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For some students, cellphones can be more than a distraction

100 Mile House Free Press - 3/23/2019

No texting. No calling. No social media.

Many schools are restricting or even putting a ban on the use of cell phones during school hours. In Ontario, they were just banned province-wide. It's been a running debate between students, teachers and school staff, whether or not they should be permitted.

Some students like to test their luck and use them anyways.

"At school, cell phones are not permitted during class time - we cannot be on them," said Ethan Fitzpatrick, a Grade 12 student at Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School. "We can't even look up things that could be helpful for class. We are supposed to use what is given to us."

However, Fitzpatrick is an exception to the phone restriction at his school.

In 2015, he was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. A developmental disorder that is often characterized with significant difficulties including social interaction, nonverbal communicating, restricted or repetitive patterns in behaviour.

"It can be a struggle, but at times it can also be amazing and very helpful," he said. "People who have Aspergers have something that is called a 'tick' and this 'tick' is their knack and knick for whatever they take to. Once they take to something, they learn it almost immediately. I take to pretty much everything, but my favourite thing is poetry."

Because of his disorder, Fitzpatrick must keep his cell phone on him, at all times, with a risk of an emergency. If he can't control one of his breakdowns, when it occurs, he needs to be able to call his mother or doctor - to help with the situation. If Fitzpatrick, is uncapable of making that phone call, somebody else needs to, such as his teacher or close friends. The breakdown can range from mild to intense. If it's really bad, he can become violent. When manageable, Fitzpatrick will leave the classroom and run it off.

"I can get violent with my breakdowns," he said. "Unlike other people, there is a risk of it becoming very bad. If i can control it, my usual reaction is to get up out of class and go for a run - and run until I no longer can."

Staff members at PSO are aware of Fitzpatrick's disorder.

"My teachers know it is something I need to do, they understand. However, sometimes they don't always deem it as the wisest thing to do."

In the midst of a breakdown, any voice or sound causes Fitzpatrick's eardrums to ring, severely. The best way to describe it was like a volcano erupting. Bothered by almost everything around him - he can reach that point, potentially becoming violent. When he is in full control, he will leave.

"If I become too stressed out and I can't handle it, I go home. I will call my mom and tell her I cannot be there any longer," he said. "My breakdowns happen every now and then but the extreme of it is pretty rare these days."

Harj Manhas, Assistant Superintendent of District No. 27, said cell phones can be a great educational tool but the school board has a strict policy for school's to follow.

"The key thing is educating the students between right and wrong," she said. "It's been consistent with students vocalizing the benefits of cell phones, but at the same time, we have to consider the risk of it hindering the classroom and the lessons being taught by teachers."

Like some students, Fitzpatrick admitted to using his phone when he shouldn't be. He believes if students were allowed to use their phones in class, the thrill of using them would eventually wear off.

"I find students will use their phone even more, despite the rules," he said. "A lot of students like to break the rules. Once we are given that freedom to use them, eventually students won't see the point in being on them all of the time."


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