View Full Version : Autistic shutdowns


Fortune
01-11-13, 02:15 AM
Shutdowns come up occasionally on this forum (as a whole) and sometimes people tend to label things as shutdowns that for them do qualify as shutting down, but may not be the same thing autistic people mean by "shutdown."

So, I looked this page up. It was written by an autistic woman who collected numerous anecdotes about shutdowns and collated it into this article describing various degrees and kinds of autistic shutdowns.

I experience both partial and total shutdowns, but it is harder to identify the partial shutdowns because I am still capable of functioning in some ways, but not all. Total shutdowns are dramatic enough that they're fairly obvious when they happen.

http://everything2.com/user/Zifendorf/writeups/shutdown

Crazygirl79
01-11-13, 04:04 AM
I had one of these yesterday and I could barely complete my shopping without a lot of assistance which I normally don't need when I go shopping or perform any other activities of daily living.

Thankfully I don't have those too often these days but I had them frequently when I was in my late teens and early 20's....they felt like sh*t and I wouldn't wish them on my worst enemy!!

Selena

Fortune
01-11-13, 04:35 AM
Mostly when shopping I get overloaded enough that I am not functioning as well as I could be, which probably means I am dealing with some degree of partial shutdown. I know that there have been times that certainly unexpected loud noises actually effectively switched my brain off for the duration and I had to reassemble an idea of what I was doing before it started because I had forgotten everything.

I have total shutdowns 2-3 times a week usually, with bad weeks having a much higher number. From December 24-26 in 2010 I had seven total shutdowns. Three of them were on Christmas day.

Crazygirl79
01-11-13, 04:48 AM
I was wrecked before I even went shopping...all because I played a computer game beforehand...

Selena

Fortune
01-11-13, 05:30 AM
That can do it. I've had video games wreck me more than once.

tudorose
01-11-13, 05:45 AM
The first 4 in the Partial section are what I experience.

That's why my doc says I have 'Asperger tendancies'.

And it happens in the exact order of how they've listed it plus the loss of memory thing too.

Sometimes if I'm lucky I have enough awareness to know what's going on and I can get myself home in time.

Last time I had one of these was in June after a series of very stressful events.

The worst one I had was in 2003 (PTSD event) that lasted for several months. DH didn't understand and thought I was going to do away with myself. I wasn't, I just couldn't communicate. And then for a long time after that I could only communicate in writing.

Amtram
01-11-13, 10:35 AM
Fascinating stuff from a clinical perspective, but I'd be interested in the personal perception of it. The mechanics are one thing, but do you perceive it, for example, as active or passive? Pre-emptive or protective? Is it something you can tell is coming on, or is it spontaneous?

The article mentions recovery ability in a couple of places - are there aftereffects that persist, and how do you feel them and feel about them?

Fortune
01-11-13, 06:09 PM
I tend to feel some degree of cognitive "static" when I am headed toward a total shutdown. Someone else who chats with me often enough to notice has pointed out that my typing and ability to express myself in language clearly becomes problematic when one is approaching.

When I feel that "static" I try to take a break and rest, and I have a less severe shutdown than I would if I ignore it and try to continue.

The static is a warning sign, but it may also be a series of more limited shutdowns. On occasion I have lost the ability to speak, the ability to write, and the ability to read (although not all at the same time). I find that my ability to interpret what I see and hear can degrade as well, although I mostly notice this in video games, as my ability to play declines and I lose the ability to distinguish monsters from background.

I think it is a response to stress, typically stress related to sensory overload and sometimes emotional overload. An intense meltdown often leads to total shutdowns for me.

As far as aftereffects go, losses can linger for hours or days. I've lost speech for a week in the past year, which was my longest period in my adult life. I also find it problematic to try to do things like listen to music, play video games, or watch certain kinds of movies or TV shows afterward, as they can trigger more shutdowns.

I've had long-term shutdowns as well - The last one I had lasted for close to a year, and during that time I lost several skills as well as had significantly reduced ability to handle overload. I have mostly recovered from that.

I have also had repeated periods of burnout, often triggered by time in college or working. In both cases I start having multiple shutdowns at work or school and eventually find it difficult to keep going - hence multiple instances of dropping out. I don't really have enough jobs to outline a proper pattern, but the shutdown issues did happen in all three of the jobs I've had over the past 22 years.

I find that I in general have less capacity for stress, overload, and functioning after every burnout. It became very obvious to me in 2004-2005, after I had three very closely spaced burnout periods over attending college and trying to sustain my freelance writing work.

I do not know if this answers your questions, but I hope it is informative.

Amtram
01-11-13, 07:02 PM
That's actually really good information. I might think of some other questions later. . .

Sandy4957
01-11-13, 07:15 PM
Very interesting Fortune. Almost sounds like an outside observer could mistake a full shutdown for a seizure.

Lunacie
01-11-13, 08:11 PM
Very interesting Fortune. Almost sounds like an outside observer could mistake a full shutdown for a seizure.

That's a very interesting thought.

I'm pretty sure I've had some partial shutdowns. It's possible that some of
what I called depression may have been a nearly complete shutdown?

daveddd
01-11-13, 08:19 PM
how long can a shut down last?

she mentions an emotional shut down that shares features of alexthymia

can this be from an emotional overload?

Spacemaster
01-11-13, 08:58 PM
I'm pretty sure I haven't had total shut down, but I'm almost positive that I've had many many partial shut-downs.

Mine are due to stress, and it's usually when I'm put on the spot.

For example, when the Medicare adviser showed up to inspect our paperwork to ensure that we were following guidelines, and had everything documented properly. I was already nervous about her visit, because I knew my paperwork would most certainly have problems. The more she would ask me to provide files, and show her examples, I got increasingly panicky. I could feel myself start to lose it. Eventually I ended up threatening to quit my job if they didn't take me off of the diabetic shoe department, and I ended up bawling my eyes out. When given the opportunity to clear my head and work with the lady again, I just couldn't do anything. I couldn't think, I couldn't understand anything. All I could do was stare blankly at my files and notebooks. It was like the thinking and understanding part just shut down. The lady would tell me that all I had to do was ____, but I just couldn't figure out where I should start, or what to do at all. The task was simple, but it was as if someone just wiped my brain clean of anything useful.

Fortune
01-11-13, 09:21 PM
Just to be clear, btw, I only speak for myself with these answers. Other people may vary. I read somewhere that Temple Grandin observed that some autistic people are more susceptible than others, and that this susceptibility tends to be fairly impairing.

how long can a shut down last?

Hours, days, weeks, months, years. Total shutdowns (for me) tend to last a few hours at most. I've been trying to find a way to verbalize how my skills and abilities fluctuate over time, and seem to have an overall decline over time that is not really explainable otherwise, and I think shutdowns explain it. Being in a constant state of mild-to-severe decompensation is stressful.

she mentions an emotional shut down that shares features of alexthymia

can this be from an emotional overload?

I think so. I experienced an emotional shutdown during December 2010 in response to what appeared to be very bad news. Normally I am not that aware of my own emotions and can't explain them with much detail, but for a time it was like there were no emotions at all.

My mother describes having had an emotional shutdown as a part of PTSD, although she is not autistic herself.

Fortune
01-11-13, 09:22 PM
That's a very interesting thought.

I'm pretty sure I've had some partial shutdowns. It's possible that some of
what I called depression may have been a nearly complete shutdown?

Some of my experiences of leaden paralysis are similar to complete shutdowns. The difference is that depression is more distressing and involves more rumination and sustained thought continuity. That is, I have a clear chain of thought no matter how negative. With a complete shutdown, I essentially don't have any chains of thought, it's like my brain has a reset button and someone is jamming it as fast as possible.

Fortune
01-11-13, 09:23 PM
Very interesting Fortune. Almost sounds like an outside observer could mistake a full shutdown for a seizure.

fracturedstory has suggested that they might be a form of seizure.

Amtram
01-11-13, 09:51 PM
Are input and output shut down at the same time? e.g., can you understand words but not speak, or think in words but not express in words? What kind of recall do you have of the shutdowns and what was going on around you after they're over?

daveddd
01-11-13, 10:01 PM
Just to be clear, btw, I only speak for myself with these answers. Other people may vary. I read somewhere that Temple Grandin observed that some autistic people are more susceptible than others, and that this susceptibility tends to be fairly impairing.



Hours, days, weeks, months, years. Total shutdowns (for me) tend to last a few hours at most. I've been trying to find a way to verbalize how my skills and abilities fluctuate over time, and seem to have an overall decline over time that is not really explainable otherwise, and I think shutdowns explain it. Being in a constant state of mild-to-severe decompensation is stressful.



I think so. I experienced an emotional shutdown during December 2010 in response to what appeared to be very bad news. Normally I am not that aware of my own emotions and can't explain them with much detail, but for a time it was like there were no emotions at all.

My mother describes having had an emotional shutdown as a part of PTSD, although she is not autistic herself.

my expressive issues are always bad, but get much worse the less my adhd symptoms are controlled

but the worse my output gets, the better my input abilities become

i wonder if that is a adhd shutdown?

Fortune
01-11-13, 10:04 PM
Are input and output shut down at the same time? e.g., can you understand words but not speak, or think in words but not express in words? What kind of recall do you have of the shutdowns and what was going on around you after they're over?

No. Sometimes input shuts down, sometimes output shuts down. Not all kinds of input and output shut down either.

In complete shutdowns I have very little recall of what happened during the shutdown. Mostly impressions of physical sensations and occasional stray thoughts that I manage to recall afterward.

ADHD Gang
01-11-13, 10:18 PM
Are shutdowns and meltdowns the same?

Amtram
01-11-13, 10:22 PM
Well, there may be some connection emotionally, but no, they're different. Read the link in Fortune's first post, and it'll give you a good understanding of what they are, or at least how they present themselves.

Fortune
01-11-13, 10:22 PM
Meltdowns are totally different.

Crazygirl79
01-11-13, 11:30 PM
In my own personal experiences I can feel when I'm going into shutdown mode.

Internally I generally feel weak, drained of almost every bit of energy I have and I get spaced out, people talk to me I hear them but I can barely remember what they've said as my brain is shutting down and not taking anymore information in.

Externally people who know me very well will notice that I go very quiet, become more withdrawn and irritable if annoyed, they will notice that I become less able to function during this time so people who understand usually step in to assist whether it's doing the shopping for me, cleaning the house or speaking on my behalf for whatever reason because I am unable to generate meaningful speech at that time.

Like a meltdown you really have to just ride the storm when in shutdown, there is very little if anything that can bring you out of it but going to a quiet area certainly helps as does taking a nap...Unlike meltdowns that can sometimes last for a few hours to a whole day one can recover from a shutdown a lot quicker and it's easier to recover from providing you've gone to that quiet area and rested.

This is coming from an Aspie/ADDer and I hope this helps??

SelenaFascinating stuff from a clinical perspective, but I'd be interested in the personal perception of it. The mechanics are one thing, but do you perceive it, for example, as active or passive? Pre-emptive or protective? Is it something you can tell is coming on, or is it spontaneous?

The article mentions recovery ability in a couple of places - are there aftereffects that persist, and how do you feel them and feel about them?

Crazygirl79
01-11-13, 11:37 PM
No they are definitely not the same!!

A meltdown is when someone on the spectrum becomes overloaded for whatever reason and has this great big emotional outburst or a chronic anxiety attack, during a meltdown one may become verbally aggressive, cry to the point where they can't be calmed down at that particular moment, some even become physically aggressive and it's an absolute nightmare for the person having the meltdown and those around them.

Like the shutdown someone having a meltdown also gets weak, spaced out and drained of energy because the stress prior to the meltdown and the meltdown itself takes a lot of out the person having it.

A shutdown is pretty much what's been described in the article but in my experiences and also with a few others I know physically aggression tends not to occur and verbal aggression may occur but to a much lesser extent...in this case it's not really an emotional state but more a physical and mental state as the brain itself is slowing down and decided it wanted a break...

Neither are enjoyable experiences...believe me!!

I hope this helps..

SelenaAre shutdowns and meltdowns the same?

silivrentoliel
01-11-13, 11:57 PM
I had to print it out to read it because my brain has been pinging all over the freaking place today, but after having read it, I am happy to know my overall lack of language skills sometimes seems to fall under the "receptive language shutdown" ... I didn't know it was actually a shutdown type thing... I really just thought my brain was too tired (which I guess could be the same as overloaded?)

Don't know... crap day. I'll be back to read what everyone else has said later

mctavish23
01-12-13, 12:03 AM
Space,

If I come in and pretended to look at funky shoes, will you do the Al Bundy

thing with my feet ? :D

Just sayin :rolleyes:

Bet I made u laff ? :p

later,

Robert

Amtram
01-12-13, 12:26 PM
The only thing I can even vaguely relate to is that one time long, long ago, I had a panic attack so bad that I went temporarily blind. I mean literally, like total darkness. It lasted only a few minutes, but it was the only sense that was affected, and I remember what else was going on around me at the same time. I'm not sure if that has anything in common with these, or if it's apropos of nothing.

hanikamiya
01-12-13, 04:24 PM
that's rather interesting. i wonder if NTs experience something similar, but mild and short enough that it doesn't hinder them, or they don't even notice it.

fracturedstory
01-12-13, 10:28 PM
A shutdown to me is when I lose the ability to speak or even the ability to move. I can still think words while like this but at a much lower level. When I eventually get speech back I will be slow and laboured and slury. Movement will also be slow.

Partial shutdowns are hardly worth a mention for me. I can have days when I have lost all desire to do anything, even get out of bed. But since meds and self medication for ADHD those haven't been much of a problem.

I can have shutdowns following sensory overload where I just become unresponsive to people. Those are pretty common so I don't usually refer to them as shutdowns. But I will become hyposensitive, as opposed to the hypersensitivity I was experiencing before it happened.

It's also hard to separate the shutdown from seizure. Seizures come with more noticeable symptoms and they give me a complete attitude change. It's interesting how familiar a simple partial seizure looks like autistic stimming though. The difference to me is the stimming is more controllable and actually doesn't lead to worse seizures.

The day following seizures I go through a temporary regression where I have a hard time controlling impulses. It's almost a child-like amount of tactlessness. And I pretty much go into child-like mode. Playing with toys and just having that type of personality.

I think the only time an NT would experience this is during a nervous breakdown. Otherwise it would have to be something very severe happening to them like PTSD.

Prolonged shutdowns can lead to brain damage. I've once had them everyday for three weeks and that's when my sensory issues started to get worse. I developed seizures soon after.

Meltdowns are a loss of emotional control in people with a unregulated lymbic systems or just when they can no longer handle the stress. A person holding back a meltdown can have a shutdown instead.

No matter what anyone tries to tell you both are completely involuntary.

I think my shutdowns, seizures and migraines all occur at once.

Fortune
01-13-13, 11:44 PM
Complete shutdown today:

No idea of where I was, and the idea of being "somewhere" was not even really present

Could not process the sounds around me. They were meaningless, and referring to them as "sound" would have required more ability to define things than I had

No awareness of my body as my body

Brief thoughts that would disappear, no actual train of thought

When it ended and I could move, I was still unable to process vision or hearing for a time afterward. I do not know how long that lasted, but the sense of being somewhere, of seeing things, and of hearing noises came back over a period of time.

Lost speech before the complete shutdown began, still do not have speech.

Greater need to stim.

Lunacie
01-14-13, 09:35 AM
Fortune, thank you for describing this.

When you were younger, about 10 or 12, how often do you think these shutdowns happened?

My daughter and I both get very frustrated with my Autistic granddaughter when she doesn't respond to us.

How can we tell if she's having a shutdown, or if she just doesn't want to do what we're asking?

Amtram
01-14-13, 01:19 PM
But the writing still works - only in a different style.

Fortune
01-14-13, 06:59 PM
Fortune, thank you for describing this.

When you were younger, about 10 or 12, how often do you think these shutdowns happened?

My daughter and I both get very frustrated with my Autistic granddaughter when she doesn't respond to us.

How can we tell if she's having a shutdown, or if she just doesn't want to do what we're asking?

Read this paper: http://fearlessswimming.com/files/StressinAutism.pdf - it describes a young autistic girl's shutdowns when asked to do homework, and it may help. I don't really know what your granddaughter is doing, and being unresponsive could be a shutdown, it could be something else.

As a child, I had a lot of shutdowns in school. More in high school than middle school/junior high, and more there than grade school. However, I had a tendency to get overwhelmed and ended up apparently "falling asleep" frequently.

Lunacie
01-14-13, 07:20 PM
Read this paper: http://fearlessswimming.com/files/StressinAutism.pdf - it describes a young autistic girl's shutdowns when asked to do homework, and it may help. I don't really know what your granddaughter is doing, and being unresponsive could be a shutdown, it could be something else.

As a child, I had a lot of shutdowns in school. More in high school than middle school/junior high, and more there than grade school. However, I had a tendency to get overwhelmed and ended up apparently "falling asleep" frequently.

Lots of reading there, I'm not up to doing the whole thing right now, but
the first two pages have some very familiar-sounding examples. Thanks.

Fortune
01-14-13, 07:20 PM
Lots of reading there, I'm not up to doing the whole thing right now, but the first two pages have some very familiar-sounding examples. Thanks.

No worries. I hope it helps.

fracturedstory
01-16-13, 12:05 AM
How can we tell if she's having a shutdown, or if she just doesn't want to do what we're asking?
If she is looking away from you or at objects or the ceiling. It's a dead give away.

I was noting some interesting differences and similarities on Louis Theroux documentary about severe autism verses my own behaviour. One thing is I'm high functioning until I'm out in public. I will start acting more like a severe autistic always is. Stimming, staring away, putting my hands over my ears. Even my speech is regressed. I can only say few words and not full sentences.

What Fortune was describing about her latest shut down sounds like my step mum's seizures.

Fortune
01-16-13, 12:49 AM
The primary thing being that seizures do not typically last longer than several minutes, and seizures that do are quite dangerous.

fracturedstory
01-16-13, 05:59 AM
The primary thing being that seizures do not typically last longer than several minutes, and seizures that do are quite dangerous.
No. They can last up to half an hour.

The dangerous ones are clonic tonic ones that go on for an hour or more and the person has lost consciousness.

I don't lose consciousness and my seizures go on for 30 minutes to an hour. But I'm tough and not exactly typical. I'm not going to go to a hospital when I know how to handle my seizures and know they will not become serious.

Sometimes they last seconds to minutes but I hardly count them. They are usually the common ones. Nocturnal seizures and photosensitive epilepsy. TLE's are the longest ones but I've had complex partial from 30mins to an hour. I know this because I lost a whole hour of memory one time.

One difference is there is a clear seizure aura before you have it. Shutdowns are usually a reaction from sensory overload or emotional stress but there are so many similarities. It's almost like comparing AS and HFA.

Fortune
01-16-13, 06:15 AM
One thing I am curious about is whether seizures also present with "partial shutdown" type effects before, possibly during, and after? Like losing speech, losing the ability to read, losing elements of sensory processing, that sort of thing? I just kind of wonder.

Lunacie
01-16-13, 10:37 AM
If she is looking away from you or at objects or the ceiling. It's a dead give away.

I was noting some interesting differences and similarities on Louis Theroux documentary about severe autism verses my own behaviour. One thing is I'm high functioning until I'm out in public. I will start acting more like a severe autistic always is. Stimming, staring away, putting my hands over my ears. Even my speech is regressed. I can only say few words and not full sentences.

What Fortune was describing about her latest shut down sounds like my step mum's seizures.

Yep, she's generally looking away from us at those moments.

Sometimes we can essentially force her attention, sometimes not.

I brought this up with her therapist on Monday, but forgot to discuss it with
the psychiatrist on Tuesday. Very ADHDish of me.

Oh well, it will probably go into the therapists notes, the psychiatrist usually
skims those notes, hopefully I can remember to bring it up at her next meds check.

Amtram
01-16-13, 12:38 PM
Perhaps the danger of the seizures is at least partly dependent upon their source? I know that there are people who've had a single seizure brought on by a high fever that end up with permanent damage, and others who have repeated seizures from one condition or another who end up with minimal or no damage. I never did any research into this.

I did know one young man in college who had epilepsy, and I was with him on a couple of occasions when he was seizing, and he lost awareness only briefly during each episode, and didn't seem to suffer any long-term impairments from a lifetime of having them.

fracturedstory
01-17-13, 12:54 AM
One thing I am curious about is whether seizures also present with "partial shutdown" type effects before, possibly during, and after? Like losing speech, losing the ability to read, losing elements of sensory processing, that sort of thing? I just kind of wonder.

I suppose it depends on where the seizure is taking place in the brain. My niece knows someone who slurs his speech when he gets a migraine.

The aura happens before the seizure and is like a warning, which I hardly ever notice except when I see a flashing light before my eyes and it's very hard to watch movement.

Post-seizure sees a slow down of the brain. It's essentially exhaustion. There's Todd's paralysis which is an exhaustion of the limbs for jerking around so much they are paralysed. Then when movement returns it is laboured.

I can have temporal lobe seizures which affects mood, auditory and visual regulation and other such senses. Post-seizure I suffer from short term memory loss; anything that happened before the seizure is gone. It's far worse than a working memory problem. I also have mood changes that feel like a temporary regression.

I've had autistic regression and a worsening of my sensory issues due to shutdowns/seizures. What is my usual sensory processing now once just felt like a week of shutdowns. I had one seizure that was so painful on the right side of my head it felt like something was tearing. You actually said it might have been a mini-stroke as my face did fall.

For a long time now I've been fascinated in the patterns of neurological disorders, epilepsy, migraines and even cancer. My dad had a brain tumour with aphasia and had sensory sensitivity too. It's all happening in the brain so there's bound to be similar symptoms.

I think autism is for the most part as massive coping mechanism. Think about it. We cannot filter out our senses and can be oversensitive or undersensitive, and then we focus on the details. We have a hard time dealing with change. We shut out things that overwhelm us. We stim which helps calm us down. We shutdown when we can longer deal with the stress. Parts of our brain just slow right down and stop performing. Seizures are do to irregular and chaotic brain activity in the brain and shutdowns are due to sensory and emotional stress. People who just have shutdowns might not have myoclonic jerking or go clonic tonic but they are very close to simple partial seizures. They probably do not have the same cause but I think the way the autistic brain develops it's almost the same thing. Someone needs to do an EEG of a shutdown.

Oh, by the way, since I developed seizures I have heightened synaesthesia. It actually irritates me now.

Fortune
01-17-13, 12:58 AM
I like that explanation, and I agree that neurological stuff is going to overlap with other neurological stuff. I find the overlap from seizure to shutdown to migraine rather interesting (I've experienced two of those at least).

The "autism as massive coping mechanism" is really interesting. I like that explanation, and I wonder if it will help me explain things better in therapy. Most of the symptoms and impairments I describe do sound more like coping mechanisms.

My synesthesia gets less intense as I get older. That irritates me somewhat, but I think making it heightened intensity would be extremely annoying.

fracturedstory
01-17-13, 12:59 AM
Perhaps the danger of the seizures is at least partly dependent upon their source? I know that there are people who've had a single seizure brought on by a high fever that end up with permanent damage, and others who have repeated seizures from one condition or another who end up with minimal or no damage. I never did any research into this.

I did know one young man in college who had epilepsy, and I was with him on a couple of occasions when he was seizing, and he lost awareness only briefly during each episode, and didn't seem to suffer any long-term impairments from a lifetime of having them.

I think it does have to do with the severity of the seizure. Is that what you meant by 'dependent upon their source?' I think prolonged exposure to the triggers can also result in brain damage, or I like to think so. I know prolonged shutdowns can. Autistic regression and the like.

I've had a seizure during pneumonia once. But then after exposure to strobe lights I started having simple partial, temporal lobe and then finally something that could not be mistaken for anything else apart from a mini-stroke, and then those just kept happening, except it spread to tonic clonic.

Amtram
01-17-13, 12:28 PM
Yeah, pretty much. I've spent a lot of time learning about the localization of brain functions (which came in handy when I needed surgery back in October and during my recovery) and if you're having a seizure that originates in an area that has more or less exclusive control of a cognitive process, the repercussions can be much more impairing.

As much as I feel bad for you and Fortune and anyone else experiencing these, I really appreciate you sharing what it feels like from the inside. Too many disorders and impairments are understood or misunderstood exclusively by observable manifestations. If we can articulate what we're experiencing and share it, it gives much more weight to the fact that these conditions are not merely behavioral and consist of more than just a collection of symptoms.