I shut down for about three hours on Saturday. I don’t know exactly what the triggers were this time – I do know things have been building up and getting on top of me lately. I’ve been feeling more insecure than usual and I’ve largely avoided making phone calls and other interaction with strangers. I don’t even know what the “final straw” was this time – one minute I was eating my breakfast; ten minutes later I was sitting, hunched over, rocking gently and staring into space.

I am almost completely non-verbal while shut down. I hear what’s going on around me but I can’t respond – words rush around my head but I can’t get them out of my mouth. It’s as if there’s a paralysis. I can’t write either – my fine motor coordination is affected too much for me to form the letters. In that state I feel like an observer in my own body – I’m stuck inside without much control – just along for the ride.

I can’t handle much stimulation while shut down – I will actively avoid loud noises, physical contact and bright or flashing lights if I can’t block them out. I prefer to be left alone in a quiet, darkened room until I come out of the state naturally. In fact, too much sensory input while I’m shut down can switch me into a meltdown. I avoid eye contact – I just stare blankly ahead or sometimes close my eyes, more so if I know I’m alone because I worry about being touched unexpectedly if somebody approaches me.

The best way to approach me when I’m shut down is to speak slowly and quietly in a soothing tone – the actual words don’t matter so much. Don’t get too close to me because that makes me uncomfortable, don’t shout and don’t sound aggressive – any of that will deepen and prolong the shutdown. A hug is usually the only contact I can handle – but if I stiffen up then I’m not receptive at that point in time. In general the best thing to do is be patient and wait for me to come out of it.

Prevention is better than a cure – so the proverb goes. How can a shutdown be prevented? Well, it’s a reaction to stress, so prevention is all about reducing or even avoiding stressful stimuli. What I find most stressful are unfamiliar social situations and forms of aggression or confrontation. But a shutdown often isn’t an immediate reaction to a particular event. It will be a combination of factors that build up over time – possibly even years – and can be triggered by something seemingly so trivial that I might not even be aware of what it was that pushed me over the edge.

This can be confusing for people around me who may not realise what is happening – that I have shut down – and try to interact with me without any response. I’ve had people accuse me of being ignorant or sulky – as if I have any control over shutting down and am just choosing not to speak to be awkward. I find that particularly insulting – just because I don’t have many obvious outward signs of the shutdown there is an assumption that I’m being deliberately uncommunicative. So let me say it again: I have no control over a shutdown. When it happens I am simply along for the ride, trapped inside until I get a measure of conscious control over my body again. How could anybody really think I’d shutdown if I had a choice? So please have a little patience and respect.

13 thoughts on “Shutdown

  1. @mybrainyourbrain: That's it exactly – they talk louder and become pushy. And I've seen a similar reaction to people with hearing difficulties: they just talk at them more loudly and treat them as if they were stupid. How patronising! These insensitive people are the rude ones.


  2. Oh wow, bjforshaw, this is what I have always called "stopping". I tried to explain this to a friend of mine once. I tried to explain it as if my body had become mired in cement or mud or something like that, but failed miserably in describing it. But you've described it extremely well. When I was young this used to make my family very upset and when it happened occasionally in school the kids would slap at me or put their mouths right up to my ears and yell. It was so unbelievably horrible. Most NTs just do not understand this.I hope your article will help others to understand this better.


  3. Hello Bird. Thank you: I also hope it will help others understand the nature of this reaction. "Stopping" is a very appropriate description.I have tried unsuccessfully to speak to people about it in the past, but the words only coalesce into a coherent shape when I am writing. Hence posts like this.I always appreciate feedback because it lets me know I'm not the only one to go through these things – that I'm not crazy; just different.


  4. I can't tell you how invaluable your blog is to me. My son is unable to communicate his own experiences to me. Most of the time, I feel completely at a loss parenting him. I use your blog as a tool. Sometimes it serves as a reminder, and sometimes I learn something new about what my son might be experiencing. I hope someday he will be able to communicate so effectively, either through spoken words or written. Until then, I am grateful you are willing to share with complete strangers. Thank you.


  5. I'm new to your blog. This entry is great! You describe it so clearly! It's so difficult to explain NTs what I experience and I don't always find the words. So maybe I lend some from your blog if that's ok!


  6. this is all very helpful to me to understand my 18 year old son who is basically recovered from autism but has a few Asperger's characteristics. He does like his alone time in his room and soon will be going off to college with roommates????


  7. Thankyou for existing. My wife is in total shutdown right now and I know that I have to keep it together and stay calm myself, but I'm finding it hard. I also know there's nobody I can talk to because she'll be embarrassed and probably angry if she later finds out I've been talking to others about it. I think partly this is due to a weeks-long depressive episode I recently experienced. She was OK earlier and now she's gone, she's entirely checked out. Totally unresponsive. I feel terribly scared and alone. Thank you all for your honesty and clarity.


  8. Yes, thank you so much for articulating your thoughts and emotions when you go through these difficult periods. My husband (who, I'm pretty sure has Apergers) has been going through a sutdown lately and I find your blog very helpful in trying to understand a bit what he might be going through. He had a total meltdodwn over a week ago – and was pretty verbally abusive towards me, but now he seems to be depressed and I'm not sure how to support him. I also have depression and anxiety – but the difference is that I'm very social and being around people really helps me. It's so difficult sometimes, because – while I need affection – he seems to need to be left alone. In any case, your blog helps me in trying not to take his behaviour so personally.


  9. I love this post. Once again, we share the same issue and you have put it into words eloquently and succinctly. I published this to my fb in hopes those around me understand. Thank you, Amy


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