The Sensory Hell of the Lunchroom

Needless to say, the dining hall, as well as being busy, crowded and a source of multiple odours, was also very noisy, as trays were picked up and clattered back down, cutlery jangled, and metal serving dishes clanged against metal hot plates. Meanwhile, the children, squeezed into rows of tiny seats bolted on to collapsible dining tables, grew louder and louder to make themselves heard over the racket. Indeed, the lunch queue alone can be the place where sensory problems ‘can turn into a nightmare’ (Sainsbury 2009, p.99). Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, all of the child contributors to this book – Grace, James, Rose and Zack – identified noise and crowds as being the most difficult aspects of school from a sensory point of view.

Indeed, the school environment can present autistic children with a multi-sensory onslaught in terms of sounds, smells, textures and visual impacts that constitutes both a distraction and a source of discomfort (Ashburner, Ziviani and Rodger 2008; Caldwell 2008). There was also clear evidence from my own study that sensory issues, and noise in particular, can be highly exclusionary factors for autistic children in schools.

Source: Inclusive Education for Autistic Children: Helping Children and Young People to Learn and Flourish in the Classroom

A recent discussion with neurodivergent coworkers brought up how overwhelming school lunch was for many of us, and likewise the group dining at our company meetups. I like to use the Brian Wilson biopic, “Love and Mercy”, to demonstrate how overwhelming dining at a crowded table can be. It has a very relatable dinner scene where Wilson is overwhelmed by the overlapping noises of utensils and conversation.

Getting lunch is a trip through “sensory hell” for many neurodivergent students.

Sensory Hell is the opposite of something being stimmy. It is utterly and totally unbearable.

Maybe you’re thinking of the classic scenario of the autistic person melting down in a busy grocery store, and it’s true that grocery stores are often considered tools of the devil by autistic people. But anything can be a sensory hell.

Source: 7 Cool Aspects of Autistic Culture | The Aspergian | A Neurodivergent Collective

Design for neurological pluralism. Let neurodivergent students eat without overloading them, melting them down, and burning them out.

This scene is quite similar to how I experience an autism sensory overload. When sounds, lights, clothing or social interaction can become painful to me. When it goes on long enough it can create what is called a meltdown or activation of the “fight-flight-freeze-tend-befriend” (formerly known as “fight or flight”) response and activation of the HPA axis; a “there is a threat in the environment” adrenaline-cortisol surge.

This makes seemingly benign noises a threat to my well-being and quite possibly real physical danger to my physiology. Benign noises become painful, and if left unchecked, enough to trigger a system reaction reserved for severe dangers. This is what days can become like on a regular basis for myself and many on the spectrum.

“Let me stick a hot poker in your hand, ok? Now I want you to remain calm.”

That is the real rub of the experience of sensory meltdowns. The misunderstanding that someone with Autism is just behaving badly, spoiled or crazy. When the sensory overwhelm is an actual and very real painful experience. It seems absurd to most people that the noise of going to a grocery store could possibly be “painful” to anyone. So most people assume the adults or children just want attention, or they can’t control their behavior. In work situations I get accused of all kinds of things. And when I leave a noisy situation like a party to step out to take a break, people will notice that I’m “upset”. They will assume or worry that I must be upset at something or someone. And that’s just if I do take a break. If I can’t take a break or get my life out of proper oscillations and can’t avoid noise or sensory/emotional overload, then I can get snappy, defensive, irritated and under very unfortunate circumstances even hostile.

What the stress of noise means, in the autism’s world of an over-sensitive physiology and ramped up stress experiences, is that that pain is warning of us of real damage being created in our bodies. So this anxiety and reactivity isn’t necessarily just perceived but is actually happening. We are not being overly dramatic or a brat (what those with Autism are often accused of). Damage to our physiology is what noise can actually do.

Source: Autistic Traits and Experiences in “Love and Mercy” The Brian Wilson Story – The Peripheral Minds of Autism

See also:

Flags and the 4th

Perhaps it was in this moment I happened upon the house, unremarkable but for a small American flag jutting out of its frame like a rhinoceros horn. I hesitated at the sight of the banner so close to my home and was suddenly wary. Weary. I saw the flag and without thinking thought it code: Patriot. MAGA. Make everything white again. Even with all I know about the history of Black people in this country, I’ve never been afraid of the flag. On this day, however, I felt how I feel when I see the Confederate flag: Unsafe. My breath shallowed. When did this happen? When did the sight of an American flag flying from a private residence become something that gave me pause? Perhaps it was the untrusted whiteness of my new neighborhood. Perhaps my reaction was a kind of PTSD, a result of that summer’s back-to-back televised police killings of unarmed Black men or the murders at Mother Emanuel the year before. Perhaps it was the ridiculous victory of Trump. I saw the flag and remembered what I had been warned time and again about “progressive” Atlanta: Drive thirty minutes outside of the perimeter in any direction and it’s a whole different story.

Source: Flag Code

While I share little of Marable’s life experience, I realized while reading her piece that I’ve developed a similar unsafe feeling about the flag. It’s not a voluntary thing – it’s something that has built up over two+ years of seeing American flags in photos of MAGA rallies & white nationalist marches but not so much at Black Lives Matter marches or pro-choice rallies. I’m sure you’ve also noticed the correlation between seeing an American flag emoji in someone’s Twitter bio next to the MAGA hashtag and the tendency of that person to act like a misogynist asshole. While it’s hardly a new thing, the aggressive, intolerant, nationalistic right has been particularly effective in visibly wrapping themselves in the flag lately. It’s great branding for them, but it’s not doing the flag any favors.

Source: How Do You Feel About the American Flag?

By giving everything they hold dear–or perhaps everything they can use as a tool of control–a flag and a pledge, Evangelical Christianity demanded the sort of unflinching and emotional loyalty that most Americans feel on the 4th of July. They saw how Americans proudly rally behind our flag and our Pledge, and knew they could recreate that sort of communal passion with their own.

I associate heartfelt patriotism with white nationalist Evangelical Christianity so much that I’m not even interested in learning how to practice patriotism anymore. In my mind, patriotism means stepping in line, exhibiting unyielding loyalty even in the face of fascism, and sacrificing myself on the altar of the Cause. I won’t do it. I can’t.

I understand viscerally how someone whose life trajectory led to the rejection of an abusive deity can feel compelled to give up not only on that deity, but also on the symbols and rituals associated with the nation that is so often conflated with the divine in Jesus Land, USA. I grew up with white Christian nationalism too. With ritual recitations of the pledges to the American flag, the Christian flag, and the Bible at the beginning of every day in my Christian elementary school, with elementary school talents shows that ended with Lee Greenwood sing-a-longs.

Because the patriotism that I grew up with was tied to authoritarian Christianity, the more I rejected that toxic Christianity, the more I became ambivalent at best about expressions of patriotism. Singing “You’re a Grand Old Flag” is now nearly as awkward to me as singing, “Oh, You Can’t Get to Heaven.” To me now, as the American atmosphere grows ever more suffocating, it feels like the entire country is turning into a Christian school, turning into the oppressive and abusive evangelical milieu of my childhood, from which I have worked hard to escape. To many with less privilege than me (and, despite being queer, I have a lot), it must feel worse than that. Hate crimes are up as Trump and the Republican Party have emboldened their bigoted supporters to act on their hate and resentments; school shootings are more frequent occurrences than the weekly release of a new episode of your favorite TV show; police violence against African-Americans is rampant.

Source: Happy 4th? On the Complicated Problem of Patriotism in Conditions of Injustice – Not Your Mission Field

Likewise.

Campfires in Dark Forests

Dark forests like newsletters and podcasts are growing areas of activity. As are other dark forests, like Slack channels, private Instagrams, invite-only message boards, text groups, Snapchat, WeChat, and on and on. This is where Facebook is pivoting with Groups (and trying to redefine what the word “privacy” means in the process).

These are all spaces where depressurized conversation is possible because of their non-indexed, non-optimized, and non-gamified environments. The cultures of those spaces have more in common with the physical world than the internet.

Source: The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet – OneZero

Via: The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet

This dark forest metaphor reminds me of the cave, campfire, and watering hole archetypal learning spaces.

First, and make no mistake here, all three sacred learning spaces will have analogs in cyberspace. If they don’t, then cyberspace will cease to exist as a domain of interaction among humans. Those using the new media will create their own analogs for these learning places, even if they are not designed into the system.

Source: Campfires in Cyberspace: Primordial Metaphors for Learning in the 21st Century

We humans will always be making caves and campfires, both in meatspace and online. As surveillance capitalism toxifies our public watering holes, campfires in dark forests become more popular.