A lot of people seem to be confused between meltdowns me shutdowns. In this blog I will explain how they’re similar and how they’re different.
Meltdowns are more of a physical or external response to too much sensory input. It may look like screaming and crying, sometimes throwing objects, squirming around and doing self injurious behaviors. It’s a more obvious sign that an autistic person is in distress. It’s actually what most people are used to seeing. You’ll mainly see this with autistic children but autistic adults still have them too.
Shut downs are more of an internal response and it’s not always so noticeable to other people. It may look like the autistic person is dissociating or zoning out. They may seem more quiet and disengaged and may hide away or distance themselves.
I tend to shut down way more than I have meltdowns because I was abused as a child for having meltdowns so it’s one of my autistic traits I had to suppress and mask. I still have meltdowns but it comes with a lot of shame and embarrassment especially when others have witnessed it. I also have this constant feeling that people see me as immature and childish when they do witness me meltdown.
With my shutdowns, if you don’t know the signs of it, you can very easily miss me experiencing it because it’s so subtle. People just think I’m not paying attention and they move along without taking into consideration that I’m in distress. Then I feel all alone and abandoned because at that moment I don’t always have the words to express how I’m feeling and may not even feel 100% safe to express myself. I always fear others invalidating my struggles and emotions which makes it much worse for me so I just shut everyone out to avoid that kind of hurt and gaslighting.
Meltdowns and shutdowns are very similar because they’re both triggered the exact same way. They’re both triggered by sensory overload. It’s just one is more obvious and the other is more subtle. Both require attention in order to be able to function better.
I’ve experienced many situations where I shutdown instead of having a meltdown and the person around me says I seemed fine when I later try to express that I was in distress at that specific moment. I’m sure this will be a shocker to most people that know me, but I have shutdowns daily and sometimes several times a day. Most times when I say “I’m fine”, I’m really not. I’m just scared to express myself. I bottle up a lot inside to protect my feelings while at the same time breaking myself down even more. It’s very overwhelming for me to always have to go through this and not always knowing who is the safest person to communicate with. It’s also very hard to feel safe in general in a world that wasn’t made for me and my specific needs and when I’ve already experienced so much trauma throughout my life.
Now before I end up trauma dumping on this blog post, I’ll end it right here.