Individuals with ASD can have trouble managing when there are too many demands at once.
We may shut down and not be able to do anything or we may explode. We may look like we are being defiant but we are not.
This starts even as a young child. It can seem to be something as simple as saying, “Put on your shoes we are going out to the store and then the park.” That might not be a problem if the child was standing like a robot waiting for orders but people are not robots. The child was doing and thinking about something else when this was asked of her.
Too many words and commands overload our brains causing great anxiety which leads to a meltdown, whether explosive or withdrawn (freezing). This can usually be avoided with one step instructions. Make sure you have the child’s attention and tell her, “In__ minutes, you need to put on your shoes”. In __ minutes tell the child to put on her shoes. Once the shoes are on, you ask her to get in the car. Then in the car you can tell her, “We are going to the store”. After the store, let her know you are going to the park.
The child must be able to do each individual step on her own or you will have to help her. This is simplified but you can find more information on the internet, from other autistics, or good therapists.
As children get older, they have more and more information coming at them. At school, their work is increasing and becoming more difficult.
In high school, teens start rotation classes, have several teachers, hundreds of other students crowding the halls, and an increase in what is expected of them.
Multiple assignments in one or more subjects are given at once, plus regular homework, and tests. It gets very overwhelming especially for someone on the spectrum. You have to be able to schedule when to complete each assignment, determine its importance, figure out what you must do to complete it, and then do the actual work and hand it in. This has to be done for multiple subjects.
Students with ASD have problems with executive dysfunction. If they do not have a lot of individual help breaking down their work, severe anxiety can result, causing meltdowns and school avoidance. I had meltdowns regularly when I was in high school. I was able to hold it in at school but over the years, my anxiety got worse and this in turn caused depression. I was frequently in tears over my homework and assignments. I didn’t know where or how to start. Essays and projects were the worst and I had no help because nobody knew that I had these problems.
Students who have a diagnosis can be accommodated at school to help with their work and classes.
As an adult there are many more stresses: relationships, health, noise from pets and or children, bills, job or lack of, and everyday living.
I get overwhelmed and have meltdowns often.
Sometimes I have a day that seems like a disaster, sometimes it is an entire week or more.
All the little and big things add up and result in a great deal of anxiety for me. There are days where: my husband and daughter have bad anxiety and they are irritable, the dogs are really barking a lot, there are school issues, car troubles, appointments to get to, and phone calls to make, sensory problems, and even though I like it, I struggle to write this blog (I never know what to write about or how to start). It has taken me a month after receiving the suggestion of this topic to figure out how to write it.
That can all happen in one day for me on top of the normal daily things. Most people would get stressed out by all that but usually they can sort through it and deal with each thing as it comes.
All I see is a big mess and get overwhelmed and shut down. I can’t do anything. There are so many things going around in my head and my whole body feels like it will explode. If no one is around, I cry. I don’t know where to start in the mess. I get very anxious. Sometimes, if I can get a hold of her, I contact my autism consultant and tell her what is happening. Sometimes she is able to suggest somethingthat might help. But it helps just being able to tell her because even though I can’t get the words out properly, she gets it. I also take one of my “as needed” medications and then hope for the day to end and that the next day will be better.
Sometimes the anxiety gets so bad that I feel like dying but I know that feeling will eventually end.
I haven’t found anything that consistently works to get me through those times yet. I’ve learned to just wait it out.