    Keep in mind that for many autistic people, terms like 'shutdown' and 'meltdown' are words that meant we didn't have to use the same clinical words that the professionals were always using on us, and didn't have to refer to these things as temper tantrums or anxiety or other things that they're not.

    I've never thought of the word meltdown as particularly over-dramatic, any more than I think of the word 'seizure' as over-dramatic despite the fact that it (and many other words) could be argued to be in the same way that meltdown is being argued to be here.

    At any rate, if anyone comes up with such words meeting the above criteria I'd gladly use them, but I've never seen any.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:20 AM  

  • Forgot somehow the paragraph I wrote where I mentioned that I've seen arguments that the word 'disabled' means 'totally unable' or else 'broken', and ought need to be used. And that I find those arguments as problematic as I'm finding arguments that the word 'shutdown' actually has to mean not having any of an ability, or being cut off from the world.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:23 AM  

  • Echoing the sentiments of some who have already commented, while I definitely don't approve of the FAAAS perspective (ugh), I have never really seen "meltdown" as an inappropriate word. For me, it's been a word I've used to distinguish what happens during extreme overload from something like a "tantrum", which seems to imply intentionality.

    By Blogger Anne Corwin, at 2:08 AM  

  • Amanda, what's wrong with just calling it a "response to overload" as you did above? That is easily understood and doesn't seem (at least to me) to have any extraneous connotations.

    Although "seizure" originally suggested that a person was being attacked or possessed by demons, that was very long ago, and it has a well-defined clinical meaning now. "Meltdown," on the other hand, does not have a clear definition, and there are some people out there who seem to think it applies whenever an autistic person is not 100% calm and pleasant and properly behaved (according to whatever their definition of proper behavior may be).

    As for "disabled," if we were just now inventing that word I might argue for something else instead, but it has been around for a long time and has developed a well-understood meaning in much the same way that "seizure" has.

    I agree with your point (and Anne's) about the word "tantrum" having an implication of intent, and I'm editing the post to replace that word with "crying" in my description of the little boy in the supermarket, so as to avoid confusion. When I wrote the post I pictured the little boy as having the intent of communicating to his mother that he wanted to go home, just as his sister was communicating that she wanted a toy, but I didn't clearly express what I had in mind there.

    By Blogger abfh, at 9:05 AM  

  • No, "reaction to overload" doesn't work.

    "Reaction to overload" is not at all specific enough for what I am talking about. It does not mean the same thing as shutdown or meltdown.

    The thing is, the words are probably new to you (and to some others here), because you're relatively new to the autistic community.

    But they have had pretty established definitions within this community for a long time now. For 'shutdown', I'd guess for between 15 and 20 years, at the very least, possibly more. (Shutdown has been used to refer to both a single skill, and many skills, depending on the context.)

    We are not 'just now creating' these words, they have been created and been in use for a long time. Not always in the wider culture, but certainly in the autism and autistic communities. But I consider that widespread enough -- I would never attempt to join a culture and then say within a few years of joining it, that the culture's longstanding words are inappropriate and just now being defined, just because the wider community doesn't know them yet.

    Here for instance is an article about a speech from Donna Williams in 1995 where she used the word.

    The oldest piece of writing I have found on the topic so far (which may not be the oldest usage of it within non-Internet communities) is this post to a mailing list, and that's from June 1992, which is sixteen years ago now.

    I've found a reference to 'cranial meltdown' in 1993 posts by autistic people.

    I think I have found usages of 'shutdown' dating back to the 1980s before, but I can't remember where. I also am almost certain I saw it used in a 1990 print publication.

    So basically, these words were around and being used by autistic people since before the autistic community was even a community. They are words that have become part of the absolutely standard lexicon of that community.

    The meanings for words like 'shutdown' have grown out of our attempts to describe our own experiences. It has also, specifically, been used to distinguish our experiences from more common interpretations that absolutely do not apply.

    For instance, a very common psychiatric interpretation is to call overload 'anxiety' and shutdown 'dissociation' (and meltdown 'acting out' or 'tantrumming', depending). There are also more casual terms that convey much the same idea, that overload is an emotional event and shutdown is a response to an emotion. The words overload and shutdown clearly set it apart from things like this.

    Shutdown isn't just one thing, either, it can be like 'speech shutdown' or just 'general shutdown'.

    It's basically a whole idea that is deeply rooted in the experiences of autistic people, our attempts at expressing them, and the communities we have formed.

    And it's a word I would not like to see taken away from us, or shunned as offensive.

    I can far more easily see changing the word 'meltdown', although I personally find it non-offensive and will likely continue to use it. It's less essential to describing our experiences, and more potentially ambiguous (some people use it as synonymous with 'shutdown' as well as other things, other people have more precise meanings). Where OTOH I don't think I could easily communicate about these experiences without the word 'shutdown'.

    Keep in mind, also, that those of us who learn words in chunks and phrases instead of words, will be seriously inconvenienced (to put it mildly -- it could cut off our ability to communicate on the topics altogether, and in some cases the ability to use words at all) if we have to stop using a word and replace it with another one. That can be okay if the word is offensive or inaccurate enough. But IMHO the word has to be very offensive and/or erroneous, before it is worth doing that to all of us. 'Shutdown' isn't even in the ballpark of that level of offensiveness/erroneousness at all, and 'meltdown', to me, is only potentially close to it, not in it.

    I'd rather save my effort for worse and less essential words than this.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:21 PM  

  • Also, as you can see in the early usage of 'cranial meltdown, the term was used in a way that suggested the exaggeration of it was known to the people using it, and it was just a good way to describe the intensity of the experience. It was not at all in the same genre as 'plague' or 'train wreck', unless you mean the way Sue Rubin used 'train wreck' when she described herself humorously as the 'typical 19 year old train wreck' when she started college.

    If it's being used in that fashion, the problem is the people who are using it that way, not the people who were applying it to themselves.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:30 PM  

  • Depends on the context, I suppose. I don't have any objection to using "shutdown" to refer to a temporary loss of a specific ability such as speech. In that situation, it's quite descriptive of what is going on.

    But when a person is pacing around the room at the end of a conference, which is what we were talking about earlier, I think the word might be too strong for the situation.

    I am not saying that it is an offensive word or should never be used; but at the same time, I don't think it is helpful to define the word so broadly that it can include almost any experience of feeling overloaded. (This is not intended as a personal comment on your choice of words, by the way, and I'm aware that your own definitions are more precise.)

    By Blogger abfh, at 2:45 PM  

  • Amanda,

    The thing is, the words are probably new to you (and to some others here), because you're relatively new to the autistic community.

    In my case, you're absolutely right; I didn't know the history of the words "meltdown" and "shutdown." When I first started hearing them (or reading them), it was mostly from non-disabled people about relatives or people they worked with, and just assumed from there. I totally should have known better--not least of all because there are experiences that I have that are really hard to describe, and the words I come up with are melodramaatic-on-purpose.

    My bad.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:52 PM  

  • When I first started hearing them (or reading them), it was mostly from non-disabled people about relatives or people they worked with

    Well, that's the problem right there. Words change over time. It doesn't really matter if the word "meltdown" was harmless humor among a small group of autistics 15 years ago, if the word has taken on a completely different and potentially damaging usage in the wider community.

    Many years ago, the word "retarded" was also seen as just a simple descriptive term, meaning only that a child's development was slower than average. We all know what happened there.

    By Blogger abfh, at 4:50 PM  

  • Yeah.

    And part of the problem there, is that it's not the words they pervert, it's the concepts.

    If we decide that the word 'gabelfritz' means 'meltdown', I almost guarantee in 15 years it'll take on the same connotations among the people who misuse the term 'meltdown' today.

    Which is one reason I'm usually more in favor of working on how a concept is viewed, rather than just shuffling the words around. Which reminds me of what my friend once said about institutions, how they slap a new coat of paint on the wall, or move it into a different shape of building, and suddenly claim it's not an institution or not so bad anymore.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:23 PM  

  • Words change over time. It doesn't really matter if the word "meltdown" was harmless humor among a small group of autistics 15 years ago, if the word has taken on a completely different and potentially damaging usage in the wider community.

    I don't think the word has taken on a completely different meaning. Are there people who use "meltdown" to argue that autistic people are violent and scary? Sure. There are people who use "autistic" and "Asperger Syndrome" to insult people they don't like. But that's their problem.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:49 PM  

  • If we decide that the word 'gabelfritz' means 'meltdown', I almost guarantee in 15 years it'll take on the same connotations

    Yes, if there's no change in the underlying attitudes; but the choice of words influences the evolution of attitudes, to some extent.

    This reminds me of the debate about whether hip-hop artists should clean up their language. They argue that words used within their own community aren't really slurs. Their opponents say that their language is harming the self-image of the children in their community and perpetuating ugly attitudes in society generally.

    I always see words and concepts as very much interrelated.

    By Blogger abfh, at 10:55 PM  

  • To me, the experiences I describe as "meltdowns" really do feel that way to me, not just to those around me. I don't think the term is "melodramatic" for certain situations which I've faced. I am quick to correct my partner when he overexaggerates something and calls it a "meltdown" or some variation when it is not, but in some situations it feels accurate. If another easily-understood word described those situations, I would use that word, but for now "meltdown" seems to me the most accurate. I recognize the possibility for stereotyping, but to me the flip side is what I've basically heard most of my life--you're not different from anyone else and this is your failure.

    I also think we can acknowledge the effects of these situations in caregivers without stigmatizing autistics, though unfortunately this doesn't really happen much. After all, meltdowns are not autistic-specific, and watching someone you care about experience great stress can certainly increase one's own. When two people in a relationship are both non-NT, as is the case for me and my partner, it can get quite complicated. It's not always a case of an NT falsely representing an autistic.

    By Blogger Sarah, at 2:03 AM  

  • Very, very interesting.

    All this time I've been using the word 'meltdown' to distinguish it from 'hissy fit' both of which are 'foreign' terms that I considered to be American.

    Duly noted.

    I'll nip off to the word police now.


    By Blogger Maddy, at 12:05 PM  

  • Maddy,

    "hissy fit" = "temper tantrum", usually of the adult female sort. Well, at least that's how I've heard it used...

    By Blogger andrea, at 2:50 PM  

  • My confusion over "temper tantrum" vs. "meltdown" is because a lot of people use "temper tantrum" differently than I do.

    I don't think of a temper tantrum as something spoiled brats do to get their way. It's something you often see in toddlers when they're starting to learn to communicate in words and control their emotions.

    I remember being a toddler and having temper tantrums. Even if they were over something silly like wanting a toy my mom wouldn't buy for me, I did not like having them, I felt out of control when they happened, and I was always grateful when an adult removed me from the situation (e.g. when my mom slung me over her shoulder and carried me out of the store--and usually home to take a nap).

    When I see toddlers have temper tantrums, I see someone who overwhelmed by disappointment/frustration/tiredness/illness/hunger/pain, etc. Sometimes we adults have no idea what triggered the tantrum, and the kid is too upset to answer "What do you want?"

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:26 PM  

  • I'd like to state a very important point; that violence and losing one's temper are two different things. A person can go off like Mt Vesuvius but not physically hurt anyone, while some evil people do practice horrible violence in an unemotional, instrumental manner if it suits their ends. In my experience autistic people tend to have somewhat feisty, spirited, angry, curmudgeonly personalities, but are certainly not any more violent than neurotypical people. To use violence to threaten or intimidate people seems to imply the use of a "theory of mind".

    In my experience, people that I know who I believe to be somewhat autistic, including two self-diagnosed autists, indeed do appear to be more prone to losing our/their temper (often in SPECTACULAR manner), and I do believe this is at least partly due to neurology. Going back over the baby medical record book of our child who seems to have the most classically autistic neurology (hypersensitive senses, stiff, clumsy) I saw that I had noted that this child had a bad temper at the age of 1 year, and I wouldn't have noted this unless I was sure it was something beyond the typical of that age. Its worth noting that many descriptions that you can find of intellectually gifted people/children list emotional intensity or similar traits as a common characteristc, so I guess it could be argued that the bad temper could be due to a gifted neurotype rather than an autistic neurotype, but I don't think the distinction is really worth making, as there seems to be so much overlap between giftedness and the autistic spectrum.

    I've noticed in the Australian mass media that the word "meltdown" has become quite fashionable, and can be used to refer to situations that do not involve autistic people, or even living objects. For example a computer system can be described as going into meltdown, and the word is certainly used to decribe the behaviour of non-autistic people.

    I agree that a temper outburst is an entirely different thing than an emotional outburst due to being overwhelmed by too much social/sensory input, but I wouldn't mind betting that these two things can combine and cause a really big scene. I think in many siituations in which ordinary people lose their temper it is caused by a combination of different factors. Tired and hungry people are on edge.

    By Blogger Lili Marlene, at 11:35 PM  

  • I am a relatively neurotypical female who was married to an Aspie for 20 years. I am not ashamed to admit that I have had more than my share of 'meltdowns'(and I mean completely incapacitating breakdowns)resulting from hubby's inappropriate and illogical behaviors. Why should I have to tell my husband that lying down on top of his daughter on her bed to give her a full-body bedtime hug just doesn't fly in this society? Or that she should not use his crotch as a headrest while watching TV? He never understood why I got upset over these things. He always made me feel that I was the one at fault. So, go ahead and criticize the NT's for their stance. We can take it - we are survivors.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:38 PM  

  • Your NT meltdowns were not *caused* by your Aspie husband. You need to own your own behavior. You are the cause of your meltdowns.

    The unacceptable behavior you describe seems about as scandalous as a child sitting on an adult's lap. Any sexual implication is rooted in the mind of the observer.

    So, yea. Maybe it was your fault and Asperger's had nothing to do with it.

    By Blogger ceilingcrash, at 1:26 AM  

  • I find the syntax arguments most interesting and agree that the word itself is not at fault but rather people's perceptions of it's meaning. I had always understood the term 'meltdown' when used to describe people as representing the result of an out of control chain reaction. This is what it is in it's technical definition. So the distracted mum in the super-market fails to spot signs of growing distress and discontent amongst her children, who increase their demands due to her distraction until the whole system is beyond control and people react according to their emotional states.
    I find it worrying that there is a 'them and us' mentality developing, I cannot understand why people do this. We are all 'wired' uniquely, who decides where to draw the lines that separate everybody up into 'types' ? I hate pigeon holes.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 2:40 PM  

  • I'm troubled by this article. It seems to imply that autistic people should try to hide or deny the traits that are part and parcel of their neurology in order to appease the mainstream population or those who are prejudiced against people with autism.

    That would be like telling a quadriplegic they would be better off hiding their wheelchair and pretending they could walk so that people wouldn't look at them with pity (for instance by siting in a car instead of getting out).

    We have we come too far in disability acceptance to even think of turning back and pretending we are not disabled to appease the ignorant.

    As a person with AS, I nned to know that meltdowns exist so I can understand where my inconvenient behaviors come from, so I can learn to deal with them better.

    The truth empowers; information empowers. This article, though well-intentioned, does not.

    By Anonymous Bee, at 9:53 PM  

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