Editor’s content notice: mention of corporal punishment
Performing a quick “autism meltdowns” search on Google has proven to be one of the most eye-opening, disturbing discoveries I’ve had to date since my late autism diagnosis.
Dozens of YouTube videos emerge showcasing photograph thumbnails of autistic children clearly in distress, with bold titles boasting & promising a dramatic experience for the viewer that one could very strongly argue is for clickbait, and even more haunting, exploitation:
- Autism Meltdown at Mall
- Autism Meltdown or Tantrum at Fair
- Autism Meltdown & Panic Attack
- Inside the meltdown of a severely autistic child
- Autism Meltdown in WalMart
- SENSORY OVERLOAD MELTDOWN and STIMMING
- High Functioning Autism Meltdown & Message
- Autism Meltdown in Public
- BACK TO SCHOOL AUTISM MELTDOWN
These videos instantly took me back to my meltdowns in childhood. The overwhelming intense heat, tears painfully streaking down my cheeks, the wetness unbearable, yet I couldn’t wipe them as I was being spanked for the third time that week. The deafening screams of adults commanding I obey and conform to a household of rules and expectations that didn’t fit my budding, uniquely-wired operating system.
The utter humiliation that ensued when adults would discuss my “defiant, disobedient behavior” right in front of me cut me emotionally in ways I cannot verbalize. The taunting promise of, “We need to videotape you next time to show you how you’re acting! Maybe that will make you stop!” Couple this with the insurmountable waves of sensory overload, and it was a recipe for hell.
When I was five years old, I remember hearing a siren while we were on a walk in the neighborhood. I was so terrified by how I could FEEL this sound in my BONES that I took off and ran home, sobbing in my room to make the pain stop.
The threat of videotaping me and exposing that to family members and others was enough to make me want to harm myself. Anxiety-ridden and consumed with trying to constantly meet their standards, I masked my autistic traits as much as possible to avoid that type of humiliation. Thankfully, this was in the early 2000’s, and access to filming my meltdowns or outbursts in a quick manner was much more difficult than it is today.
For autistic children today, however, it is evident they are not afforded the luxury of privacy. In the past decade we have seen a massive explosion of Autism exposure and awareness.
But we as a society need to start asking ourselves if the methods by which we are promoting autism in children is even remotely ethical, or are they a complete, downright violation of privacy.
Autistic individuals are still human beings. We feel, sense, taste, smell, & experience life and energy in a way that many couldn’t possibly grasp. The intensity we feel during a meltdown in front of the people we should trust above all for our emotional safety, support, & well-being — only to have a camera record every ounce of the horrific experience, for millions of people worldwide to consume at their leisure.
This level of humiliation is a textbook definition of emotional abuse. Bringing a child into this world, no matter their abilities, means there is an expectation that the parent will provide safety, protection, acceptance, understanding, and empathy. Exposing autistic children in these vulnerable moments is not something we should be proudly airing as parents in the name of “awareness.” Awareness comes in many other forms.
This brings me to the question: does the autism community value the exposure of Autism meltdowns on a wide-spread scale over their child’s emotional well-being? How can we expect a minor, autistic child to consent to such public exposure? Sure, the authority is placed on the parents. But what social media rights and privacy laws are in place to protect the minor?
I challenge the autism community to take a hard look at the way we’ve been raising “awareness.” I challenge them to ask themselves if we REALLY could do without the meltdown exposure, for the sake of your child. If you still object to this, I would encourage deep self-reflection on why valuing your child’s privacy isn’t on your top list of priorities.