Autism & Shutdowns – How They Differ from Autistic Meltdowns


Hey everybody, NeuroRebel here. And this week, we’re going to talk about autistic shutdowns and how these differ from autistic meltdowns. So let’s dive in.

[00:00:49] So a lot of you probably already know what autistic meltdown is. That would be when an autistic person is in extreme distress and is showing so outwardly in a very explosive way.

[00:01:04] Although some autistic people do not melt down. They shut down, which is a little bit different. Although from my experience, I feel these things are definitely related and a bit similar to one another for a few different reasons.

[00:01:21] So from my personal experience, if I am having a meltdown, I am maybe crying. If I am backed into a corner, I may be screaming. I may be, um, punching my legs or just, um, very outwardly expressing my distress and it is very obvious and hard to ignore, but if I have a shutdown, similarly, I am an extreme distress.

[00:01:49] Uh, but instead of outwardly expressing my pain and discomfort, I shut down in on myself and become very still, you might not even notice I have shut down. I might just become very quiet and then all of that rage that, and that explosive emotion that you would normally see coming outward in a meltdown during the shutdown is actually just kind of being turned inward on oneself.

[00:02:16] So shut downs kind of suck from the outside perspective you might think, Oh, I shut down is definitely way better than a meltdown, but I’m going to tell you it definitely isn’t at least from my personal experience. Uh, so those are one consideration, but you know, with shutdowns and meltdowns, they are both autistic person who is very overwhelmed and possibly they just can’t take anymore and the brain is overwhelmed and it’s gonna do one of two things it’s going to shut down or it’s going to have that explosive reaction.

[00:02:49] So out of the two experiences, a lot of us said, said online having conversations, and this is true for myself too, when we were younger, and when I was younger, I would have more meltdowns.

[00:03:06] Um, but as I’ve grown up, I have learned that having a shutdown is a bit safer, uh, because when you melt down, you can harm your relationship with other people or get yourself into trouble. It can be unsafe to have a meltdown in a public place, whereas sinking down in a corner in a chair, quietly and imploding in on yourself, doesn’t seem to have the same consequences.

[00:03:42] If you were a child and you were getting scolded and you got in trouble for having meltdowns you may have learned to turn all that in on yourself and learn to shut down instead of melting down.

[00:03:57] Uh, and there are a lot of reasons, you know, you can switch and have shutdowns instead of meltdowns. I have more shutdowns than meltdowns every now and then I do still have a meltdown, but some autistic people have said that they grew, grew out of their meltdowns and they no longer have meltdowns.

[00:04:16] Um, but you know, you could say that and it could, you could go a lot of years without having one and then have one out of the blue. So there’s always that – like, well, not out of the blue – there’s always a trigger. There’s always a reason for a meltdown.

[00:04:30] So when someone has a meltdown or a shut down, like I said, there’s always a reason. These things don’t just come out of nowhere. Generally, at least in my personal experience, I have found that a shutdown or a meltdown is the final straw for me, you know. I may have had a very overwhelming day or maybe there is something difficult that I’m struggling with in my life. Something going on or a bunch of little things have already happened and then this one thing is just the final straw or something will come to me that is really unexpected out of nowhere and it will just be too much and then I might shut down or just, it just might be too overwhelming. I just can’t take anymore and the thing about that is that threshold for shutting down, uh, or melting down even can change from day to day.

[00:05:35] Um, Depending on what I’ve got going on. So, you know, on certain days when I have less mental energy already, or if I’m doing a bunch of really draining tasks or there’s been a lot of newness in my world, or a lot of unexpected, random pop-up things happen, then you know, I’m already running almost on empty or that red line, and it’s, it’s dangerously close to being more than I can handle.

[00:06:06] Um, so it’s just operating on that, the edge and then, and you know, people say, Oh, that meltdown and that shut down just came out of nowhere. No, it may look like it came out of nowhere to you, but for me or the autistic person, more than likely. It was just this small thing, but it was the final straw -like the last thing I can’t take anymore, this is it.

[00:06:33] So remember when an autistic person shuts down or melts down either way, it is not personal. It is not to get back at you. It is not for attention. It is not anything really to do with you. It is that person just, they can’t handle it right now. And so it’s a self protection. It’s a self preservation kind of thing.  Where uou just, it just stopps. Because you can’t handle it.

[00:07:05] So they may need some time and space to get all of their faculties back together and be ready and so, you know, if you realize someone, you know, who was autistic has suddenly just shut down and you’re getting a lot of really, maybe no answers from them at all, or you’re getting a lot of, yeah. Yes, but you’re not getting the same types of responses you normally would from this person. They might need some time and space to recover from that shutdown.

[00:07:36] Um, so remember, it’s not personal, it’s not about you. They’re not being intentionally nasty to you. They just have hit their max and they need a bit of a break so that they can recalibrate.

[00:07:49] What should you do if an autistic person has shut down in front of you or with you while you are in their presence? Um, well, I would say if it were me and every autistic person is unique and may have different preferences, um, I would love for you to help me get somewhere safe and quiet and calm and relaxing so I can just take some breaths and soothe myself, bring me my weighted blanket. Maybe get me my music so that I can listen to something that is calming helped me regulate my senses because through grounding and regulating the senses, I am able to slow myself down and get myself back to where I need to be.

[00:08:32] Um, don’t ask me to engage. Don’t ask me to talk. Don’t ask me a lot of questions that really is just going to stress it out and make it worse. I really, in that time, just need to exist. That’s it. That’s all I can do, you know, if I’ve shut down, um, that that’s, it, that’s all, you know, I, I, my brain is like no more. I can’t and you know, if I’ve shut down and then you keep pushing at me, I may eventually actually just meltdown if I feel like trapped and backed into a corner, depending on the situation. Um, so there’s that too. So, you know, let me come out of it, maybe, you know, just make – help me feel comfortable. Um, don’t expect anything of me for a little bit. That’s what you can do to help me if I’ve shut down.

[00:09:22] Um, so let me know autistic people in the comments, below – let our allies – allies know what do you need if you have shut down, drop a note, let me know. What – if someone sees you and you have shut down, how can they help you come out of it? Because  really the point of all this, we want to know how do we help autistic people with shut downs?

[00:09:44] Okay guys, thank you so much for hanging out with me this week. Don’t forget to subscribe and turn on the notifications because I am putting out content every week. And if you found this educational useful or helpful, because that is always, my goal is to bring you content that does add value to your life and your day, please share because hopefully it will add value and bring some kind of joy or education to someone else’s day too.

[00:10:11] Thank you guys. I’ll talk to you next week. Bye .


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5 thoughts on “Autism & Shutdowns – How They Differ from Autistic Meltdowns

  1. I don’t know if personal characteristics or whatever, but even as child i didn’t have meltdowns. I only had shutdowns. I was fortunate that my my family seem to instinctively know when i needed to time to unwind.

    I’m a chronic migraineur and I have learnt that stress is perhaps my most significant trigger so a migraine often springs up shortly before I shutdown. I do wonder if i go into shutdown instead of meltdown because it is literally too painful to do anything else.

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