What is a meltdown?
A meltdown is an intense response to an overwhelming situation, it happens when someone is facing so many emotions, and their situation is overwhelming, hence an intense reaction for a certain amount of time, which is temporary. Its an outward response to external stressors.
What is a shutdown?
A shutdown is a more muted response to a situation. It happens when the individual is under extreme stress and sensory overload. It is commonly known to happen to autistic people quite frequently. This is an inward response to external stressors.
What’s the difference between the two?
A meltdown is an intense reaction to an overwhelming situation, whilst a shutdown is a more quiet and muted reaction to a situation. A meltdown, you could be going through so many emotions and react verbally, which could be shouting, crying or complaining of feeling agitation. Whilst a shutdown is more silent, so you may feel irritated, showing signs of it through body language like closed posture etc, keeping it all to yourself, whilst being mute. Some people can describe their shutdown as their senses shutting down, for example, some say their hearing will start to go or they get tunnel vision as their peripheral vision shuts down.
How can either of these affect me as an autistic person?
If you want to know more and are or suspect you’re autistic, head on over to the autistic only page about this! Hyperlink
How can i help someone when they are experiencing a meltdown, or shutdown?
Whilst i can’t speak for every autistic, we are all so different, some general and standard tips would be to as soon as immediately possible, take them to a quiet place. This gives us time to process and regulate our thoughts and emotions.
- If you’re with someone who’s experienced one of the two, try to be calm and composed. During a time where someone is going through so much internally, it can be tempting to get frustrated and upset with them but it will only make matters worse. Be careful of your tone of voice as any slight hint of agitation can immediately spike their meltdown or shutdown again, as we will be feeling very fragile and sensitive during these moments.
- Avoid asking them lots of questions, this can be overwhelming and overload them even more. Ask one question at a time so that our brains can easily process what we need to reply with during this stressful experience.
- Some people in either instance can become non-speaking – give them an option to communicate that doesn’t require verbal communication. Giving them a pen and paper can really help, or if they or you have any app that supports text to speech, please give them your phone to do this (or ask them if they have one, to use their text to speech/AAC app).
- Get them a drink and/or something to eat. Having a meltdown uses a lot of blood sugar and energy and they will be very exhausted. It can help calm some people down. If they like hot drinks get them a hot drink to sip on while they come back down again.
- sometimes some autistic people feel calmer with pressure therapy, being held or having a weighted blanket on them can calm them down – ask them would they like you to hold them or place a blanket on them.