Thursdays and I are currently not friends.

Once a day of the week that I thought was my friend, a day of the week that I was reliant on to be there for me has let me down.

You know in a movie where they slow down a scene where someone is getting repeatedly shot with bullets from a gun and the person getting shot is slowly dodging them that’s how it was for me on Thursday.

I cannot simply piece together fragments of the day to pinpoint how it all came crashing down around me.

This huge wave of every emotion that a human being has waved over me and drowned me.

There I was sinking, reaching out for a life ring and there wasn’t one.

I’ve barely said two words since and I’m unaware of how long it will take me to finally come down from this but what I didn’t realise was that in fact it wasn’t just a case of being overwhelmed but it was what’s known as a shutdown.

But what is a shut down?


Shutdowns are when the Autistic person is still experiencing perceived sensory overload to an environmental trigger. Shutdowns can be defined as a person’s brain going into a protective mode, where it ‘shuts off’ momentarily.

Autistic Individuals experiencing sensory shutdown often appear immobile; they may lay in one position and not move or blink. They may not hear their names being called and are unable to respond.

These individuals in the midst of a shutdown often retreat from the outside world, by going inside, or within themselves for comfort, in an effort to self-calm and remove whatever caused their stress.

During my shutdown, I partially withdraw from the world around them. I didn’t respond well to communicating with anymore, and I retreated to my room a lot more. What I learnt was from researching shutdowns is that shutdowns tend to be more discreet and may sometimes go unnoticed.

But what causes a shutdown?


Shutdowns are usually caused by high levels of stress, to a point where the person with Autism in no longer able to cope. These can be triggered by any situation and can be the result of an accumulation of stressful events over a period of time (hours, days or even weeks). People with Autism tend to start their day with a higher level of stress and anxiety, leaving them with less room to cope with additional stress. So, they may reach crisis point more quickly than others.

Common triggers may include:

  • Too many demands placed on the person with autism, especially if they are not related to each other
  • Unexpected changes in plans or routines
  • Sensory overload
  • Social overload (being exposed to too much social interaction, this is particularly relevant to shutdown).


For me I am still working and writing down all the events that had led up to this point and figuring out what I needed to do for this to have not occurred in the first place.

I’m currently tapping into all of my available strategies that I have as an Autistic person to deal with this.

But what can you do if you witness someone Autistic having a shutdown?


  • Give me the time to withdraw and recover.
  • Consider whether you can use their special interests to help them come out of their shutdown.
  • Some people with Autism may like some contact during a shutdown, like a hand on their shoulder, or a quiet word. This is entirely up to the person. Discuss with the person with Autism when they are not stressed how they would like to be supported.


Spend some time discussing what happened with the person with Autism if they are able.

Find out what caused it (they might mention the final trigger to start with, so you may have to go back further with them), and what they would like you to do if this happens in the future.

If they showed behaviours which may have caused them or others injury, try and help them find safer ways of relieving the stress.

Make detailed records of the situations before, during and after the incident and discuss these situations with others who know the person well.

Always ensure that the person with Autism is central to any discussions on their health and wellbeing.


How do you deal with having an Autistic shutdown?

Let me know about your experiences in the comments section below

As always, I can also be found on Twitter:@AutisticNickAU and on the official Autistic Nick Facebook Page

Thank you for reading and I will see you next time for more thoughts from across the spectrum.

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