Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders


Shutdowns: A Specific Type of Meltdown

Technically, there aren't too many differences between meltdowns and shutdowns. Both are extreme reactions to everyday stimuli. Both tend to be the result of long-term unresolved issues rather than the more obvious triggers, and both are almost completely out-of-the-control of the Aspergers (high functioning autistic) youngster rather than being used by kids and adults as a means to an end (which would be either a tantrum or emotional blackmail).

Some Aspergers kids are more prone to meltdowns while others lean more towards the shutdown model. It's possible to do both, but this depends greatly on the root cause of the problem. There's a personality component to the reaction with Aspergers kids who are more sure of themselves or more fiercely independent leaning towards meltdowns rather than shutdowns, but again there's a wide variance depending upon the feelings brought on by the trigger. Some events can make even the most confident of Aspergers kids doubt themselves.

What exactly is a shutdown?

While a meltdown could be described as rage against a situation, a shutdown tends to be more of a retreat. Behaviors which manifest during a shutdown include rolling oneself into a ball or fetal position, crawling under objects or lying face down or completely under the covers on a bed. Gaze avoidance tends to increase significantly during a shutdown, and conversation is non-existent.

As with meltdowns, in a shutdown situation, the Aspergers youngster may act irrationally or dangerously. Unlike a meltdown however, the harmful activities are almost always directed at oneself. The Aspergers youngster may attempt self-harm and may even be suicidal. He/she may be more likely to take reckless risks (e.g., attempting to jump out of a bedroom window).

What causes a shutdown?

As with meltdowns, the cause of a shutdown tends to be cumulative, and the trigger may bear little resemblance to the actual problem. The real problems associated with shutdowns tend to lean towards depression, loneliness, poor self-image and poor self-worth.

In a small child, a shutdown may be triggered because of a simple breakfast issue (e.g.,  they were given something they don't like). In this case, the cause may actually have nothing to do with breakfast at all - but rather it may be symptomatic of the youngster's frustration at not being able to make himself understood.

What does a shutdown look like in Aspergers adults?

In grown-ups, shutdowns can result from extreme events (e.g., losing a job, marriage break-up, etc.), but they can also have very small triggers, which simply remind the Aspergers adult of a larger pain (e.g., a small incident at work can provoke some long-term insecurities and cause a retreat).

A shutdown will move some form of emotional pain to the center of the adult's focus, and he/she may start contemplating "what if" and "if only" scenarios. These thoughts are always counter-productive, because you can't change the past, and they usually only make the Aspie feel entrapped by events. During a shutdown, the adult may collapse into a heap and will generally not have any contact with anyone.

What can be done?

Like all Aspergers traits, there's not really a cure; however, self-respect goes a long way towards prevention. If you have Aspergers kids, it's very important to counter any negative messages they're receiving from others. If those negative messages are coming from teachers or family, then you may need to get involved yourself.

Unlike meltdowns (where it's best to leave the Aspergers youngster alone - but in a safe place), it's generally helpful to talk in a soothing voice during a shutdown. Just make sure that you're careful what you say - and keep things positive. The only thing to remember when soothing your Aspie during a shutdown is that you're still dealing with a child on the autism spectrum. Don't try to force eye contact, and don't touch the child without either being invited to do so - or being cautious to see the reaction first.

Preventing Meltdown and Shutdowns in Aspergers Children


Anonymous said...

my son has shutdowns more than meltdowns i never knew there was more than one kind... thanks for the post makes sence now weve been told to grab and hold him when hes trying to hurt himself since it can get serious. he still managed to bang his head good last one we had. does anyone else see a kid that doesnt remember what happened in a shutdown? ours claims he cant remember its what led us to the therapist saying something is wrong... they said aspergers. he was missdiagnosed for years

Anonymous said...

My daughter is also more prone to shutdown more than meltdown as she has such a beautiful and caring nature. She has now learnt that rather than going through the frustration of trying to explain herself verbally, it's much easier for her to draw a picture or act it out (the arts, both visual and performing, are a life long obsession) and she asks for visual cues when she can't understand whats being explained to her, or she simply says "I don't understand, can you please show me another way?" So she is basically overcoming her difficulties her own way to avoid frustration.

Anonymous said...

My 4-year-old is just like this. I hadn't read anything about shutdowns before, but this is exactly what he does when he is distressed (hides under the bed, curls up on the floor, etc.).

Anonymous said...

My 8 yr old has meltdowns at home, but he will shutdown at school, so that's when I get a phone call to come and get him.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what's worse. My 5 year old has the mother of all meltdowns. It's so hard. However I'm sure that it feels helpless when your child goes into shutdown mode.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

I had not read about shutdowns before either - this is so so helpful!

Jimmy Riddle said...

I must admit I hadn't realised shutdown was a thing, my son has meltdowns, but they are few and far between just now, he seems to have switched to shut downs instead. His self harming behaviour is not present during shutdowns, just meltdowns. I would rather deal with a shut down, but after reading this I realise I still have a lot to do :) Thank you x

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for this information. Both my husband and son were diagnosed with HFA. I am learning much about the issue surrounding the disorder, and through mistakes and life experience. I hope this article helps others as well.

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the Aspergers child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Aspergers Children

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and the Asperger’s child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Aspergers Teens

Although Aspergers is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager with Aspergers are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the Aspergers teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

Click here to read the full article…

Aspergers Children “Block-Out” Their Emotions

Parenting children with Aspergers and HFA can be a daunting task. In layman’s terms, Aspergers is a developmental disability that affects the way children develop and understand the world around them, and is directly linked to their senses and sensory processing. This means they often use certain behaviors to block out their emotions or response to pain.

Click here to read the full article…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children With Aspergers Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with Aspergers face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

Living with an Aspergers Spouse/Partner

Research reveals that the divorce rate for people with Aspergers is around 80%. Why so high!? The answer may be found in how the symptoms of Aspergers affect intimate relationships. People with Aspergers often find it difficult to understand others and express themselves. They may seem to lose interest in people over time, appear aloof, and are often mistaken as self-centered, vain individuals.

Click here to read the full article…

Online Parent Coaching for Parents of Asperger's Children

If you’re the parent of a child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism, you know it can be a struggle from time to time. Your child may be experiencing: obsessive routines; problems coping in social situations; intense tantrums and meltdowns; over-sensitivity to sounds, tastes, smells and sights; preoccupation with one subject of interest; and being overwhelmed by even the smallest of changes.

Click here to read the full article...

Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Parents, teachers, and the general public have a lot of misconceptions of Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism. Many myths abound, and the lack of knowledge is both disturbing and harmful to kids and teens who struggle with the disorder.

Click here to read the full article...

My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content