This week social media has been plagued by a child’s t-shirt picturing a melting snowman with the slogan ‘I’m having a meltdown’ on the front. Cue mass hysteria (and a petition, because parliament don’t have enough on lately) over how insanely offensive it is to parents of children living with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Is it though? Is it really? Scrolling through the comments on various articles you were hard pushed find to a parent of a child with ASD or without ASD that thought this t-shirt was in some way aimed a ridiculing children who have been clinically diagnosed as being on the Autistic spectrum and find certain situations difficult to cope with, which their parents and certain websites have labelled ‘meltdowns’. Who are these people that complained, that think they have the right to coin a generic term in the dictionary and emit offence whenever it’s used without their permission?
A meltdown is primarily defined as the overheating of a nuclear reactor. As far as I’m aware it’s a relatively new colloquial term to describe behaviour where by the subject is overwhelmed in a given circumstance and it does not have a medical definition when it comes to ASD or any other disability. While I can see it has obvious metaphorical compatibility with those experiencing sensory overloads due to Autism, it’s not exclusively relating to this particular symptom of ASD or any other disability. Is the complainant entitled to be so outrageously offended given that this is the case?
I have worked with children living with various behavioural difficulties and diagnosed disabilities including ASD and ADHD I might be more offended that the term had been used to describe incidences when these children struggle to cope with what we might feel are everyday tasks. Would you describe them as having an episode? No. Funny do? No. So what makes this term ok in terms of describing times when their child’s senses are overloaded? I’m fairly confident that if I described certain behaviours as ‘an episode’ or ‘a funny do’ that it would be completely unacceptable, why is ‘meltdown’ any different?
Before we start jumping to announce how offended we are at every verse end we could start considering if we are in fact justified in that offence. This petition is obviously coming from a good place, and if nothing else perhaps people have looked up the difference between meltdowns and Autistic Spectrum meltdowns. But I think if there is no medical terminology used, it’s for a reason, it’s because nothing can describe the complete turmoil that anyone living with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder goes through. If the term ‘meltdown’ can be used to describe other things then it doesn’t have the gravitas to do the job.