Autism & Learning to Recognize Autistic Meltdowns Before It’s Too Late

Patreon members and YouTube channel members had access to this video on May 18, 2022. The video’s public release will be July 27, 2022.

ID: Lyric, a pale skinned nonbinary person with short green, teal, purple, pink, orange, and yellow hair with shaved sides and jet black roots is sitting behind a white microphone in an RV with dark wood panel walls. The words “Signs of Autistic Meltdowns” floats in front of them in pale teal and green letters.


Hey, everyone, Lyric here.

I’m an Autistic adult, but I didn’t find out I was Autistic until I was 29 years old.

Throughout my entire life, even before knowing I was Autistic, I have experienced Autistic meltdowns, shutdowns, and other types of overload and overwhelm.

Since finding out I’m Autistic, one of the most important things, that has transformational in my own life, has been learning to recognize meltdowns, shutdowns, and other types of overload, as they’re happening, before they happen, before I get to the point of no return.

This week, I’m going to be talking about Autistic meltdowns, and how to recognize Autistic meltdowns, and some signs of Autistic meltdowns, so that hopefully you can learn to predict them, and notice when they’re happening, so that you can stop the meltdown, or get to someplace safe before it’s too late if you or someone you care about is having a meltdown.

If you would like to know more, please do stay tuned.

Welcome back.

First and foremost, I would love for everyone to understand that meltdowns are, in fact, a neurological event, not unlike a seizure, or a panic attack.

Actually, as someone who has both seizures and panic attacks, I can say meltdowns are quite similar to both these things. For example, with a panic attack, you have the adrenaline, fight flight response has been triggered in your body, and all of a sudden you think you are going to possibly be in real harm… for, potentially, no real reason whatsoever. This panic attack may be triggered by something, but sometimes it just “poof” hits you.

However, with a meltdown, or a sensory overload, as an Autistic Person, often those things will have a specific trigger.. Whoop…

It is a very similar situation, of having that overwhelming feeling and being out of control.

When I have a meltdown that fight, or flight, flee, response is triggered. Often, when that response is triggered in me, my first instinct is not to fight, not to melt down. It is to flee, and to run away… but sometimes when I am unable to get away from other people, or the situation that I am in, or event that has triggered my meltdown, then I will go from flee to fight, and have a meltdown, where I may become air quotes, “combative”, “aggressive”, “defensive” -because I feel as if I am in danger, and cannot flee and get away from the danger, so then it switches to “defend myself and fight”.

If I feel as, as I am in a position where I cannot fight, or defend myself, or flee and get away, I may shut down, and implode in on myself, and freeze.

Fight, flight, freeze: falling on the floor, curling up in a ball, and becoming stuck in a silent little mess, on the floor, frozen or shut down… because, once again, that overwhelming anxiety adrenaline, is pumping through my body.

Often those things are going to be triggered by either a sensory situation, a last minute change to my routine, some kind of emotional situation, or some thing that might seem little to someone else, but it is just the final straw to a lot of straws that have been dropped upon me that day, it all becomes too much, and it’s more than I can take. Then I will flee, or meltdown, or shut down.

I’ve had meltdowns my entire life. Before I knew I was Autistic, I didn’t have any insight as to where they were coming from.

I remember telling my mom, as a young person, that “I felt like I needed to explode, like a volcano” and “I needed to break something”, because the feelings inside me were so intense.

Before I found out I was Autistic, I didn’t understand where that intensity, or that air quotes “anger” was coming from. I didn’t realize that there was a reason, there was a trigger for those intense feelings.

 Not knowing where those feelings were coming from, what was causing me to feel overwhelmed, meant I thought I was just an angry person, who was a loose cannon, and I thought I was short tempered, or quick tempered, but now I have learned to avoid a lot of those triggers, or to be more aware of those triggers, and this means I don’t have as many meltdowns… or, when a meltdown is likely, becoming more likely, or I feel I am getting to that point of no return… I now know how to remove myself from the situation, so that I can avoid getting myself into trouble, saying things I will regret, doing things I will regret.

The meltdowns I’ve had, throughout my life, especially before I knew I was Autistic, have had implications on my relationships with other people, and have even gotten me into some dangerous situations.

Having meltdowns around other people can be extremely dangerous, for a variety of reasons, especially around strangers, or in public places.

Learning to prevent meltdowns, or recognize when they are coming on, or likely to occur, has been important for my own personal health, life, and safety.

Understanding what meltdowns are, and what’s happening to me during a meltdown, what causes them, all of this, has changed my life so much.

I understand now that, when I am having a meltdown, once a meltdown starts, I am no longer able to think clearly, because of the chemical reaction that is happening in my brain in that moment.

I have to wait until all of that can be cleared by my body, and until all of that adrenaline, and all of those brain chemicals are done pumping. I have to ride that out.

Until it’s over, I shouldn’t do certain things, like make important decisions. I shouldn’t engage with people, unless I know they are absolutely safe people, and understand meltdowns, and understand that me being in a meltdown could result in me saying and doing things I wouldn’t normally say or do, and might even regret.

I have to be very aware of the consequences that can come from doing or saying something I don’t mean, because the fact that I was having a meltdown when I said, or did something cruel, or damaged something, or broke something, doesn’t free me from the consequences.

If I broke something that belongs to someone, I’m going to need to replace it. If I said something nasty, and unkind, and uncaring to someone I care about, I am going to have to apologize, and their feelings are still going to be hurt, regardless of if I was having a meltdown or not.

So what are the signs someone might be having a meltdown?

Well, I’m going to give you the signs I’m having a meltdown, from the inside, so that, hopefully, if you are a person who has meltdowns, this might help you learn to recognize your own meltdowns.

Hopefully, if you’re someone supporting someone who has meltdowns, it will be a helpful list to you as well.

So the first sign that I look for in myself, that I might be having a meltdown is: if I suddenly feel adrenaline pulsing through my body. If I suddenly feel that panic feeling, similar to a panic attack, that surge. If I’m suddenly getting hot, I’m suddenly getting really nervous. If I start to suddenly feel agitated, or like I am in danger, or need to escape, or get away from a situation, for any reason, that is a big sign I look out for in myself.

Something else I look for in myself is any signs of disorientation, or not being able to think clearly, because when the brain gets triggered into that fight, flight, flee, phase of thinking, the higher thinking in the brain is compromised, as the “I’m in danger, protect yourself” part of the brain takes over, so judgment and ability to make clear decisions, being clouded, is a big flag for me, that I might be having a meltdown, shut down, or some other type of sensory or emotional overload.

Another hint or sign I might be on my way to emotional overload, sensory overload, or a meltdown, could be the types of stems I am doing, or clenching, making fists, holding my body in a tight way, rocking in a certain way, certain types of body movements, I might recognize that I do when I am getting stressed, when I’m getting overwhelmed, as a way to soothe myself, and try to bring that back, as a way to prevent myself from getting to that overload, and that point of no return. The stimming, and the moving, and the rocking, and those ways of regulating, could mean if, I’m paying attention and catch it, that I am getting overloaded.

Another sign I’m getting overloaded, and it’s almost the point of no return at this point, is if I start crying, or I start losing the ability to clearly articulate, I start stuttering or slurring, or lose my ability to speak with my mouth completely. That is a sign things are getting really, really bad, and I am roller-coastering into that point of no return.

The combination of having decreased ability to make rational decisions, communicate effectively, and being filled with the feeling of intense fear, panic, dread, and potentially anger, makes having a meltdown very difficult. That is why it is my goal, personally, to prevent myself from having a meltdown at all costs.

However, unfortunately, meltdowns, shut downs, overloads still happen. They’re inevitable.

That’s why I found that it is important for me to learn, to recognize my own personal signs, that I am getting overloaded and overwhelmed.

I’d love for you to share, in the comments below, some of your own personal signs of meltdown, or overload, or overwhelm, because we’re all different, and my signs, that I’m going to have a meltdown, are like likely to be different from the signs that other people experience.

Hopefully we can all learn and grow and share with each other.

Thank you all so much for hanging out with me again this week.

If you are still here, please hit that thumbs up, so that I know you made it all the way to the end, and you found this video helpful.

If you did make it all the way to the end, if you would consider sharing, hopefully someone else will find the video helpful too.

Sharing is caring. This blog is made possible thanks to the viewers and readers like you, who share my content, who give comments and video suggestions, letting me know your feedback, letting me know what it is you are interested in, and what you want to learn about.

Thank you, of course, to the Patreon supporters, Facebook subscribers, YouTube channel members, Twitter super followers… those of you who do that little monetary subscription, to help pay for things like website hosting, video transcription software, the technology that this and the other videos are shot on.

I could not do this without your help, your support, I am just an Autistic Person sitting alone in an RV otherwise, so you make this blog possible.

I am so grateful for each and every single one of you, for your time, for being here, for you. So thank you.

I will see you all next week. I put out new videos every Wednesday. Bye!


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With gratitude,

– Lyric

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