Autsim Overwhelm

Autistic burnout, shutdown, meltdown, and other distressing things



It can’t be avoided, these are stressful times. Life always throws something extra at you. All times for mankind were stressful times: war, famine, floods, invasions, pestilence, plagues,revolutions, and other traumatic and negative things have always been with us. ( as human kind)

What is new, is that today we are getting information about it all, all over the world, almost as soon as it happens. Until recent generations, news was not spread nearly as quickly, and there were far fewer people in the world. The advent of electricity and the way humans have been able to use it has changed everything. We have changed from a species which mostly worked and lived from sunrise to sunset to a species which works continually, and at the speed of electricity (or light!)

I don’t think our minds and neurology, let alone our bodies are equipped to deal with these changes.

Forward to today, where we are constantly presented with images of horror, terror, distress, anger, fear, and anxiety showing and reporting on things we have absolutely no control over.

Media of all sorts presents these things, sights and sounds, in as upsetting and emotionally provocative a way as possible, since those in charge of making the $$ money $$ have found such distressing things sell the news better than word of health, healing,beauty, safety, caring and informative non-distress-causing reports.

I am still attending forums and reading blogs, and I find so many autistic people are so distressed, angry, unhappy, anxious and fearful. This applies not only to the autistic communities I attend on line. One only has to look at today’s headlines or watch a news report. News will inevitably tell you that things are horrible, frightening, and about to get worse. $$news$$ will be happy to tell you all the ways you are about to suffer and how others in far away places are suffering or about to suffer as well. It will show you how many people hate you, tell you why, tell you every mean and horrible act that one person or group has done to another.
$$$ are there in every report you buy into $$$ and they keep escalating the horrors so they can sell more advertising and make more money. Don’t buy into it!

I have never had a “filter” for images, and never been able to tell myself “its over now, they are not suffering” or to separate myself and my own emotional experiences with those of others, remaining aloof and unaffected. Each horrifying image, report, sound (such as distress, grieving, painful crying or fearful screaming) Stays in my head and repeats itself with nowhere or no way to remove it or soothe it. I put this down to my neurology and my inability to process visual and audio input in the way most people seem to do. But such anguish and distress seems to be everywhere these days, not just in the autistic community.

Have you noticed? Did you ever ask yourself why?

I learned a long time ago that I simply can not listen to the news, watch it, or see photos or read reports of painful and distressing traumas, fear causing “what if” events, nor can I assimilate the huge deliberately pain-distress-fear-anxiety-anger-causing, emotionally provocative input of so many web sites, newspapers, or other printed matter.

I have learned that to survive emotionally and remain functional, I must be very careful of the “input” I get every day. Add to this inability to process upsetting things, the daily load of worries over things like jobs, health, family, demands of your “out of the home” commitments such as volunteering or participating in community events, and you will understand why it is so very difficult to maintain a steady attitude and a feeling of stability. I suspect this is true for all humans in varying degrees. How would I know for sure, though?

Here are things you can do to help yourself avoid overwhelm, shut down, melt down, anxiety and perpetual distress.

1. Consider controlling the “input” you are forcing yourself to deal with daily. Do we need up to the minute reports on the election, the hatred of one group for another, the horrible ravages of every tragedy occurring all over the globe, the sights and sounds of so much distress, fear, rage, etc?

Choose to visit a news website once a day instead, or to watch one tv broadcast, listen to one news report on the radio. Do you need to subject yourself and those around you to the constant battering of so much emotional (for the $$$ media company’s $$$ profit!)
You already know that distress and emotional turmoil are what is used to market today’s news. “if it bleeds it leads”… the more upsetting the news, the more likely somebody is to tune in, buy the paper, etc etc… “$$$gotcha$$$” Do you need to experience every one of these painful reports repeatedly? Why?

2. Consider whether you need to attend every holiday party, or even one.
Decide: If anybody in your household needs to attend every class, group meeting, visit or activity the season offers.

3. Do you need the media blasting away in the background all the time? Can you substitute music or nature sounds, silence or something like a “white noise” machine instead?

4. Are you playing over- stimulating games with loads of disturbing graphics that create a sense of urgency ( especially meant for video-gamers). Can you substitute others, watch a documentary, nature videos, take a break to take a walk or a hot bath or to prepare a “real” complete sit-down meal or to do a hand’s on craft, artwork or something that involves all of your concentration without the perpetual demand to process distress? You can be activating your fight/flight anxiety response over and over instead of finding peaceful and interesting things to fill your time with.

5 If you are a reader, do you read nothing but upsetting, graphic, anxiety causing stories? Can you change to another topic, read non fiction, read blogs, studies, feature articles about other topics that interest you? If you have a ‘special interest’ or hobby, can you read about those instead, or at least substitute some of the input for things less likely to create feelings of stress or distress?

6. The human body evolved to be in motion. It is not natural for us to sit for most of the day in artificial light. Why not make motion of any sort at least part of your day? Your moods, anxiety level, and attitude may show improvement, let alone the health benefits.

7. Remember the old saying about “accept the things you can’t change, and change the things you can, and have the wisdom to know the difference” .


I have almost completely cut out and shut out all of the things I have no control over. I check news once a day in print using a source that is not prone to graphic images. I am sure I will hear if doom is on the horizon, if there is some huge catastrophe I need to prepare to move my household or myself to safety for.

Otherwise, I let those who are in control of those things take care of it all.
My job is to care for myself and those I care about. I do this to the best of my ability.
I practice responsible behavior and “adulting”, do my civic duties, volunteer for things I think are important, donate to causes I believe in, but I deliberately turn my back on so much of the hate, horror, distress and fearful things reported in the media daily.


If you are constantly distressed, angry, fearful, or overwhelmed, perhaps you can find ways to reduce the input that feeds those feelings. It is something to think about.


Autism Anger

Shhhhhhh don’t talk about that!!!!!

Autism has a few “sore spots” that seem to be avoided as topics for discussion in the forums I participate in. When somebody does open up, there is a flood of responses, seemingly relief in finding that individuals are not alone in their struggles. I am talking about emotional regulation struggles this time.
Autism and anger, autism and emotional breakdowns due to anxiety, fears, frustration, and inability to cope displayed as meltdowns, shutdowns, violence, tantrums, and outbursts.
We all understand this happens frequently to many of us. But we are ashamed or afraid to talk about it.

Autism is all about our neurology. Many of the ways we experience the world are not the same for us as “neurotypical” or average, “normal” or non-autistic people. Struggles with emotional regulation are definitely not limited to autistic people, we see examples everywhere of people behaving with one or another form of problems with emotional regulation.

Emotions and responses to those emotions are things we generally learn about when we are very small (people in general).
We are taught to recognize our emotions and how to deal with them in socially acceptable ways, usually before we leave home for school days.
Learning to recognize emotions can be helped by explanations given through instruction person to person, videos, books, and role playing, role modeling and other ways.
Learning to recognize emotions and learning ways to express those emotions in healthy and socially acceptable ways takes practice. The good news is that for the most part, these are skills that can benefit from a coach or teacher, a therapist or a counselor.

Sorting and learning to recognize one’s emotions and how to deal with them in healthy ways is part of the sensory system ( remember I said emotions had a neurological basis?) called interoception.

Interoception used to be considered part of the proprioceptive group of neurology but more recently has been removed to its own special category.

Interoception has to do with what you feel physically inside you. It is the sense which tells you what you are feeling when your body gives you physical clues to your needs and wants. That empty feeling in your middle is telling you that you need to eat. The pressure you feel in your lower regions means you need to use the bathroom. The tenseness of your muscles in your stomach and legs can mean that you are afraid and ready to run. The tenseness of your muscles in your neck, your clenched jaw, your tight fists may mean you are getting ready to fight.

Autism often interferes with our ability to recognize the first physical signs of our emotions… so we end up surprised at our own emotional outbursts and our extreme reactions to emotions we did not recognize we were feeling until they reached crisis proportions. The body experiences emotions in a physical way and we can learn to recognize the signs.

Many of us have not been aware of or have not learned to notice the physical signs of emotion. Elevated heartbeat? Heavy breathing? Weak pulse, feeling faint, tight muscles in any part or parts of the body? Feeling sick to one’s stomach, clenched fists, gritting teeth or tight muscles in lips, jaws? Smiling, grimacing, frowning, head lowered or thrown back? What we are feeling physically and doing with our bodies is a huge clue to how we are feeling emotionally. Many autistic people might not recognize body language in others, and many might not recognize our own body’s signs as well. We can learn!

In the forum discussions I have participated in and observed, many autistic adults have remembered that as children they decided emotions were not useful and made deliberate choices to disregard them or to hide them. This seems generally to have been “early on” in the nursery or as a very small child. We can learn to recognize and make use of our emotions, but it does not come naturally to may of us. It is one more thing we might need help with to sort it out. Especially this might be true in older people who are set in their ways and less likely to realize or recognize alternatives.

It is never too late to learn about interoception and how to recognize our building needs and emotions before we reach the bursting point.

Occupational therapists might be able to help, and there are many anger management classes, biofeedback specialists and therapists who specialize in behavioral difficulties. There is much printed and online regarding how to recognize emotions early inside us and how to use that “early warning system” when we recognize it in order to work with our emotions in healthy ways instead of finding ourselves in a huge and surprising/ distressing/ destructive/embarrassing/ blow up situation.

If you struggle with overwhelming emotions of any sort, I want to encourage you that this can be changed, and new ways can be learned to recognize our emotions, to direct and control them into healthier behavior in distressing situations. We can learn to recognize and use our interoception skills as an ‘early warning system’ to detect and divert our physical reactions to emotional situations and make better choices in how to express ourselves or to deal with those emotions before we are overwhelmed and helpless in still another emotional blowout.

If this is an area of distress for you, please be encouraged, it is something that can be helped.
We can learn new ways, sometimes we need to reach out to others who can help us sort it all out.
Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to take action. Those folks are there because they want to help and they want us to live better lives. There is no shame in asking to learn new skills. And the benefits are beyond measure in terms of the quality of your life and your relationships to others as you move forward.