Autism and the Double Meltdown

We went to visit our two children who have autism and who live in a group home. Logan is 17 and Abby is 16. The visit didn’t turn out the way we expected.

Abby was unsettled, which was causing Logan to be unsettled. It seemed to get okay at first but quickly escalated.

Abby made an emotional sound, possibly the result of a toothache. This is one of the challenges of severe autism. It is difficult for Abby to communicate what is going on and you have to know her well to understand her.

That sound set off Logan, who gave an equally emotional sound. This triggered Abby beyond her physical pain into more of an emotional reaction. This continued to trigger Logan and on and on it went.

By the way, this is time to address the myth that people with autism have no empathy. Logan and Abby are hyper-empathic, that is they are extra-sensitive to the emotions of others, especially each other.

It got pretty rough. There was some extremely loud screaming, among other reactions. When they get like this, they can’t be around each other. But it is difficult to separate them as well.

I ended up in the kitchen with Abby and one staff worker and Amanda was in the living room with Logan and the other staff worker. It was loud and there were other concerning outbursts. It was painful to observe.

One thing that was interesting was that once Abby began to calm, she apologized to me and to the other staff worker. This is impressive for someone considered nonverbal. She then went to apologize to Logan but something he was doing triggered her again, and it all started over.

We ended up having to take Logan out for a ride and went to visit Tim Horton’s. We had to convince Logan that this was necessary for Abby to calm down and he agreed.

In the car, I spoke to Logan about what happened. I said, “When Abby gets upset like that, it makes you sad.” Normally, Logan would respond with echolalia, that is repeating word for word what I had just said. Instead, he changed the personal pronoun and said, “When Abby gets upset, it makes me said.” It was nice to see him communicate in this way.

By the time we were done with our drive, both Logan and Abby were calm and hopefully the rest of the evening was better.

However, this left Amanda and I with a lot of emotion. We do not often see Logan and Abby like this. We have seen it and it is one of the reasons why they are in a group home. But it was very difficult with us.

Some within the autism community do not like anything negative being said about autism, but there is a downside for the family. There is an emotional price.

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