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AuTalkz II - 009 - Shutdowns



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This is something which was actually difficult to draw, because it's hard to draw and explain exactly what happens during an autistic shutdown.

An autistic shutdown is different from a meltdown, in that the person will typically just lose all energy and retreat into themselves.  They can last hours depending on what caused it, and there's really no ETA on when a person will come out of it.

When I have an autistic shutdown, I stop talking and barely respond to outside stimuli; if someone asks me a question or keeps badgering me, I either don't move or might nod or shake my head.
I feel like talking is just something I can't do at the moment...that it takes too much energy to merely MOVE, let alone talk.  I really don't communicate much of at all when in that mode.

I also retreat from the world, and will typically just sit in whatever spot I first had the shutdown in, curled into a protective ball.  I can't bring myself to move to get a drink of water, or eat, or anything else when the shutdown is at its worst.  I'm a million miles away from reality during this time, and any harsh stimuli can push me deeper into the shutdown (such as someone yelling, a loud television, etc).

For a while, I just sort of drift in this nothingness and have no energy to do anything.  Personally, I prefer to be left alone during shutdowns.  When I have the energy to move, I might pull a blanket over my head or turn off all the lights in my room.
As I start to come out of it more, I might read or play on my 3ds under the blanket, or play solitaire or mahjongg on the computer (simple/repetitive games...single-player mahjongg is simple/repetitive to me).

If it's a really bad shutdown, I might not speak for the rest of the day.  Other times, typically due to having a cat, I feel I can come out of that enough to speak occasionally.

What non-autistic people need to know about shutdowns is that we're not doing it to aggravate anyone, nor are we doing it on purpose.  It's not like a temper tantrum a child throws to get attention.  If someone who typically has no problems with verbal communication suddenly stops talking during a shutdown (like I do), it's not that we're ignoring you, we've just shut down; we have no energy to talk, and the real world is just too dangerous and full of stimuli for us to continue to deal with at the moment.

It's a difficult behavior for parents to understand, especially parents of kids who are autistic yet their child typically talks.  That parent might think that the child suddenly is ignoring them or being rebellious...I was threatened a couple of times that I'd be ignored right back.
Again, we're not ignoring people or meaning any disrespect...we just went into overload and can't handle a situation, so we've withdrawn into a hard to explain place where it's not scary and nice and quiet.

Give the person time, and maybe even discuss with the person/child what they need when they go into a shutdown; if they need to be left alone, give them time to leave them be or else it'll just get worse and take longer for them to emerge.  If they need to be covered with a blanket or something, that's because it helps in the "retreat" and the feeling of safety which a shutdown attempts to mimic.

Sometimes, an autistic person can feel when a shutdown is coming.  Again, it's best to talk with them about it (not during a shutdown) so that they can give some indication (like holding up a flashcard, or if they have no issues with verbal communication to just come out say it) that they're feeling overwhelmed and a shutdown is on its way.

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ErraticBASARAfan's avatar

I'm curious about how a shutdown differs from shock.