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Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

What It Takes to Learn Strategies for Your Autistic Meltdowns

I wish I could give you every autism strategy I’ve learned and that would be all you need to prevent your autistic meltdowns. Hell, I wish someone else could give me all of their autism strategies and that be all that I need.

The harsh reality is that we are unique humans and we are each going to need different things to work with our autistic minds.

Yes, there are some general strategies that work for most autistics, such as:

  • Planning downtime after overwhelming events.

  • Schedule in “no plans days” in your calendar as often as possible (you can read my full essay about that here).

  • Distract your mind when you’re beginning to ruminate on something.

  • Adjust your physical environment to meet your sensory needs.

These kinds of strategies will benefit most autistics. I typically refer to them as general strategies for enhancing everyday life. I have a whole host of them you can check out here (link to essay Learning Autism Strategies as an Adult)

Most late-identified autistics who come to me for therapy though aren’t so concerned about their everyday life. They’re concerned about the moments they LOSE IT. They want to know how to prevent moments of overwhelm. They want to know what to do when they get angry and frustrated with those around them.

Yes, I know lots of strategies that I can suggest. However, the most useful information comes from the client’s meltdowns. Ironically, it’s our most painful moments that contain the gold to develop strategies to work with our autistic minds.

I love it when a client tells me they had a recent meltdown. No, I’m not reveling in their pain. I’m excited that we have an event we can mine for information.

Continuous Line Illustration by Jackie Schuld

We examine what happened, looking for clues into what led up to the meltdown. We look at this in multiple layers. We first look at what happened in real-time. Who was there? Where were you? What happened immediately preceding? These questions can offer some insight into the things that put us over the edge.

For instance, one client learned that wind is deeply upsetting to her nervous system and will quickly lead her to a meltdown.

After analyzing the details of the moment, we then zoom out to look at things on a broader level. We look at what was happening earlier that day, even earlier that week. We look at how much the client was carrying with them as they entered this meltdown. For example, one of my clients noted that she had relatives staying with her for three days prior to a meltdown. ANYONE staying with me for any length of time will automatically reduce my energetic capacity. My client and I discussed how this impacted her eventual meltdown. We then looked at strategies for how she can honor her needs when guests visit. This was great information for her. She had never considered how much she could benefit from scheduling naps or alone time while people visit for prolonged periods.

With another client, we examined how she is in a particularly difficult period of her life as she navigates returning to school while still working full-time. She was able to see that she needs more restorative rest, as well as time with special interests to return to homeostasis and let her body recharge.

Looking at these levels provides us with inspiration for external changes that can be made to make life more enjoyable and meltdowns less likely.

We then look at the meltdown event itself. We identify needs the client had that couldn’t be met and brainstorm possible solutions. For example, my client realized that once she hit a meltdown, she couldn’t make decisions anymore. We came up with a code word she could use to tell her wife she was in this state and needed him to make decisions.

We also look at how the person coped while the meltdown was occurring. One of my clients found it soothing to pound her body in this moment. However, she realized that this alarmed the people around her and she wanted a strategy she could use in public. We then explored different kinds of movements and toys she could use instead of pounding her body.

Many of my clients don’t need these strategies, but this client did. That’s the beauty of mining our painful brush-ups with autistic meltdowns. We can identify our needs and brainstorm unique strategies tailored to us.


Thank you for reading. If you’d like to read more, sign up for my FUNletter or check out my book Grief is a Mess.


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