Autism and shutdowns

When I first experienced a shutdown, I had no idea what was going on. My boyfriend was visiting me. (We didn’t live together at that point.) I was really happy to see him, but I was also very exhausted. We were talking and I wanted to explain him something, but suddenly all my energy was gone. I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t manage to speak or move anymore. It was quite scary, because I had never experienced anything like it. I started searching on the internet and found out that I it was a shutdown.

What are shutdowns?
You can probably compare an autistic shutdown with a shutdown of a computer. When you open too many programs and windows on your computer, it might freeze and not work anymore. That’s how it feels for me to have a shutdown. I lose all my energy, get overwhelmed and extremely exhausted. Another comparison might be the energy saving mode on your phone. When you enable that function, all unnecessary programs will be shut down. In my case I lose the ability to speak and move.

Not wanting or not being able to?
You might wonder, if it’s really impossible for me to speak and move or if it “only” feels like it. If there is something really important, for example if I need to go the bathroom, I can move. And I can talk, if it’s totally necessary. But it feels impossible. And when I do it, it takes extremely much energy. It’s really not good for me to force myself to speak or move much, when I’m having a shutdown. My body is trying to get me through a really tough period during a shutdown, so I shouldn’t make it any worse by doing things I don’t have energy for.

How long does a shutdown take?
I have never met another autistic person, who has had a shutdown before. I only know from other people online that shutdowns are quite common for autistic people. But of course, I can’t know, how others experience shutdowns. I can only tell you from my own experience. So, in my case shutdowns take around 30-60 minutes. The acute phase where I feel really bad probably “only” takes 20 minutes. But a shutdown is really exhausting. So, I need time to recover. After an hour I can mostly talk and move normally again.

What triggers a shutdown?
For me, shutdowns are triggered by stress, changes, new things and exhaustion. If I do too much and don’t remember to take breaks, I can lose really much energy. And if my energy drops to a certain level, I react with a shutdown. Mostly, I can stop myself from having a shutdown, when I’m out in public, but it takes a lot of masking.

What helps during a shutdown?
The most important thing for me during a shutdown is having the possibility to lay in bed. Also, it helps to have my noise cancelling headphones and my weighted blanket. A lot of times, I feel like my body falls apart when I have a shutdown. So, my weighted blanket is perfect to get rid of that feeling.

I can’t talk during a shutdown, but I do sometimes want to communicate with my boyfriend. Therefore, he always gives me my phone, so I can write things down for him to read. It’s also possible for me to answer yes/no questions by nodding or shaking my head. So, my boyfriend always only asks simple questions like if I want something to drink.

Only my own experience
I hope you all remember, that everything I wrote is only from my own perspective. Others might experience shutdowns differently. It was just really important for me to share my own experiences with shutdowns, because there wasn’t much information online, when I got my first shutdown.

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