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."


Family
via bfmamatalk / facebook

Where did we go wrong as a society to make women feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public?

No one should feel they have the right to tell a woman when, where, and how she can breastfeed. The stigma should be placed on those who have the nerve to tell a woman feeding her child to "Cover up" or to ask "Where's your modesty?"

Breasts were made to feed babies. Yes, they also have a sexual function but anyone who has the maturity of a sixth grader knows the difference between a sexual act and feeding a child.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Instagram / JLo

The Me Too movement has shed light on just how many actresses have been placed in positions that make them feel uncomfortable. Abuse of power has been all too commonplace. Some actresses have been coerced into doing something that made them uncomfortable because they felt they couldn't say no to the director. And it's not always as flagrant as Louis C.K. masturbating in front of an up-and-coming comedian, or Harvey Weinstein forcing himself on actresses in hotel rooms.

But it's important to remember that you can always firmly put your foot down and say no. While speaking at The Hollywood Reporter's annual Actress Roundtable, Jennifer Lopez opened up about her experiences with a director who behaved inappropriately. Laura Dern, Awkwafina, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong'o, and Renee Zellweger were also at the roundtable.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

Life for a shelter dog, even if it's a comfortable shelter administered by the ASPCA with as many amenities as can be afforded, is still not the same as having the comfort and safety of a forever home. Professional violinist Martin Agee knows that and that's why he volunteers himself and his instrument to help.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

Believe
True
Macy's