Despite how it might seem to others, and speaking only for myself, autistic meltdown is not really where I lose control, but where I seize it — wrest it like a steering wheel from the hands of anyone who seems to be driving us head-on into a truck.
Now, as far as I’m concerned, it’s perfectly okay if you disagree with me on this point. To be clear: I am only speaking for myself in explaining autistic meltdown in this way. Of course, if you do disagree with me, I invite you to tell me so either in the comments below or privately via my contact page. I really would like to know how my own use of this term compares to that of others. To clarify, I’m using the term autistic meltdown most generally to mean,
“…not as wilful displays of bad behaviour but as intense responses to overwhelming situations.”
The steering wheel analogy illustrates the basic idea. Whenever I meltdown it basically feels like I’m a passenger trapped in a car with some fool driver who has steered us into on-coming traffic. I feel overwhelmed by this situation, especially the tractor trailer that is about to pulverize us, so I seize the wheel and turn us out of the path of sure annihilation.
See, for me, meltdown is a survival thing.
Now, if at the moment I seize the wheel you happen to be the fool driving the car, or perhaps another passenger in the car, you will surely feel like control has been lost, and strictly speaking you are correct. But in that moment it is definitely not me who has lost said control, but you.
And you did so because your driving is dangerous, in my opinion. You want to be in control when I’m a passenger? Fine, then don’t drive like a dangerous maniac.
Now, you may have noticed the “…in my opinion” qualification. That needs some explaining. It’s a bit of an understatement, really. See, the idea here is that I’m a passenger in your car, you’re the driver, and at some point you and I have a difference of opinion. On the one hand, you are of a mind that driving us head-on into a truck is a good idea, and I lean in the other direction — toward the position that driving us head-on into a truck is a bad idea.
See what I mean by “understatement”? Because for me it’s really not just a “difference of opinion” — definitely not the sort of situation where we can just “agree to disagree”, as they say. No, from where I’m sitting in this scenario the stakes are way too high. Like I said, for me, meltdown is about survival, and there is definitely a right and a wrong thing to do, and sitting quietly in my seat while you destroy us is the wrong thing — absolutely not an option. That is just not going to happen. Nope. Not on my watch.
Rest assured: you try to drive us head-on into a truck, and I’m going to seize control of the fucking car.
 Sara Ryan, Health Place. 2010 Sep; 16(5): 868–875. doi: 10.1016/j.healthplace.2010.04.012, last accessed Jan. 28, 2018
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