That Space Between Sad and Meltdown
Sometimes, Jess can tell me that she is sad.
Jess is autistic and has difficulty with expressive communication. Sometimes, Jess can tell me that she is sad. When that happens, she might cry and express sadness just like everyone else.
Sometimes, She Can’t Tell Me
Often times, Jess has difficulty verbalizing her sadness or has difficulty with explaining what has made her sad. During those times, she might be sad but her behavior will look more like a meltdown. Said meltdown could have possibly been triggered by the event that caused the sadness combined with the inability to communicate her feelings.
So What is a Meltdown Anyway?
‘Meltdown’ is a common descriptor in the autism world. On the outside looking in, it can resemble hysteria and can include self-harm, harm to others, and harm to objects. Complicated by an impaired ability to communicate, meltdowns are often triggered by things such as changes in schedules and routines, and external stimuli such as sights, sounds, and smells.
A Space for Painting
Jessica’s painting therapy is beginning to occupy that space between sadness and meltdown. It is becoming an amazing deterrent to the path towards meltdown. Whether she is sad and can or cannot be verbally expressive, the act of painting is helping her sort through her feelings and helping her express herself.
For example, on this particular day of painting, Jess had originally planned to paint about Disney. However, once I got out the art supplies, she told me she had changed her mind. Jess announced, “This painting is called, Things I am Sad About.” Her announcement surprised me because up until that point, she had not in any way indicated that she was sad.
As Jess started painting, the sadness within her was immediately evident
She even gently wept as she expressed herself through her creation.
Black was her color of choice to start with.
It was as if you could almost see the sadness transferring from her body to the canvas. Her sad expressions and tears gradually resolved.
A Reprieve From Meltdowns
Our experience that day was a great example of how painting therapy works for Jess. Before we discovered painting as therapy, this unforeseen sadness that she was harboring would have most likely led to a meltdown. It would have been one of those meltdowns where we had to play a long guessing game of trying to figure out the trigger while also trying to comfort her about things we did not understand.
Instead, Hannah and I were there – just listening. Jess talked about the things that make her sad while she painted her picture. Hannah and I didn’t even have to provide the comforting. Jess did it herself just by expressing what was on her mind. We were just there to watch and listen. It was amazing!
Things I am Sad About