Disability and Geekery

or: How I Learned to Avoid Toxic Situations and Love Myself

Tag Archives: School

“Close your Laptops please” and how it Caused a Meltdown

Today I had a meltdown in class. And as much as I hate badmouthing teacher’s practices I have to say that it was (mostly) the fault of a substitute teacher.

As a bit of background info: My school is specialized in computer engineering and a lot of our assignments are to be done on our PCs. It’s an established practice for substitute teachers to ask “Do you have something to do?” to which the answer is “Yes, of course.” regardless of whether we actually have an assignment to do and the teacher then lets us work (or play) on our laptops as long as we’re not too loud. I usually put on my headphones and listen to some music to block out occasional chatter while doing my homework.

Today however was different. The substitute teacher we had today opened the lesson with “Close your laptops please.” and explained that “Even chatting is better than using your laptops.” in her eyes. That’s when my alarm bells rang. Unfortunately the only thing I thought was “This will be hell.” and tried to figure out how to solve a math problem.

I wasn’t the only one who was unhappy with her decision. Half of the class  started arguing with her until she allowed some people to work on their laptops because “They earned it by talking to me.” I opened my notebook to look up a base integral. Suddenly the teacher said “It’s amazing how many people don’t know what to do without their computers.” That’s when one of my classmates who’s known for talking a lot even when he doesn’t really have anything to say started arguing with her (At least I’m sure that he definitely talked from that point on. He had permission to use his laptop so he must’ve talked before.) Five minutes into their heated discussion I noticed that I’m going to have a meltdown if I don’t get out of there so I raised my hands. Because their discussion seemed to be very interesting it took five minutes before she gave me permission to speak after the whole row also raised their hands to show that this is important.

It was already too late when I got to talk. I was unable to speak so the person sitting next to me communicated for me. I was given permission to leave the room (She also could’ve shut up but sending a student outside seemed like a more feasible option.)

I spent the rest of the lesson on the other end of the hallway because she seemed to continue talking. At some point a girl who usually is very supportive of me and understands my problems patted me on the back as she saw me standing, head against the wall when she was going to the toilet. Usually that’d’ve added to the sensory overload but in that specific situation it helped because it made me feel less “crazy”.

The teacher I had the next lesson was my favourite teacher who understood the problem. The communication went like  “What happened?” – “Ms. K. happened.” and she immediately understood. I was allowed to spend as much of the lesson in a quiet place and she told me to think of a certain topic since they were just brainstorming anyway (which was the last thing I needed at that time). I returned after 20 minutes, still a bit tired but already a lot better. When I came home from school I collapsed into bed and slept for 10 hours straight.

To break down what went wrong:

  • The teacher wanted the class to not do something they usually do because she deemed it “unhealthy”. This can be compared with closing down an elevator on certain days to make people take the stairs. Taking the stairs is often faster and healthier but if you’re in a wheelchair you won’t be too happy about that decision.
  • She encouraged chatting making the occasional chatter I can usually deal with much worse.
  • I had my hand up because of an emergency and it took five minutes for her to let me speak.

Now the things that went not only right but left me with a relatively good feeling after I had mostly recovered:

  • The guy sitting next to me tried to calm me down as long as he could and when he noticed that it’s that bad he made the whole row raise their hands which gave me a feeling that people care about me.
  • Being patted on the back on the hallway was a bit calming and it was definitely good to know that they don’t think of me as “that weird kid”.
  • Having some time to recover obviously helped a lot.
  • When I returned to class the teacher had placed a piece of chocolate on my desk. That’s not really a meltdown-related thing but people giving you sweets when you’re having a hard time to show you that they care is almost always a good idea.

I don’t want to tell anyone how to treat autistic people but I want you to be able to judge for yourself what would be a good idea by letting you know how I feel. Also, keep in mind that I am just one autistic person and other people may have different needs.