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An MA in Meltdowns

July 30, 2014

I’ve made a vow never to read another academic article about meltdowns. I guess over the past 20 years, I’ve lapped up anything I could lay my hands on, in the quest to make life during a meltdown a little bit easier for all.

On the whole, I know what triggers a meltdown for Steven. It is usually an unexpected change. Or something unexpected happening. Or something not happening that he was expecting to happen. Not being understood is also a trigger. Sometimes I hear Steven in the bath telling his support worker a comp!icated story about Suggs and his big hat. I can hear Steven descend into a meltdown, simply because the other guy doesn’t get all the references. It happens with me when I’m dog tired and can’t instantly recall the names of all the people getting off the train in Unseen Bean.

Once a meltdown is underway, it can be a very hairy experience. There is always the possibility that you may be hit. Or that something will get broken. Or that you will go violently insane with 6 hours of repetitive talking. Its the latter that does for me. In those moments, Steven can’t process what he is saying, let alone any response you might say. So, verbal communication during a meltdown is worse than pointless – it adds to and exacacerbates the meltdown. The only thing to do is silent containment – to stop Steven hurting himself or others.

Where I disagreed with the Unit is that they always maintained there was something willful about Steven’s behavior during a meltdown (although they wouldn’t actually acknowledge he had meltdowns). So subsequently, they held that all the behavior during a meltdown could be eradicated. I’m not saying this is the case for everyone but in Steven’s case its a nonsense.

When Steven comes out of a meltdown he has hardly any recall of what just happened. The most he can say is that “Steven Neary’s had his silly head on”. Trying to probe why he had his silly head on gets nowhere.

This morning it started upon awakening. My guess is that there was a change to the bath routine. One of the support workers is having housing problems and I let him stay over last night. He thought he was being helpful because he started to do the bath before the normal guy showed up. An hour later, there was water all over the bathroom floor, a bowl of breakfast fruit salad up the living room wall and the TV broken. By now, the usual Wednesday routine is in tatters and it is going to take some retrieval.

Could the meltdown have been prevented? Probably not. Could we have minimized the damage? Possibly. Steven broke the TV whilst the support worker was in the garden hanging the washing out. Unbearable though it may be, it is best not to leave Steven on his own during a meltdown – anything could happen.

So after having to support the support worker, go to Curry’s to buy a new TV and clear up the bathroom, I finally made it out the door to work at 12.30 – 6 hours after being rudely awakened. I then had to sit in a pub for an hour to do the support workers’ wages. And missed the bank, so am now four days late in paying the direct payment tax bill.

The way I see it, meltdowns are a uniquely individual experience. Each person needs to be understood and generalisations are seldom helpful. In the week that Swansea council are planning to send Claire Dyer to Brighton because of her meltdown behavior, I suggest we get off the idea that the person is case study who can be ” righted” and think more about the support the person and their family need to live with this inevitability of the autistic condition.


From → Social Care

  1. Oh my darling! How WELL do I know the world and ways of meltdowns! Teachers at my daughter’s school also believed there was something willful about her meltdowns and tried to control or distract her during them with awful results. We know they were just and unfortunate part of her life at times, our lives, and that the point was to minimize the damage to her and to ourselves. Whatever mess might be made was inconsequential and would be cleaned up later. Objects are simply not as important as the well-being of people. Amen.

    She also ruined a few TV’s and vcr’s by the way. Your story brings me back! LOL We made sure we had extended warranties on everything and only bought from stores that were easygoing about fulfilling their replacement policies. They were the two things ruined because, like Steven, she was passionate about musical performances and watched them constantly, hours and hours, back to back. Yes, the repetitiveness could drive me insane some days. I LIVED in earplugs! And talking? Also ceaselessly.

    I can’t believe anyone would leave your son alone during a meltdown. We stayed with our daughter until it was over. When she was finally exhausted. We’d ask her, “Are you finished yet?” Sometimes she’d yell, “NO!” but sit huffing on the ground for a moment or two and then finally say quietly, “Finished,” and we’d go put on a show for her to watch or a cd to listen to while she rested.

    It wasn’t personal and we understood that. We just wish everyone else did too. On August 11th it will be 7yrs since her death. She needed so much and talked so much, both, all the time, non stop. Now there is nothing to do, nothing important, and it is too damn quiet.

  2. You’re right. Some kinds of behaviour fall into the category “Can’t be cured, must be endured”!
    Sorry for your dreadful day.
    (Wonder whether some carers attribute willfulness, because they regard them as a kind of grown-up toddler tantrum.)

  3. meg permalink

    Hear! Hear! The powers that be (think tanks, psychiatry, social services, mental health services) want it all ways. They want control (does not have capacity) but none of the work and responsibility (it’s not our problem, you don’t qualify for access to our resources). I have actually been told one of my learning disabled ‘service user’s’ (I loathe that term) issues ‘are not mental health, they are environmental and social’ so what the hell is mental health then? These experts love to create ‘issues’ they can label and write notes on and compile files about but don’t ask em to get their hands dirty getting real experience with real ‘service users’ who totally muck up all their theories!!!

  4. Emily permalink

    Oh dear what a day. I have recently read about Claire’s problems with the local council. How about putting the feelings of Claire first and asking her what she and her family wants??? Hang in there x

  5. Shirley Buckley permalink

    The autistic brain is in chaos- it goes to places we have no idea about. It isn,t ever calm, it is perpetually overloaded. Try telling that to the professionals. I personally believe restraining holds can help (Martin,s brother doesn,t)). Mark you are so right – Silent containment is the answer but do the c arers have ANY SORT OF TRAINING in this, and how much should they be paid for such a dedicated job

  6. Meltdowns are so difficult to deal with. My daughter used to have them during PMT – she would start with repetitive sentences which progressed to slamming doors resulting in cracks in the plaster and terrible screaming. We never discovered the best way to deal with them – just had to wait until they were over. She was never actually diagnosed with autism (they could never give her LD a label) but she shared this with autistic people. She was a lovely person normally……

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