Blog #239: Silent Lunches and Alternative Lunchroom Settings for Neurodiverse Students

One of the most dreaded aspects of the school day for a neurodiverse or sensory friendly student is sometimes not the classroom itself, but the cafeteria. Being forced to sit and eat lunch with classmates you don’t even talk to can be extremely nerve-wracking and even upsetting to an extent.

What’s more is that when you are in the cafeteria, you are subjected to being forced to partake in what is known as a “silent lunch” if the students around you get too loud.

This was especially true for me in Middle School and as a result, I had to endure being punished with the rest of my class with the screaming of the principals and the lunch monitors on duty. It was very uncomfortable and upsetting for me, but I had to keep my mental mask on to avoid getting unwanted attention from them.

Recently, it was brought to my attention that some schools have what is known as a talk light, which is like a traffic light that you see on the roads. When the light reaches red, it makes a noise that signals for the students to quiet down.

Personally, I’m grateful that they didn’t have this when I was in school because this type of system would have only INCREASED my anxiety even further. If you are in a school that has this kind of system, then I would strongly recommend finding an alternative lunchroom setting for your students that are sensory friendly or neurodiverse.

“School Siren Has Some Parents Fired Up”

However, I was very fortunate that two days a week (later three days a week), I was given the alternative setting to eat lunch in the classroom, away from the madness of the cafeteria. Personally, I found this to be extremely helpful, especially if I was having a stressful day to begin with.

Now, all of this happened during my years in Middle School from 2000-2003, but depending on where the student lives and goes to school, it can happen anywhere. Most of the time, a lot of loud cafeteria calling outs and uncomfortable “silent lunches” happen in Elementary School and Middle School and very rarely in High School.

Hell, we were free to socialize however we wanted to and on somedays, we would even watch “The Price is Right” with Bob Barker if were having lunch around the time it was on, regardless of noise levels.

Still, a lot of sensory friendly and neurodiverse students cannot stand being in the cafeteria because of the sensory overloads that come out of it.

If schools are looking for alternative lunch methods for the student, then one of the things that can be done is the student or students can have lunch in the classroom or even in the teacher’s lounge.

Again, having private moments with my teachers and even administrators such as having lunch with them helped me not only take the edge off, but also allowed me to find my core audience for my self-advocacy and public speaking.

One of thing that I would try and see more of is school districts being more flexible to students that are uncomfortable with eating in the cafeteria. Let’s face it, we all want to eat in peace and decompress after a busy and sometimes anxiety provoking day. And we should get that option as sensory friendly individuals because remember, we have our own mental health and well-being to take care of.

Like all the other areas I am approaching (school safety drills, assemblies, etc.), I might end up creating a presentation about this at some point down the road to present at trainings and conferences. I think teachers and administrators can really benefit from what I have to say to regarding this issue.

Catch you all later!!