He made an app to help himself and people like him with panic attacks.

The next time you're on the verge of a panic attack, just give your phone to a stranger, and the Emergency Chat app can instruct them how to help.

Please note: This piece was written using identity-first language, which is sometimes preferred by people with autism and other conditions. You can read more here about the differences between identity-first and people-first language.

Have you ever felt totally overwhelmed by everything around you and just needed the world to stop for a moment?

Hey, it happens to the best of us.


GIF from "Community."

But for many people who fall on the spectrum of autism, these kinds of experiences can be all too common.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a range of neuro-atypical conditions typically characterized by impairments or difficulties in social, developmental, and occupational behaviors.

Autistic people often have to work extra hard to interpret social cues and communicate with others, which, well, can be really frustrating.

Think of your own worst memory of the stress caused by miscommunication. Then imagine pretty much every single social interaction you have being just like that — totally outside your internal comfort zone.



GIF from "Suburgatory."

You can see how easy it can be for an autistic person to be overcome by the sensory overload surrounding them every day from normal human interaction and communication alone.

People have different ways of responding to stress, such as panic attacks, a loss of speech, or an inability to move. For autistic people whose behavioral patterns are already considered atypical, these signs might be even harder to identify.

While it's nice when people try to help in those moments, sometimes their questions make things worse.

Especially when you can't give them the answers they need to help you.

Sometimes, when you're stressed out, the absolute last thing you need is for someone to ask you how they can help. It's a nice gesture, of course, but when you've reached a certain point in your panic attack, you probably don't have the brainpower left to articulate your needs.

And sometimes — particularly for autistic people — you actually, literally, can't talk.

It's not that autistic people are trying to be difficult. It's not that they're being stubborn or prideful or refusing help. When your body is too overwhelmed with stress and adrenaline, sometimes you just cannot fulfill the functions someone is asking of you.

Even if you really, really want to.

That's why Jeroen De Busser created the Emergency Chat app — for those times when verbal communication is just not an option.

Jeroen is an autistic computer science student. He shared with me by email his memory of a particularly harrowing meltdown in which he went completely nonverbal.

The situation was further exacerbated by the presence of his friends, who despite their best intentions, did not know how best to help him — and of course, he was unable to tell them himself, which made everything even more frustrating.

GIF from "Community."

This experience inspired Jeroen to create Emergency Chat, a text-based app that displays personalized instructions on how to assist or handle an individual during a meltdown or panic attack, instead of wasting precious time in trying to parse through verbal communication. The app is currently available for Android phones, but we're told that an iOS version is in the works. Update 8/10/15: An iOS version is now available as well!

Here's what Emergency Chat looks like:

All you need to do is hand your phone to someone, and the app will tell them how to best help.

Here's how Jeroen describes the user interface:

"It has a base text that explains to the person you gave your phone to that you can't use speech and want to use this app to communicate.

Both the title and text can be adjusted in the settings to be whatever you want the person you give your phone to to know."

The app then provides a bare-bones chat interface, that lets you communicate with the people trying to help:

Although the default screen is set for autistic people, it can be customized for any number of physical, mental, or emotional needs.

While most of the Emergency Chat's 500+ users have relied on its default functionality for autism, one savvy user has customized the app to help with their tracheostomy, in case there is ever a problem:

The best way to help one another is to listen, and things like Emergency Chat improve communication for everyone.

I know that deep within our hearts of hearts we're all good people, and we genuinely want to help each other. But I also know that even when we mean well, we need to be sure that we're helping people on their own terms, the way they want and need to be helped.

This is particularly true when it comes to autistic people. Just because they function differently from the majority of people doesn't mean they don't function at all.

What an app like Emergency Chat does is give autistic people, or people with PTSD, or people with tracheostomies, and so on, control over the way the world around them tries to help them function when they lose their ability to speak. It saves them the stress and anxiety of wondering what will happen to them, whether they're with friends or in a strange environment, and it ensures that they can ask for — and receive — the help they need.

In short — it's a win for everyone involved.

GIF from "Community."


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Prince Harry isn't just a member of England's royal family - he's also a new dad. He and Duchess Meghan of Sussex welcomed Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor into the world last month. He joins William and Kate's three offspring (George, Charlotte, and Lewis) as royal grandchildren. I assume he's being accordingly spoiled with elaborate titles, jewels, and small islands.


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A celebrated teacher's 5-point explanation of why she's quitting has gone viral.

"The school system is broken. It may be broken beyond repair."

Talented, dedicated teachers are leaving public schools because the system makes it too hard to truly educate kids.

When I studied to become a teacher in college, I learned what education can and should be. I learned about educational psychology and delved into research about how to reach different learners, and couldn't wait to put that knowledge into practice in the classroom.

But after graduating and starting to teach, I quickly saw how the school system makes it almost impossible to put what we know about real learning into practice. The structure and culture of the system simply isn't designed for it.

The developmental default of childhood is to learn. That's why four-year-olds ask hundreds of questions a day, why kids can spend hours experimenting and exploring in nature, and why kids are so much better at figuring out how to use technology. Children are natural, fearless learners when their curiosity is nurtured and they are given an environment where learning can take place.

Most teachers know this. And many find themselves so frustrated by trying to teach within an outdated, ineffective system that they decide to leave. I only lasted a couple of years before deciding other avenues of education were worth exploring. A viral post written by a celebrated teacher highlights why many teachers are doing the same thing.

Michelle Maile was a first grade teacher before she resigned this month, and her 5-point explanation of why she did it is resonating with thousands.

Maile shared on Facebook why she, a celebrated teacher in a great school district, decided to turn in her classroom keys. Her post has been shared more than 67,000 times and has thousands of comments, mostly in solidarity.

"Why would a teacher of the year nominee, who loves what she does, who has the best team, the best students and parents, and was lucky enough to be at the best elementary school not want to come back?", she wrote. "Let me tell you why….

1. Class size. Everything in my training, what I know about kids and what I see every day says that early childhood classes should be at 24 or less. (ideally 22 or less) Kids are screaming for attention. There are so many students who have social or emotional disorders. They NEED their teacher to take time to listen to them. They NEED their teacher to see them. They NEED less students in their class. The people making these decisions are NOT looking out for the students' best interests, and have very obviously NEVER taught elementary kids.

2. Respect. I feel disrespected by the district all year long. They don't trust that I know what I am doing. I have a college degree, go to trainings every year, read books and articles about kids, and most importantly, work with kids every day. I KNOW something about how they learn and what works best for them. Please listen to us.

3. Testing. Stop testing young kids. It doesn't do anyone any good. Do you know which kids slept poorly last night? Do you know who didn't have breakfast? Do you know whose parents are fighting? Do you know who forgot their glasses and can't see the computer? Do you know who struggles to read, but has come so far, just not on your timeline? You don't, but I do. I know some of my best students score poorly on their tests because of life circumstances. I know some of my lower students guessed their way through and got lucky. Why stress kids out by testing them? How about you ask ME, the professional, how they are doing? Ask ME, the teacher who sees these kids every single day. Ask ME, the teacher who knows the handwriting of all 27 kids. Ask ME, the adult in their life who may be more constant than their own parents. Ask ME, then let me teach.

4. I felt like I was drowning. So many things beyond teaching are pushed on teachers. Go to this extra meeting, try this new curriculum, watch this video, then implement it in to your next lesson, fill out this survey monkey to let us know how you feel (even though it won't make any difference), make clothes for the school play, you need to pay for that yourself because there's no money from the school for it. There's no music teacher today, so you don't get a planning time. There are weeks I truly felt like I was drowning and couldn't get a breath until Friday at 5:00. (NOT 3:00)

5. Pay. I knew becoming a teacher would never make me rich. That has never been my goal. I wanted to work with kids. I wanted to help kids. I wanted to make enough money to take care of my own kids. Sadly this isn't the case for so many teachers who have to work two jobs to support their own families. This isn't right."

Maile says the system may be broken beyond repair, which is why she's tapping into a growing educational movement.

"The school system is broken," Maile continued. "It may be broken beyond repair. Why are counselors being taken away when we need them more than ever? Why are art and music classes disappearing when these forms of expression have been proven to release stress in an overstressed world. Why are librarians being cut when we should be encouraging kids to pick up an actual book instead of being behind a screen? Do you know how many elementary students are on anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications? Look. The number will astound you.

So where am I going? Because I still love kids and want to help them with their education, I will be an online charter school teacher. I will be helping families who have chosen to homeschool their kids. They also see that the school system is broken. When I told my school I was leaving, I had multiple veteran teachers say, 'I would do the same if I was younger.' 'I am so glad you are getting out now.' 'It is only going to get worse.' 'I don't see it ever getting better.'

It makes me sad. I have three kids that are still part of this public school system. If you are a public school parent, fight. Fight for your kids. Fight for smaller class sizes and pay raises for overworked teachers. Fight to keep art and music in the schools. Please support teachers whenever and wherever you can. I have been so lucky to have so many amazing parents. I couldn't have done what I have without them. I am sad to leave, but happy to go."

What do you do when an enormous system has so many inherent flaws it feels impossible to change it?

What to do about public education a hard question. Many former teachers like myself strongly believe in public schooling as a foundational element of civilized society, but simply can't see how to make it work well without dismantling the whole thing and starting over.

When I chose to educate my own kids, I was surprised by how many former teachers end up in the homeschooling community. Many of the most well-known proponents of homeschooling were or are public school teachers who advocate for more effective models of education than what we see in the system. There's a lot that could be debated here, but alternative models may be the best places to look for answers to the question of how to fix the system.

At the very least, until we start moving away from copious amounts of testing and toward trusting educators (and paying them well) to do what they've been trained to do, we're going to keep losing great teachers—making an already problematic system even worse.

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A teen took the stage with world leaders and unflinchingly spoke truth to power. YES, GIRL.

Four heads of state interrupted Natasha Mwansa's 4-minute speech to give her a standing ovation.

Watch out world. The young women have arrived, and they're taking the reins.

From Greta Thunberg to Emma Gonzales to Malala Yousafzai, young women are taking the microphone, organizing movements, and demanding the world's attention on major issues. And it appears they are just getting started.

Imagine you're 18 years old, preparing to go to college, and being invited to join a panel in the opening session of a huge international conference. Imagine that panel includes four current heads of state, and you'll be speaking before an audience of thousands of people from around the globe.

Now imagine standing up on that stage and telling those world leaders to their faces, in no uncertain terms, that they need to step up their game. No pussyfooting. No apologies.

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From handing out plastic bags with embarrassing labels to removing the plastic from six-packs to harnessing the power of a plastic-eating mutant (bacteria), more and more of us are working to find solutions to a growing global program.

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