Saturday, October 24, 2015

The "not all disabilities are visible" thing, from the other side.

I'm a pretty happy and healthy person, but I've got a little thing that trips me up sometimes, and it's hard to manage it without looking like a baby.  Or a weirdo.  Or a crazy person.  Most of us understand that something like depression, or bipolar, or OCD can be incredibly disruptive to one's routine and can be a big issue for a college student.  But there are disorders that still get mocked, that are maybe not so difficult to live with, but are harder to explain.  And I am just as guilty as anyone else when it comes to being cynical about disabilities (which is extra shameful for me because my son is autistic so I should know better).

I have sensory processing disorder.  I am picky about the chalk I use because if it makes a certain sound, or feels a certain way in my hands, or against the board, it makes me sick.  I usually keep a cache in the car so I can't get stuck using undesirable chalk.

This sounds ridiculous, right?  But it's real.

I got caught without my chalk one day last week.

Fortunately, it wasn't for one of my science classes, it was for a First Year Experience lecture, so there were no equations to share, no problems to model, no major content to put on the board.  We were going to be discussing things and doing group work.  I did, however, plan to put the homework on the board.

I was able to write the chapter numbers on the board, and then I paused and pretended I needed to decide between two things.  I tried to regroup, I put the date next, then had to close my eyes, because sometimes that helps.  I closed my eyes and attempted to write a word (just to see if I could do it at all with my eyes closed) and it didn't matter whether or not I could write with my eyes closed; I couldn't write with that chalk.  I gagged and had to step out of the room.  I think they think I'm pregnant now.  I stood in the hall doubled over, and in a low squat, with my shoulders hunched up to my ears and my hands grasping my knee caps.  When the horrible feeling left my knees I had to stick my fingers in my ears until it went away.  I was swallowing hard with my eyes clenched tight and finally it passed.

Then I went back inside and said we shouldn't waste the last nice day of fall stuck in a classroom and let them go 20 minutes early.

I just wanted to share that in case you ever wonder if you're being suckered by a student with a dubious diagnosis.

Oh - and that's the graphic because I couldn't find any images of a wombat with an invisible disability, but if any poorly dressed middle aged man were to hug me back to comfort, it would be Bruce Springsteen.  


  1. Ugh, sorry.
    Raises an interesting point, though: I have, in the past, wondered somewhat vehemently at what seemed like lax and permissive behavior by instructors that could, indeed, have been self-protective responses to less visible disabilities and frailties.
    I should know better, probably.

  2. I think they think I'm pregnant now.

    Or that you had the stomach flu (wait for a spate of excuses from students who "caught" it from you).

    I'm not fond of the feel of chalk on my hands, and will wash them as soon as possible if I have to use the stuff (rare these days), but luckily (and it really is a matter of luck/chance; a couple of other things suggest that I may be somewhere toward the farther end of the normal range that leads toward sensory processing disorder) my discomfort stays at a manageable level. I'm glad you can find chalk that solves the problem, also invisibly (most of the time). I hope you have a good large stock of the stuff, just in case the company ever goes out of business, they change the formula, or whatever. Sounds like it would be a worthwhile investment.

  3. That sounds awful but sounds like you dealt with it as well as you could.
    Would having a student write be an option, or does the sound still bother you? You could come up with some excuse about carpal tunnel or just not bother...