One of the most difficult things for McKenna and I to deal with regarding my Asperger’s is the act of “shutting down”. All people have some kind of coping mechanism for stress, whether it’s turning to a material distraction, engaging in some sort of risky behavior, or seeking isolation. Most coping mechanisms aren’t necessarily negative in their effects, but I can say as an Aspie (and probably for most others on the Spectrum) that shutting down is THE coping mechanism of choice, so to speak.
What is a “shutdown”? It is an automatic response to over-stimulation that can take on the form(s) of tuning out the world, looking and feeling almost paralyzed, sudden emotional outbursts like crying or shouting, or just sudden total silence and then mindlessly going about a task. I have experienced all of these characteristics, often all at once. For those who are not on the Spectrum, it can be perplexing or even alarming to see someone who is on it experience a shutdown. In other cases, it can also be viewed as a rude behavior which can prompt that person on the outside to rebuke or berate the person who is going through a shutdown.
I know from my own experience that shutting down can be incredibly inconvenient for both oneself and for their friend or spouse, especially in a place where it is not socially appropriate. Sometimes the person can hold it in until they get home, but sometimes they can’t, and it can result in an unpleasant situation for all parties involved; it’s humiliating in every way possible.
However, there are ways to prevent a shutdown. One thing that can be done is for the person feeling like they might shut down to tell someone, like their spouse, parent or friend that they need to be done with or need to be temporarily removed from a potentially overstimulating situation. Something else that can be done, on the other’s part, is to try and notice when their Autistic friend or spouse is beginning to shut down or looks like they might and ask them if they need to go somewhere else or, if necessary, leave the situation altogether. Doing any one of these things can go a long way in preventing or lessening a shutdown.
I realize that this may seem like a lengthy post, but it is important for me to get this out in the air. Aspies and anyone else on the Spectrum experiencing a shutdown are not something to be taken lightly or even rebuked, because almost 100% of the time, it can’t be helped. Sometimes a shutdown is exactly what needs to happen, as hard as it is to experience and witness. To all of you out there who deal with this on whatever level, be it the one who feels it or sees it, it’s okay. It’s okay to let it happen. Shut down, restart. Trust me, as much as it sucks, it can also be beneficial. Hopefully this will be of help to those on the Spectrum who experience shutdowns and to their friends/family. It’s okay.