Publicly Exposing Autism Meltdowns: Violation of Privacy or Raising Awareness?3 min read

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
  • High Functioning Autism Meltdown & Message
  • Autism Meltdown in Public

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.



  1. I can’t under­stand why any parent, with access to the infor­ma­tion about autistic melt­downs that is avail­able so easily, would find any use in pub­licly humil­i­ating an autistic child by sharing videos of their child at such a vul­ner­able time? Why they don’t under­stand that melt­downs aren’t bad behav­iour but a pain response. I had the mis­for­tune to see a melt­down video on Twitter and every autistic person who responded told the mother who was wailing on about how autism sucks that her child was clearly strug­gling with the bright sun­light because they were trying to cover their face and get out of the light but were strapped in to their seat. The asked why she didn’t just get a window sun shade and give him sun­glasses. She refused to answer anyone but other par­ents com­mis­er­ating with her. Poor kid, having a parent who shared your pain to whine about you and hen refuses to try the things people sug­gested to help.

  2. If anyone wants to find a source of “clean” melt­down videos to know what melt­downs are like, I’d sug­gest checking out the Youtube channel streamo­faware­ness, by autistic self-advocate and anti bul­lying activist Cyndi H. She posts videos of her own melt­downs with her own con­sent to show people what adult autistic melt­downs look like (and they’re not much dif­ferent from kid melt­downs, btw., but these videos were posted by someone who would not expe­ri­ence fur­ther humil­i­a­tion as a result)

    She also posted a video or two of her own drunk­en­ness at par­ties to show what drunk­en­ness looks like in autistic people too, for that matter (and that latter one is one you usu­ally don’t see explored due to con­stant infan­tiliza­tion and the resulting assump­tion that autistic people would never go out and drink wine). And she also has some videos up sim­u­lating the autistic expe­ri­ence, if anyone is inter­ested — stim­ming videos, a sen­sory sim­u­la­tion, and one called “Come into my World” that isn’t explic­itly stim­ming but instead shows the types of details autistic people pay atten­tion to that neu­rotyp­i­cals often don’t notice.

    Link to her channel:

  3. My par­ents have never video­taped me in dis­tress. Ever. They put down what they were doing and helped me.

    I can only imagine the type of shame this must breed in autis­tics, to be taped during one of your worst moments and have it shared for other people to shake their heads at.

  4. One thing I will say, the channel that posted the melt­down at the mall video has said that they check with their sons to make sure that it is okay for them to post videos of them.

Talk to us... what are you thinking?