Meltdowns and shutdowns

Man screaming with fingers in his ears.

Meltdowns and shutdowns are two types of responses that autistic people can have when they lose control of their emotions in overwhelming situations.

The key difference between a meltdown and a shutdown is that a person’s anxiety is displayed in a meltdown and hidden in a shutdown. Meltdowns can also be misinterpreted as tantrums. However, tantrums are a form of manipulative behaviour where a person displays strong emotions until they get what they want. A meltdown, on the other hand, has no agenda or time limit. The same applies to a shutdown, where the person may become completely unresponsive to their surroundings.

This resource outlines some of the signs of a meltdown and a shutdown, explains how they might be prevented and provides insight on what to do if a meltdown or shutdown situation arises. It can be relevant to both children and adults with autism. So, if you’re a parent, teacher, employer, or colleague, you can gain a new perspective on meltdowns and shutdowns from this resource.

The signs of a meltdown

The following signs could indicate that an autistic person is having a meltdown:

  • Rocking back and forth
  • Flapping hands
  • Kicking or hitting out
  • Shouting
  • Crying

Not all people who experience meltdowns display all the signs listed above. They vary with each individual.