Friday, December 12, 2008

Shutdown: A Specific Type of Meltdown

I've talked quite a bit about meltdowns on this blog because they're so integral to the aspie condition but I really haven't given much attention to their poor cousin - the shutdown.

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 aspie rather than being used by children and adults as a means to an end - that would be either a tantrum or emotional blackmail.

Some aspies 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.

I think that there's a bit of a personality component to the reaction with aspies 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 aspies doubt themselves.

What Exactly is a Shutdown?
While a meltdown could be described as rage against a situation, a meltdown tends to be more of a retreat.

Behaviours which manifest during a shutdown include rolling oneself into a ball or foetal 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 aspie may act irrationally or dangerously. Unlike a meltdown however, the harmful activities are almost always directed at oneself.

The aspie may attempt self harm and may even be suicidal. They may be more likely to take reckless risks such as walking along a busy road on a dark/rainy night.

Causes
As with meltdowns, the cause of a shutdown tends to be culmulative and the trigger may bear little resemblance to the actual problem.

The real problems associated with shutdowns tend to lean towards depression, lonliness poor self image and poor self worth.

In a small child, a shutdown may be triggered because of a simple breakfast issue (perhaps 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 child's frustration at not being able to make herself understood.

In an adult, shutdowns can result from extreme events such as losing a job or a marriage break-up but they can also have very small triggers which simply "remind" an aspie of a larger pain. Perhaps a small incident at work could provoke some long term insecurities and cause a retreat.

What Do Shutdowns Feel Like?
Since these are extremely rare for me, I'm probably not the best person to answer the question but I'll try.

For me, a shutdown will move my pain to the center of my focus and I'll start thinking "what if" and "if only" scenarios. These are always counter-productive because you can't change the past and they usually only make me feel entrapped by events.

I'm not so much of a foetal position person - I tend to collapse into a heap instead. During a shutdown, I'll generally not have any contact with anyone but I do still hear voices.

As a child I'd often try pathetic ways of self termination, like holding my breath or strangling myself. Note that I didn't do this as attention-seeking behaviour but instead would attempt it unannounced and in solitude. I'd also attempt self harm but usually only by banging my head or pummeling myself with my fists. I know quite a few aspies who have, and in many cases continue to, self harm using sharp instruments. As a parent or friend, you need to keep a close eye on these situations.

I think I've only had two shutdowns in my adult life and in both cases there was no danger during the actual shutdown period but afterward, when I was moving around, my behavior was reckless and could have been self-destructive (depending on chance factors).

The "Cure"
Like all aspergers things, there's not really a cure however self-respect goes a long way towards prevention. If you have children, 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 aspie alone but in a safe place, it's generally ok 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 during a shutdown is that you're still dealing with a person on the spectrum. Don't try to force eye contact and don't touch without either being invited or being cautious to see the reaction frst.

34 comments:

angela said...

The "shutdown" -- this sounds like what I did last night. Making mountains out of molehills, it was triggered by an event that reminded me of numerous events in the past. Plus I've been stuck in the house with sick kids for two weeks in a row. That probably didn't help.

meep said...

Actually my shutdowns seem to be quite different from yours, more of a disassociation like I'm floating over my body. I lose the ability to speak (mouth goes numb, can't get word outs, can't think), and I just want to be left alone in a dark room.At this time, I am able to block out a lot of sensory information like i've turned a switch off. If someone kept talking at me, I think I'd be upset but unable to express it and unable to understand much of what they said. I rock in a corner mostly or crawl into a fetal position, so from the outside it looks the same as the meltdown you describe. But I have never had any suicidal or self-harming thoughts during this time.

Gavin Bollard said...

Meep, it sounds like your shutdown is closer to the classic shutdowns. As I said before, I'm really not the best person to describe them because I'm far more likely to meltdown than shutdown.

Testy Tiger said...

I'm not an officially diagnosed Aspie, but I have many of the traits. Throughout my life I have had many Shutdowns. Still, at 26, I experience them. I isolate completely, curl in a fetal position under lots of blankets and wish the world to stop for just a moment long enough to sort out my thoughts. Or, sometimes its more like you mentioned, the "what if's," the "coulda, shoulda. woulda" type things. Staring blanking. I tend to be more of a shut down type person rather than a meltdown. I only remember a few instances when I was young and in my teens where I actually had meltdowns. Just now, after 18months of therapy have I started to realize my reactions... I still do it, but am able to recognize it and ask for help. It's hard work.

Also, as a side note, I want to thank you for sharing all this with us, your blog has been so helpful to me. Whether I am Aspie or not (Bipolar is also up in the air), I've been able to identify with a lot of what you write and it is so helpful.

Lori said...

It is hard to put things like that in words, but you seem to have done it. A similar thing happens to me sometimes. Always has. Quoted this article on my site. Hope that is ok. Thanks.

Corrine said...

i have been reading your blog, very interesting. some great insights. this post stuck out to me quite a bit, as I don't have aspergers, but my husband never gets why when we are in a crowded place I just shutdown, or when the house gets so loud and the tv is too loud and the kids are screaming, I pretty much lose it, kind of my own melt downs but ...man...some interesting information.

n_driver said...

Wow, it's so good to hear that im not the only one. I tend towards shutdowns, and when I was a child, I tended to bang my head or pull my hair, but not cut myself. Now im 20, and still having shutdowns (am technically having one atm, and typed "aspie dealing with sadness" to come up with your blog and thanks, it's really helped me!) but now it's mainly crying and not wanting to see anyone, apart from my parents, yet still feel alone. I used to unexplainedly as a child get out of bed for no reason at all, sit against the wall hugging my knees and cry. Could you perhaps spare any insight into this?

Damo said...

Gavins on the right track but mine are more severe. The meltdown for me is pure rage (the aspie side has associated boundaries if I break it I'll have to pay for it later so don't). The shutdown is much much worse.
It can be triggered by a simple comment (think of Waterboy's trigger). I'll play it over and over again in my head, cross reference it with previous comments and catastrophise the situation. I then go to a very "dark" place with whats the point of it all. I then look for opporunistic suicides. If i drive into this lane that truck will do the job real quickly. stuff like that. (The bad thing, nobody can tell whats going on inside, I am numb with no body language or outward emotion).
But I have now devised a transcendence coping mechanism. When my whole world is spiralling out of control, I stop, find a quiet place (neutral ground/location) and clear my mind through meditation/appreciation. This then takes the edge off. I have then found with the edge removed and focus not on myself if I do a kindness for someone else I get the warm fuzzies. Psych theory through Goleman writes that you counter the emotion with its opposite. happy-sad, anger-peace etc.
For us in simple terms, its like a petulant child thats just been smacked... the pendulum swings wildly.
A word though, this is a purely internal thing and the motivation can only come from that person. If its external, it'll make it worse (unless they specifically ask for it).

Just my experience with it.

Damo said...

Sorry for the secon post but your guys asked a question
The foetal position is a self comforting thing. The rocking is the next progression. You will find the the rock matches the heart rate and bodies natural rythym. It's comforting to the next level.

Anonymous said...

can a shut down last for multiple days? the last thing my asplie friend said to me was "i love you" as he was walking away from me (not looking at me, not turning back) and it's been 5 days and he has not replied to my emails and he is on line on a chat program and he's not replying to my attempts to chat.

Gavin Bollard said...

It certainly is possible for a withdrawal to last a few days but it's unlikely that a shutdown in the proper sense of the word could.

A withdrawal which lasts several days suggests to me that there is more to it. The person could be experiencing depression or there may be other issues.

Zach said...

I wrote a while back on my blog my thoughts about Aspergers and Meltdowns. I think everyone with Aspergers is unique in how they melt down and what can be done to help them in that state.

anon said...

i just found your blog and am finding it extremely helpful and informative overall. (color me most-likely-AS-definitely NLD--but as yet undiagnosed.) i'm seeing myself in post after post.

i've heard previously about shut-downs, but i think some of the information was incomplete. i did suspect that the times when i simply curl up and fall asleep--this in response to overwhelming changes usually--are a form of shutdown. i didn't realize that the difficulty with getting out words/going silent had to do with shutdown as well. (i always assumed it was just a personal quirk. funny how so many of these are explained by various AS traits.:)

thank you so much for the information--for the blog in general.

Daniel E said...

What Exactly Is A Shutdown?
While a meltdown could be described as rage against a situation, a meltdown tends to be more of a retreat.

P.S. You have my permission to break your rule and delete my post even though it doesn't name names etc :P

Lynn said...

I sleep alot.Being overstimulated leaves wounds and nothing can heal them.
I lay underneath my weighted blanket and keep away from the threat that started the explsion within myself.Then my thoughts whirl around like a tornado around and around.I can't sooth myself I'm paralized by it.
Like the kind meep has posted.
I hide in myself and in my room dark also.I cry and tire myself out like a babys often does.
I'm not sure the diffrence between meltdown and shutdown.
But thanks for helping me understand myself all of you.
This some bad helpers don't take seriously enough to leave me alone.

Anonymous said...

The post by "meep" almost exactly describes my shutdowns. Unability to speak, extremely slow thought, sensory perception goes down to a minimum, like the world went quiet. Nothing but an empty pain, like concentrated depression weighting you down. After a while, I could at least whisper. Eventually I could slowly sit up, and slowly the world starts coming back to me, and eventually it's all gone, except for the bitter taste.

Anonymous said...

I start out with the triggering moment feeling like I am going to fall, and I have intense pressure in my chest and solar plexus. I feel I am dying and I can't breathe. I imagine killing myself to get away from the pain, then close down. I feel like I am a dead person in a body. They always pass but when I am in it, it seems permanent. I stop talking and interacting and it takes a long time to get back, but a loving touch or a kind word from someone I love can start to bring me out of it. I did not get diagnosed until I was in my early 60's. It's been a long strange journey. Thank you for this great site.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to add, that when I was a child, I used to have internal meltdowns, because I was not allowed to show emotions. So I would wait until I was alone then slap my face, pinch myself or pull my hair. I thought I was mad...never had any help. I remember not being able to speak and being punished for that in school.

Anonymous said...

I tend to beat the hell out myself.

Sami said...

2yrs & 3mos ago, diagnosed as borderline-schizoid PD. I agree BPD but not SPD. Still have questions until I found SPD is like Aspergers. All traits of it answers the questions about me. I'm not confirmed because Doc said aspergers are retarded.
I have shutdowns like meep. When I'm overstimulated, I tend to shutdown most times. Before, I meltdown in my room. I'm self-destructive. I punch walls, hit my head & body against walls. After the rage, I shutdown, I get so exhausted. I get sleepy then I fall asleep. Now, I am not allowed to self-destruct, so I mostly just shutdown though most times I want still want to punch. It makes me feel alive & I feel no pain but only later. (I've been off meds for a yr & 7mos now, Doc says I don't need them, I only need to "change".)But I recently have been having more meltdowns out in the open (& I mean where I’m not alone) & I kinda like it better. Cos when having my shutdowns or meltdowns alone w/o people around, no one is there to help me and I fail to tell or let my counselor know/see my misery. Cos if in the open, she can see me. Sadly, she rarely/barely sees/knows when I’m having a shutdown. She only sees me with it if she pays attention or look after my every move and she'd make a remark, "You seem to be looking frail."
I tend to have meltdowns when things are really too much already & I couldn't hang on any longer or suppressing isn't helping anymore & solitude cannot wait or unavailable. Though after a meltdown, I shutdown even in front of people because I'm exhausted already. I get too quiet & slow mentally & physically like walking or picking up things. When I have my meltdowns, I like it when my counselor is there to the rescue because only in meltdowns can I get a touch/hug/embrace from her. In regular days, I am only up to wishing she would embrace me even in "almost-shutting-down" times. Even feeling depressed times. & now I think she seemed to now show disinterest on me. I think I have tire her. I think she doesn't like me anymore. I think she has other people needing more of her attention than mine even though my Doc tells me she's giving me special treatment/special attention but I don't believe because I seem to be treated less than special, less than normal by her. Treated very exceptional & I mean that she doesn't treat me like the “others” like e.g. a hug. I am, I guess, the most problem person in our church of only 200 members.
Btw, she’s my computer teacher 11 yrs ago, a Sunday school teacher, a bible study leader, one of the pastors in our church, my counselor, a friend.
I'm sorry about my last parts of my sharing. I’ve been down since getting overstimulated and shutting down 5 days now. & it seems I’ve lost my counselor/best friend now after she told me that we stop meeting until 2 months later because she thinks I'm clingy after giving her bad remarks & frequently getting angry at her. & sometimes I think she may not be liking my emotions/meltdowns out in the open. The "2 months" was up a month ago. But I really think I lost her now. She doesn't understand me though she thinks she does. & I'll always be a loner. I guess I'm just too incompatible with people.
& now I can't wait to leave my hometown. So I will no longer see the people here. Still wishing to find people who understand me and can really help me and whom I can hug without me always asking for it and just receive a NO.
& I despise myself.

Sami said...

My comment is here
http://sdsjournal.blogspot.com/2010/10/my-comment-on-shutdown-specific-type-of.html

Says because it's too large.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be good to actually let a minor shutdown happen before you collapse? I mean, if you are overstimulated/sad, then withdrawing is actually a good thing. Of course that demands recognizing when you need to withdrawn before it overwhelms you.
I do not have Asperger's - but I have been said to have "several traits of the syndrome". I am in the NT range, but too weird for an NT sometimes. So there, I had those overwhelming sadness incidents, during which I was an awful person. It wasn't actually depression, because after I've slept throught the night, I felt fine again, like a computer after a reset. After such an incident I usually was able to tell what triggered it. Unfortunately, not before...
Last time I figured it out before I've melted into a pile of tears, I closed my eyes and fell half-asleep for about a half an hour. Not really sleeping, not thinking or feeling, just resting. Strangely, it helped. I woke up feeling all right again.

Anonymous said...

My shutdowns occur when I am overstimulated and cannot find escape.

Often shutdowns are triggered by long discussions on the same subject. I lose topic thread and then conversation begins to feel like a never-ending labyrinth. These lengthy conversations are painful and I find them both physically and emotionally exhausting for me.

When efforts to stop my pain fail, shutdowns are a guaranteed escape. I crawl beneath my heaviest covers sobbing. Rocking in the fetal position, I suck my thumb until I sleep.

My shutdown serves as my emotional reboot.

Anonymous said...

Nothing triggers a shut down in me more reliably than being brow beaten or otherwise emotionally abused by someone who despises, resents, or otherwise wants to "attack" my ASD. Most commonly it's my wife, in a few rare cases it's been others. What a horrible thing, I nearly jumped into an ice cold river yesterday. Typical such suicidal thoughts exit quickly. As much as I am downtrodden in an ill advised marriage situation (I am an Aspie who either never should have married or who ought to have been incredibly picky), I have a solid moral fibre and realise suicide would jeopardise my life insurance pay out. Lord come take me.

Anonymous said...

From Anonymous: "My shutdowns occur when I am overstimulated and cannot find escape.

Often shutdowns are triggered by long discussions on the same subject. I lose topic thread and then conversation begins to feel like a never-ending labyrinth. These lengthy conversations are painful and I find them both physically and emotionally exhausting for me."

I am right there with you! This totally me! In just the past week, my husband and I believe I have Aspergers. All the online tests I've taken have me high on the scale. I'm trying to find someone to officially diagnose me now.

He is going thru prescription drug withdrawls right now and is very emotionally needy. He's trying to find his fix through me - and I just can't offer it. All he wants to do is talk and talk about "feelings" and all I want to do is run away.

Whenever I am around him now I tend to start to shutdown. This morning was exceptionally bad. Thank goodness I had to leave to go to work. But I know once I'm around him again, it will just keep continuing - I really feel like I'm going to lose it. The ability to maintain control is almost non-existent. I just want to go to a room where I can't be seen, curl up and cry and be left completely alone. If only he would just leave me alone...

Anonymous said...

I just cease to function. Suicidal ideation increases a lot, and I avoid everyone. Doesn't help I lost my job and moved back home - it just drags on forever.

Sonic the Artichoke said...

I've been diagnosed with ADHD, but I resent that diagnosis, mostly because I know I truely have HFA, or something on the ASD spectrum that pervades my entire life, and isn't confined to merely "ADHD." The diagnosis helps though because of the drugs, I take adderall 2-3 times a week to help with school (I'm 19) and it helps a lot. I used to fail in college because of mounting frustrations from attention leading to depression and apathy. Though recently I haven't had my adderall due to stupid financial reasons.

I've been off it for 2 weeks and have been relatively fine, except that I sunk back into my stupid depressed apathetic rut after a math problems pissed me off. Yeah, one math problem. What led was a classic shutdown preceeded by a short lived tantrum where I kicked a hole in my grandparent's wall and shouted obscenities at the tv. I sat behind a brick wall in the sun for two hours before my granddad found me. This has been happening to me my whole life. I am naturally prone to building up stress and anxiety, and I try to relieve it as much as I can, by running and talking with people, but that only goes so far. Sometimes you just need to let it all out and start with a clean slate.

It takes the rest of the day to get over my feelings of anxiety and frustration during which I listen to Nirvana and rip paper into little shreds (like the guy from the Langoliers)

The preceeding story happened today, and I write this in the midst of the song "Heart Shaped Box" I'll be fine tomorrow, and I await it's rewards (finishing my stupid homework and calling Walgreens for a follow up interview to get a job)

Anonymous said...

I had a couple shutdowns as a lil kid.
I would mainly meltdown, though. I knew that screaming would do nothing, but then I had to. I was so frustrated that screaming and sobbing, then usually ending up in a sobbing, pathetic heap on my bed. Hasn't happened in almost a year though. (I'm 13.)

Anonymous said...

I have not been diagnosed as an Aspie, but have many characteristics of it. Another similar is Highly Sensitive- both require measured and aware behavior of environment- internal as well as external.

I also had an autonomic nervous system problem RSD, which I overcame with extreme relaxation therapy and Elavil. Prayer, too. I also had premenstral syndrome, and found that for ANY NERVOUS SYSTEM PROBLEM (irritation, sadness as well) getting a huge dose of Vitamin B complex daily keeps the worst of it away. The Complex feeds the nervous system. B100 from Vit World is good. If I'm crying, I know immediately that I need Vit B, and 20 min later, I'm back to myself. Take the B as a complex, as they work as catalysts for the other B's. Take a large enough dose as well, with water. If you don't, you won't get the relief; and its water soluble, so you'll just pee out bright yellow/green when you have sufficient in your system.
Good luck, and great blog.

Loving Mum said...

I am not sure if I am posting this in the right place but would so so appreciate some advice.

I have a lovely 6 year old son who has Aspergers. He has recently suffered a huge trauma as a result of an assault at the hands of his dad (who has been charged and my son is now safe).

Since the assault my son who was managing well at school, is having meltdowns and shutdowns in class, difficulties staying still and concentrating and generally trying to withdraw himself from everything.

He is clearly just overloaded internally with all he is trying to process from the incident and resultant changes in his home life. His teacher is supportive but not sure what to do. It is not legal to keep him at home and stay quite and clam and feeling secure with me till he can take the stimulation of school.

Can anyone suggest techniques to help us release some existing build up stimulation and to sooth in the moment in the classroom when he is not coping?

Unfortunately at the same time as I am wanting to help him manage this I am dealing with many legal implications and being sole provider so the advice of someone with insight and experience in this area would be such a help.

Hope you don't mind that I'm not signing out with my name.

UnderINK said...

My shut downs resemble yours. It's not a good idea to speak to or be around me during a shut down, as it's a way for me to totally block sensory information that's overwhelming me. I also can't speak during a shut down. I've also never self harmed while shut down. I have in the aftermath of a meltdown though, in a period which vaguely resembles a shut down but isn't a legitimate one.

Meg said...

I'm an adult and have not been diagnosed with anything except dyslexia as a child but I have a lot of asberger traits.I can totally relate to shutting down because I did this the night after my husband dies,went into my closet and shut my door rolled up into some blankets in the dark in there and even though I had other relatives in the house I wouldn't talk to anybody.My mom finally found me there.I hate that I put her through that.

Anonymous said...

I had a shutdown once in which I actually blacked out...I could feel everything around me starting to fade away because of the situation I was in....I couldn't speak. I sat there shaking feeling like I was gasping for air and then out I go. I haven't had one like that since.

Anonymous said...

In my past I shutdown a lot. The mental health system told me it is a bad thing to do, so after years of trying not to shut down I end up exploding in a meltdown. Now I tend to be volatile in my explosions and I cant control myself. It's one or the other. They say its wrong but I working so hard to stop doing it makes me ill.