“This must be Thursday,” says Arthur to himself in the last line of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘s second chapter. “I never could get the hang of Thursdays.” I’ve adapted this phrase to myself but replace Thursday with Monday. I can’t get the hang of Monday. In fact, Monday is a nearly-guaranteed Meltdown Day; Meltdown Monday if you’re as fond of alliteration as I am.
Monday marks a weekly departure from my safe haven into the chaos of the real world. I emerge from a place where eye contact is not essential, where I can monitor and regulate sensory inputs, and where human touch is predictable into a cacophony of stimuli clamoring for my attention. I have to monitor a world of apparent chaos while attending to my own reactions to all that is happening around me. It’s a day filled with anxiety and a small dose of fear. It’s so stressful, I often get sick on Sunday in anticipation of Monday.
I arrive home physically and psychologically exhausted. My head is often pounding. My muscles are tense. I feel like I’m walking in from a sensory hurricane. I’ve been fighting back social seizures all day, and a meltdown is almost inevitable at this point. The trigger could be anything – a pile of trash laying on a kitchen counter, some leaf fragments blown in from the outdoors, a loud television. By Monday afternoon, calling me fragile would be generous.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time makes Good Days and Bad Days appear somewhat arbitrary in the life of an autistic individual. (In the case of the narrator, the frequency of specific colors of cars will determine the quality of that day.) Indeed, factors that seem casual or minor to most people can seriously affect the day of someone living on the spectrum. However, you might find that Bad Days are more likely to happen on a certain day or days than others.
What is it that makes those days worse? Can you do anything about it? In my case, as an adult, I can’t just quit working to protect myself from the outside environment. Likewise, whatever stimuli or situations make one day or another more likely to be a Meltdown Day for your child may be beyond your control. If that’s the case, here are some tips for averting an emotional crisis.
- Be aware of factors in your control. If you know your child is coming home in a fragile state, take a moment to preemptively deal with any home factors you know will upset him or her more. For example, you may want to move those roses from the living room on days like this if red frustrates your child.
- Plan a preferred activity. Engage your child in something her or she finds enjoyable or relaxing, disengaging his or her mind from the stressors of the day. Yes, this may mean postponing homework for an hour.
- Prepare to support. Should the meltdown occur, your reaction can influence the duration. The worse your child feels about losing control, the longer it may take him or her to regain control. If he or she doesn’t feel safe turning to you, the negative emotions can spiral out of control.
After twenty-nine years of life, and six of those aware of my cognitive peculiarities, I still can’t get the hang of Meltdown Mondays. There may be a day of the week that’s tough for your child too, but you can be there to help him or her through the difficult day in as safe and secure a world as possible.