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Meltdown's quiet cousin: What's an Autistic shutdown?

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

Many people are familiar with 'meltdowns,' as they are more commonly discussed in the Autism community. However, shutdowns are very prevalent within the Autistic community, but are frequently overlooked or misunderstood. So what is an Autistic shutdown? Read on to find out and learn how you can help.



Learn the signs


Sometimes, when an Autistic person is under extreme duress, they can enter a state known as a 'shutdown.' There are many ways a shutdown can present, and it will depend on the individual and the situation that caused it.


Some common signs are:

  • lack of verbal communication

  • glassy eyes

  • gaped jaw

  • covering ears with hands

  • silent crying

  • shaking or shivering

  • rocking, fetal position

  • lying on the floor


Identify the cause


An Autistic person can be pushed into a shutdown by many factors, including:


After the storm


A shutdown is an extremely harrowing experience that can result in exhaustion. An autistic person may need time to recover, and may be affected for up to several days after the event.


This recovery period can include:

  • sleeping for long periods

  • temporary reduction or loss of ability to speak

  • loss of interest in food

  • reduced cognitive ability

Remember, going into a shutdown is not under the Autistic person's control, and should never be held against them.


Make a plan together


Needs vary, so never assume that what works for one Autistic person in shutdown will work for another. Firm touch may calm one Autistic person down, but startle another. Some Autistic people need help grounding themselves, while others need to be left alone to calm down.


For this reason, it can be very helpful for Autistics and their loved ones to discuss coping strategies for shutdowns before the shutdowns actually occur. It also helps to gain understanding of one's own sensory needs and communicate them to people around you.



We're here for you


If you or someone you know experiences shutdowns, our autism life coaches can help you to identify triggering situations, come up with strategies for prevention, and cope with shutdowns with they happen.

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