What is the autism alert card?

This card is to support the autistic adult who holds it express their needs in an emergency or situation that is stressful to them. It is being shown to you because they are looking for some support and understanding.

What should I do if I have been shown this card?

Read the card carefully and do your best to follow the requests. As general guidance, if you have been given this card please try to:

  • Remain Calm: Keep your own voice and movements subdued.
  • Create a Safe Space: Support them to move to a quieter, less stimulating environment if possible and if they consent to it.
  • Minimise Demands: Try not to ask too much of the person, limit requests or questions and give them space.
  • Limit Communication: Avoid overwhelming them with too much talk or questioning.
  • Be Patient: Allow them time to respond and recover without rushing them.
  • Offer Comfort: Let them know that they are safe, and you are there to help.
  • Understand and Accept: Recognise their behaviour is not always within their control and don’t take it personally.

Recognising Meltdowns and Shutdowns


A meltdown is a reaction to too much sensory or emotional input, where an autistic person may become unable to manage their behaviour. This should not be treated as a tantrum or aggression.

If you imagine using multiple high-power appliances at once and suddenly the circuit breaker trips, cutting off all power. This is like a meltdown, where the brain, overwhelmed by sensory or emotional stimuli, ‘trips’ to protect itself, resulting in a temporary loss of behavioural control.

In contrast, a temper tantrum is like someone deliberately turning off the power because they didn’t get what they wanted. It’s a controlled action aimed at a specific outcome, unlike the involuntary response of a meltdown.


A shut down in contrast is where an individual withdraws from their environment and is unable to respond or react, again this is involuntary. This is a bit like your phone going into ‘power saving mode.’ When a phone’s battery is critically low, it shuts down non-essential functions to conserve energy and keep running the basics.

For an autistic person, a shutdown is a response to conserve cognitive and emotional energy after being overwhelmed by stimuli or demands. Non-essential interactions and responses are minimised or stopped, like a phone dimming its screen and turning off apps, allowing the person to recover and process their experiences.