Following on from last week’s “10 signs that Autistic Nick is getting overwhelmed” https://autisticnick.com/2022/10/05/10-signs-that-autistic-nick-is-getting-overwhelmed/

I’ve decided to follow up on the success of that one with another one.

Before we get into this – it’s time for an explanation on just what a shutdown is.

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 during 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.

And for the explanation part because I just know someone reading this is going to ask!! (You know who you are – Linda!!)

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 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).

What happens during a Shutdown?

Since no two Autistics are the same, Autistic shutdowns can look different from person to person. However, some of the commonalities are:

  • Assuming a Monotone voice
  • Staring
  • Becoming unresponsive to others
  • A feeling of being “faraway”
  • The inability to speak or move
  • Robotic body movements if movements can happen at all
  • A feeling of heaviness in the limbs
  • Wanting to be left alone
  • Difficulty forming thoughts or no thoughts at all
  • No energy
  • From the outside, behaviour may seem unrecognisable-like you’re a different person

So, if I’m about to head into a shutdown what signs should you look out for?

Well, I’m about to tell you.


If my sensory overload is all becoming too much for me then I have difficulty focusing due to competing with all that sensory input that is being thrust my way which can lead to extreme irritability, restlessness and discomfort, I may have the urge to cover my ears or shield my eyes from that sensory onslaught, I may also be feeling overly excited or “wound up” and stressed, which bleeds into fear, or anxiety about my surroundings.


Emotional overload often comes from having conflicting feelings, or too many feelings happening all at once, or not being able to act based on your gut feelings. My emotions are there for a reason – they’re there to tell me something. By ignoring those feelings doesn’t make them go away.


When I don’t feel that I have enough time to process difficult topics or subject matter, or I am being rushed into making a decision and during that process I can feel like I am being cornered.


Stress is part of everyday life and a natural reaction to change and adjustment with a major life change. Stress also occurs in response to ongoing daily hassles such as traffic, noise, or inconsiderate people. The body responds to stress with the ‘flight or fight’ response in the central and peripheral nervous system. This involves a series of chemical changes which prepare people for a stressful event.

We all suffer stress, to different degrees and levels of severity and we all get anxious sometimes.

How people with Autism deal with stress can vary on the person but when they do realise that they are stressed what can they or you do to take positive steps to relieve this.

The first step a person can take to reduce stress is to become aware of the major sources, or triggers, of stress in your life.

It can help to keep a stress awareness diary for a few weeks that lists the date, time, event, severity, symptoms, and coping strategies they used to ease the situation.

The second step is to categorise different stressful situations as follows:

Control – Uncontrollable

Important – Unimportant

This can help you to stand back from your situation in order to view it more clearly and objectively. Read more here https://autisticnick.com/2021/06/21/autistic-nick-gets-stressed-and-how-i-dealt-with-it-2/


Anxiety can happen for a range of reasons and Autistic people can vary in their ability to cope with it.

Understanding your emotions can be difficult. But by getting help from someone so that you can understand your anxiety, you can then be in a position to manage it better.

Anxiety doesn’t just affect the mind, but it can also directly affect the body as well. The psychological and physical symptoms of anxiety are closely linked and this can lead to a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break.

Some of the psychological symptoms of anxiety are, easily losing patience, having difficulty concentrating, thinking constantly about the worst outcome, difficulty sleeping and depression.

By keeping a diary and writing down exactly how you felt during a certain situation this should enable you to see the following.

What was the trigger?

What was the situation?

The time and the date?

What happened?

Did I alert someone that I was feeling anxious?

What steps did they take?

What steps did I take?

What did I do to resolve the situation?

What can I do to prevent myself from becoming anxious the next time I am out in a social situation?

How anxious did I feel on a scale from 1-10?

Was I with my carer/support worker or was I with a group of friends?

Have I informed them that I have anxiety, did they know what steps to take?

Read more here https://autisticnick.com/2021/09/27/how-autistic-nick-juggles-anxiety-stress-and-his-emotions/


I retreat to a safe space which is usually my bed and I sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep where I can be alone.


Do not push me to “snap out of it.” Doing so may do more harm.


Take the time you need before re-engaging with people, family, friends etc.


As I’m coming out of my shutdown, I might experience what is known as or referred to as an “emotional hangover” which is precipitated by prolonged stressful periods or a traumatic event.  In this case go easy on yourself and do recharging things like watching a movie or playing solitaire or doing a word search.


I tend to lean into my shutdown, as I know it won’t last forever, and I feel better once it’s done and over.


As always, I can also be found on Twitter:@AutisticNickAU and on the Official Autistic Nick Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/AutisticNickAU/

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


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