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As a sensory processing disorder (SPD) advocate, people frequently ask me about sensory shutdowns, those neurological episodes in which sensory information becomes too overwhelming to tolerate and the system goes haywire. 
 
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[[File:Anxious Autistic teen boy in fetal position .jpg|thumb|312x312px]] 
 
[[File:Overwhelmed Autistic little boy in fetal position..jpg|thumb|220x220px]] 
 
 
While Autism Shutdowns vary on a case by case basis, They are less well known than Meltdowns.
 
 
<strong>Meltdown vs Shutdown:</strong> The Similarities & the Differences
 
 
<strong>Meltdowns (outward):</strong> Most parents of a child with Autism have experienced the behaviors associated with meltdowns. Once you’ve seen a meltdown, it is stamped on your brain forever. To this day, I recall each child I have worked with over the years who I witnessed in the midst of a meltdown. Each child’s behaviors were different; some screamed and kicked on the floor. Some scratched, cried and bit. Some became self-injurious, while others tried aggressing at others. Durations of the meltdowns also differed. Some lasted only a few minutes, while others lasted upwards of 2 hours. And each meltdown I have witnessed pierced my heart in wishing I could take away whatever these kiddos were feeling and experiencing. The one common element with meltdowns is <strong><em>sensory overload</em></strong>. Think of meltdowns as the sensory overload being <strong><em>experienced outwardly,</em></strong>or the 1st side of the coin.
 
 
<strong>How to Respond to a Meltdown:</strong>
 
* Protect the child immediately from danger, self-injury or aggressing at others
 
* Know how the child needs support (ex: dim the lights, provide proprioceptive sensory, blankets, favorite toy, etc).
 
* Remain calm
 
* Remove any items that can be used for self-harm or aggression
 
* Limit communication and verbal prompts
 
* Allow sufficient time for them to regulate their energy and self-calm
 
 
<strong>Shutdowns (inward):</strong> Shutdowns are less noticeable and are less commonly seen than meltdowns. Shutdowns can be summed up as the 2nd side of the coin. Same coin; two different outcomes. With a shutdown, the child is still experiencing perceived sensory overload to an environmental trigger. The same trigger that caused an outward meltdown in one child, can cause an <strong><em>inward shutdown</em></strong> in another. Shutdowns can be defined as a person’s brain going into a protective mode, where it ‘shuts off’ momentarily. 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 in the midst of 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. To observers (including professionals), these non-behaviors may appear to be functioning as escape/avoidant – as if the child is deliberately ignoring prompts or directives or deliberately trying to avoid a task or something in the environment. Some shutdowns may even go completely unnoticed especially if the child is lower-functioning or nonverbal. Knowing the child’s behavioral history is critical for addressing and intervening with shutdowns.
 
 
<strong>How to Respond to a Shutdown:</strong>
 
* Protect the child immediately from danger, self-injury, or aggressing at others.
 
* Understand how the child needs support (allow them time to retreat and recover).
 
* Provide a calming environment (soft voice, limited communication, soft touch).
 
** Provide the child their favorite blanket, toy, or other calming item to help them recover.
 
[[Category:Features of autism]]
 
[[Category:Features of Asperger syndrome]]
 

Revision as of 23:53, 23 March 2021

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