Imagine you walk into school like any other morning however unlike your peers you are unable to filter out all the individual sounds, smells and sights of everything around you. You can hear the individual conversations of hundreds of people at once. You can hear lockers opening and closing and you can smell that someone hasn’t cleared out their locker for the past month. You walk into class and as the teacher calls the roll. Your peers continue to talk loudly and as you can’t normally filter out these conversations in order to hear what the teacher says you have to focus 10 times harder than you would if the classroom was silent. The bell rings to signal the start of period one however, you are already worn out from the first half hour of school with all the sounds and sights, however, there is still many hours to go before you can recharge as there is no space to do this at school.
Usually, in these situations, you would begin to stim by rocking or flapping or you using your favourite sensory toy however you have been teased and called some pretty rotten names for doing these things in the past, so you continue to become more and more overwhelmed. By the time it is lunch you feel like you are going to lose control as you begin to get overloaded with everything that has happened however once again there is nowhere you can go to get away from all the sensory input. The playground is full of noises, smells, and sights and you are not allowed to sit in the school corridors. You keep telling yourself “the day is almost over; the day is almost over” however you still feel as though you are going to shut down. You begin to remember the last time that happened, how people stared at you like you were some sort of exhibit in a museum. You remember seeing people yell at you trying to gain your attention and getting more and more annoyed when you didn’t respond. The Teachers thought you were misbehaving and ignoring them on purpose little did they know you had no control over what was happening. You end up making it through lunch by making laps around the school, yes there were some odd looks from your peers however you did not shutdown which is an upside. You walk into the last class of the day which unfortunately is woodwork, you really didn’t think this one through did you? You end up procrastinating as you are not in the mood to use hammers or power tools today as you are so close to shutting down. The teacher keeps trying to reengage you with no luck as the only way you could get reengaged is to sit in a quiet room for half an hour or so to recharge. Finally, the bell rings and you rush home as quickly as possible, you rush through the door and straight into your room closing the door behind you and begin your ritual to recharge.
This is a glimpse into the everyday life of an autistic student for if an autistic student seems well behaved in class according to the social norms it doesn’t necessarily mean they are coping well in class as there is much more happening inside their head than you think. Sometimes things get too much however there is nowhere autistic students can go to recharge without the fear of other students making fun of them, so they keep everything bottled up inside them until they get home where it is safe to be themselves. It is sad that this sort of thing still happens in the 21st century with all our so called modern learning and modern classrooms. It is sad that despite all the technology we have in schools these days we still can’t create schools that are inclusive of all abilities. It is sad that we still have to advocate to install ramps and lifts to ensure people in wheelchairs are included and we have to keep advocating for a place where students can feel free to recharge in a safe environment. From my experiences and the experiences of many others has come a pretty cool concept and this is to incorporate my Recharge Rooms into schools as a trial next year. This program if it succeeds will ensure students won’t have to worry about experiencing shutdowns or meltdowns at school ever again as there will finally be somewhere they can go to recharge without the fear of their peers making fun of them, as this room is as much for neurotypicals as it is for autistics.
Autism Advocate, Blogger, Speaker
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(Please note this is my own opinion and does not reflect the views of all autistic people as everyone has different views. The things written in this post come partially from personal experience.)