Meltdowns, Elopements, Shutdowns, and Sensory Overloads – Oh MY!

Hi, my name is Lyric Rivera. I am Autistic and 36 years old, and I have had meltdowns my entire life. I still have meltdowns even now as an adult.

In addition to meltdowns, I also have shutdowns (and may even elope occasionally).

Many long-time readers know what meltdowns are (because I’ve spoken about them regularly). However, April often brings many new people into my world. So if you’re new here, welcome! I’m going to go into some basics for you.

Meltdowns, Elopements, Shutdowns, and Sensory Overload – Oh MY!

Meltdowns, elopements, shutdowns, and other types of overloads are MEDICAL EVENTS where someone’s fight-or-flight-freeze response has been triggered. (Additionally, some Autistics may fawn when triggered, depending on the situation.)

Fight-Flight-Freeze / Meltdown-Elope-Shutdown

The fight-flight-freeze response is an automatic stress response that keeps us safe from perceived dangers. It’s an involuntary reaction that the person has little to no control over.

In ancient times this response would have saved us from animals and other threats, so we can spring to action before we have time to think about it.

Our reactions, once triggered, are reflexive. As the adrenaline pumps through us, diverting energy and oxygen from our power-hungry brains to our legs for running and our arms for fighting, it clouds our judgment and ability to think and communicate clearly.

To stay safe, systems in the body shift from typical operations by shutting down functions not essential to survival (such as digestion).

Once the amygdala alarm goes off, what comes next is not a conscious decision.

A person who’s had this alarm triggered may become defensive or combative; they may run or sprint away (without consideration for their safety), or they may freeze, shutting down and imploding in on themselves in a catatonic ball.

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