Asperger's Syndrome and Meltdowns


I’ve worked all my life with people with Asperger Syndrom, often on a daily basis, but only learned more about this condition in the recent years. In retrospect I should have spent more time understanding it instead of just being aware of its existence. With a few decades of uneducated experience I’m able to vaguely guess when someone has Asperger Syndrom and adjust my behavior and expectations to some extent. But there are situations that require a lot more than a vague awareness on my part, such as meltdowns.

Most of my time this week was consumed by the aftermaths of an unexpected meltdown. It manifested itself during a conversation: all of a sudden, in the middle of a friendly debate, the other person became extremely upset at me and raised their voice. I did not understand why it got out of hand and was rather shaken by this sudden outburst. It took me two days to realize it was a meltdown and only because the other person explicitly told me it was.

Why didn’t I recognize this situation as a meltdown? I knew the other person has Asperger Syndrom because we already discussed it in the past and yet I did not make the connection. I knew that people who have Asperger Syndrom are susceptible to meltdowns because I witnessed a few, the first of which happened in the mid 80’. One possible explanation is that this person spent most of their life successfully concealing their Asperger Syndrom and I only faintly saw the signs over the years. I forgot about it and even after spending many hours trying to figure out what happened I still did not factor that in. After a life in hiding, this person is still shy to talk about it and when they spelled it out for me (two days after the meltdown) I felt ashamed. I should have known better and spare them the embarrassment of reminding me of their Asperger Syndrom.

This has been a very unpleasant moment for everyone involved and took a lot of time. I think the root cause is mostly my ignorance. It is not ok for me to know so little about Asperger Syndrom when I’m frequently engaging socially with people who have Asperger Syndrom. My first homework will be to order and read:

Smith Myles, B., & Southwick, J. (1999) Asperger syndrome and difficult moments: Practical solutions for tantrums, rage, and meltdowns. Shawnee Mission, Kansas: Autism Asperger Publishing Company.

I would appreciate any advice from people who are more educated and experienced on the matter than I am.


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