Friday, 21 December 2012

Autistic Voices Conference, Brussels and Seasons' Greetings!

Welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works after what has already been a very busy December for me, not just with finishing off the last of my Christmas shopping, but also with talks and seminars as well as performing some exploratory testing.

Earlier this month, I spoke at a very inspiring conference in Manchester, Autistic Voices. Readers of this blog and those who know me well will know that giving talks and seminars on Asperger's Syndrome is not only a big part of my life, but was also a dramatic change in my life from my first such event back in 2002. From that day onward, I found that I had a new purpose in my life. At Autistic Voices, I had the privilege to meet Scott James, who talked about how signing had done for him what public speaking has done for me, after having been written off by so many. But the day he got up on stage and sang, his life changed. Scott has since appeared on Britain's Got Talent performing his single 'Through My Eyes' to raise awareness of autism and raising thousands for a range of charities including Help the Heroes, Cancer Research etc. To listen to Scott's song, see the following video:



It was the first time that Scott, who like me, was born in Stockton-on-Tees, had spoken rather than sung in public, which I was surprised about, as he looked as though he had been doing for as long as I have! Scott gave a very entertaining talk about his favourite music and comedy moments, just the sort of talk that I wish I could sometimes give where I talk about what I find hilarious, such as when Timmy Mallet was on Wacaday or how at one time I had to have therapy for feeling sorry for poor Richard Bucket, sorry 'Bouquet', constantly having to following Hyacinth's instructions in Keeping Up Appearances!

Elsewhere this month, I have also enjoyed a Christmas market's break in Brussels with Dan, one of Autism Works' Software Test Analysts. As some may remember, this time last year, Dan and I went on a similar break to Prague. Something that this break had in common with last year's was a false start. On arrival in Prague last year, Dan found that he had been issued with the wrong currency, Danish Krona instead of Czech Karuna. When flying to Brussels, our flight had to be diverted to Chaleroi (33km south-west of Brussels) due to adverse weather conditions at Brussels North Airport. We were 'marooned' at Chareloi Airfield for over two hours before the weather in Brussels improved and we were flown up in the air and back down again to Brussels, by which time it was almost midnight.

Guild Houses and Nativity in the Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium
Despite such a start, and after getting the hang of Brussels' metro system, we started to find our way around the city seeing the UNESCO Heritage site the Grand Place in the city centre and the Atomium on the outskirts. We also found some time to visit the battlefield at Waterloo where Napoleon was finally defeated by the forces of 7th Coalition led by the Duke of Wellington in 1815. It was somewhere that I had wanted to visit for quite some time in relation to my interest in history, with this being an event that largely changed the course of European history. Incidentally, something I learned from this visit was that, after his defeat, Napoleon escaped to Chaleroi, where we had been inadvertently flown to 48 hours earlier. After returning home from Brussels, I attended a carols service at the Sage, Gateshead, which featured performances from the Sage Chamber Choir, the Philharmonic Voices and the Femme Chorale. The audience was invited to sing along to the traditional carols while, appropriately, Jerusalem was also performed for an early Christmas present that the England cricket team has had this week - a test series win in India!
Lion Mound at Waterloo, Belgium 

Back at the Autistic Voices conference, I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that not only was Scott James born in Stockton-on-Tees, but had also heard of Daisy Chain, and was thrilled to find out that I was taking on Kilimanjaro to raise much-needed funds for the charity, after having completed the Bupa Great North Run in September. Again, like singing changed Scott's life when he found that he had a talent through which he could express himself, for taking on physical challenges have also shown me that I am capable of more than I previously thought, as well as what mindfulness practice has aided. In the new year, I am hoping to organise one or two events with Daisy Chain, such as a quiz night or possibly also a karaoke night, which Scott sounded enthusiastic about, to raise much-needed funds - so watch this space! In the meantime though, to find out more about my Kilimanjaro challenge for Daisy Chain, visit my JustGiving page at http://www.justgiving.com/Chris-MitchellGNR/

With Very Best Wishes to All for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and Happy Winter Solstice for today!


Friday, 30 November 2012

Full Steam Ahead to New Contracts, Parliament and an Early Christmas!

Welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works after a week's break, and what a lot of things have happened since my last entry, from new software testing contracts to a mention in the House of Commons! For me though, the highlight was a revisiting some of my happiest childhood memories with a thrilling steam train ride along the East Coast Mainline from York to London King's Cross!

Sharon Hodgson
Following on from the partnership that Autism Works established with Camasco in October, the company is embarking on a new testing contract and just last week, to our surprise, we heard the company's name mentioned in Parliament by Sharon Hodgson MP during a debate about autism and the Autism Act 2009,and to my own surprise, I heard my own name mentioned! Highlighting the National Autistic Society's Undiscovered Workforce campaign, Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West and a Shadow Education Minister, talked about the efforts made by Autism Works to develop degrees of flexibility to make recruitment processes more autism-friendly. Mrs Hodgson, who previously came to visit Autism Works in 2010, not long after the company's inception and also attended the 2011 ESPA Graduation, made a very strong contribution to what was a lively debate. To see the Hansard transcript of this debate, click on the following link and scroll down to 6.28pm http://bit.ly/ScmvyR

As I write this entry, today is the last day of November. Normally, I don't like to do too much Christmas-related stuff until the beginning of December, but this year, Christmas has already come a month earlier, as I fulfilled a childhood dream of being steam-hauled down the East Coast mainline! Those who have read my first book and as others may have gathered from previous blog entries, may well know ho much I enjoy train journeys, including the train journeys to places where I am giving talks, seminars and workshops, but this experience was special. Though I have previously travelled on steam-hauled journey's on preserved heritage railways, this was my first ever mainline steam-hauled experience. The 'Tynesider Special' was hauled by A4 Pacific 60009 Union of South Africa, from the same class of steam locomotives as the famous 4498 Mallard, which holds the official world record speed for steam traction, reaching 126mph on 3rd July 1938. The moment Union of South Africa arrived at the platform at York Station, I felt like a child on Christmas Day! Christmas also came early for the children on board when Father Christmas and his elves came around handing out presents The atmosphere on board the train, with the Christmas decorations in old-fashioned carriages, was really run as the smoke flew past the windows!

60009 Union of South Africa at King's Cross, London
Steaming down the East Coast mainline, Union of South Africa passed Stoke bank just past Grantham, around where Mallard broke the record, doing a steady 80mph, before making a brief stop in Peterborough to take on more water, where Mallard had to be replaced after its record breaking run after one of its cylinders overheated. The best part of the day though was when just about all the passengers including myself, after getting off the train at King's Cross wanted to shake the driver and fireman's hands after such a great run!

Alongside providing employment, one of Autism Works other aims was contributing to enabling better quality of life to adults on the autistic spectrum. As readers of this blog may remember, last year, I took a city break to Prague with Dan Cottrell, one of Autism Works first two Software Test Analysts. Dan also accompanied me on the Tynesider Special for what was his first visit to London in ten years, which I was surprised about. Making use of out time in London, we visited the British Museum before being diesel-hauled home. For Dan, who has been with us for nearly two years, Autism Works has certainly been an eye-opener not just professionally, but also socially. Be sure to keep following this blog to find out about our next adventure - a Christmas weekend break in Brussels. Don't forget also to keep circulating the following link to my Kilimanjaro challenge to raise much needed-funds for Daisy Chain at http://bit.ly/L2eWtp

A huge thank-you to the Rt Hon Sharon Hodgson MP for highlighting our work in Parliament and her continued interest in ESPA and Autism Works. Special thanks also to the Railway Touring Company for their fantastic hospitality on board the Tynesider Special, and for 60009 Union of South Africa, a performance to be proud of! 


Friday, 16 November 2012

Social Values, Giving and Pudsey Bear


Since taking up my post at Autism Works, a major change that I feel I have noticed within myself, particularly from getting to grips with the concept of social enterprise and the recently-passed Social Values Act, which I have been exploring this week, is how much more socially aware I have become, which I also feel has reinforced my work as an Asperger trainer.

The concept of social enterprise and the Social Value Act may immediately sound like 'great ideas', but like with ideas that sound great on paper, the hard part comes when applying them to business practice, particularly when measuring their impact. A useful way towards putting such concepts into practice is for one to 'tune' their way of thought towards them, including applying a conscious awareness of the themes involved. A story from the early part of life of the Buddha that I found inspiring and that perhaps distantly relates to the themes in the Social Value Act was a time when the young Prince Siddhartha observed the annual ploughing festival with his father in the kingdom where he lived in what is now northern India and saw that when a plough overturned a stretch of soil, an earthworm was uncovered and a bird flew down from a nearby tree and ate the worm. From this moment, the young Prince Siddharta noticed the concept of inter-connection.

Inter-connection as seen from such a simple observation could be a useful starting point for applying the social value act, by looking at the inter-connection of values, and in the case of Autism Works, how values that the company has in relation to its social enterprise status, can have an effect on enabling other such values for the autism community as well as the Corporate and Social Responsibility element of the business community, including contributing to improved quality life for adults on the autistic spectrum. In turn, excessive dependence on their families as well as on professionals who may be pushed to the limit in supporting them can be reduced while employers benefit from inclusion of adults on the autistic spectrum in their workforce, helping to foster team culture and diversity.

Understanding the difference that you are making through a simple act is a theme that has great significance here and now as I write this blog, for today is Children in Need day! A part of my previous job with Durham County Council that I miss is dressing up as Pudsey each year and scouring the executive's offices at Durham County Hall for donations with two students from Durham Trinity School's Autistic Provision Unit. To do my part for Children in Need this year I have bought this year's beautiful BBC Look North 2013 Weather Calendar, the proceeds of which will go towards the charity. There are some spectacular images in the 2013 edition, including one of the Northern Lights over Northumberland. If you would like to contribute to Children in Need 2012 or if you are looking for any early ideas for Christmas presents with the festive season approaching, click on the photograph of me with Pudsey and Hannah Bayman from BBC Look North's weather team if you would like to purchase a 2013 BBC Look North Weather calendar. 

On the theme of giving, I have also visited the Vivekarama Buddhist Temple in Sunderland to observe the Kathina festival, a time of giving in Buddhism when the lay community express gratitude to monks with alms giving, including giving of new robes. If you feel in such a giving mood, you may like to visit my sponsorship page for my Kilimanjaro challenge to raise much-needed funds for Daisy Chain at www.justgiving.com/Chris-MitchellGNR

Autism Works would like to thank everyone who has participated in any fundraising activities or has kindly donated in aid of Children in Need 2012. What I especially miss about dressing up as Pudsey was when people asked who was in the bear suit, and the Durham Trinity students would say: 'This is Pudsey Bear himself!'


Friday, 9 November 2012

Persistence and Organic Growth

Welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works. First of all, apologies for having to wait a little longer than usual for another blog entry as I have been away this week and last speaking at conferences and giving training on Asperger's Syndrome, first in Manchester, then back home in Sunderland and then in Derby. As usual, there were many interesting questions and responses that came my way, but I also got to see how the practical aspect of my training had an effect on another speaker.

In the ten years that I have given talks seminars and training on Asperger's Syndrome, not only has my content changed as my outlook on life has slowly changed in this time, but the role of the Asperger trainer is also gradually getting harder. For me, what is perhaps the most difficult aspect of giving training on Asperger's Syndrome, despite being diagnosed with the condition and experiencing living with it on a daily basis, I am not 'representative' of all people on the autistic spectrum. Not only are individual experiences of Asperger's Syndrome different, but different individual perspectives of Asperger's Syndrome and general outlooks on life also often vary dramatically. To experience a different life outlook on the autistic spectrum would involve me having to come right out of my own 'Asperger comfort zone', just like a person not on the autistic spectrum would have to come out of their comfort zone to experience what it may like to be on the autistic spectrum.

More recently though in the ten years since my first Asperger's Syndrome seminar, I have begun to notice more how Asperger's Syndrome doesn't only affect me, or others with the condition, but also effects people around us, particularly when it comes to communication. At the conference I spoke at in Manchester, I was pleased to find out that the methods that I have found helpful in coping with the ups and downs Asperger's Syndrome helped one of the other speakers. During many of my seminars, I give audiences a chance to participate in a three-minute breathing space exercise, which involves just focusing on this breath coming in and this breath going out, as well as noticing where the mind wonders, and just gradually calling the mind back to the breath, thus helping one gradually become more in tune with the present moment as it is. One of the other speakers later came to me and said that it was really good to speak after me because this short, simple and accessible technique had  helped her to feel more relaxed after feeling a little nervous about giving a presentation.

This theme continued throughout the talks that followed, together with incorporating being present as a person with Asperger's Syndrome here and now to personal goals which one may hope to achieve in the future. One of the best pieces of advice that I have had on getting the best from mindfulness practice is not to have any expectations as to what it may lead to, as the more you may expect it to deliver, it takes you out of the present to something that either hasn't happened or to how you may like it to be, rather than how it is. bringing this approach to personal goals, in this way, it helps to be realistic about personal goals enabling one to work in the present to reach that goal, rather than focusing on and going for a future goal.

The Arboretum, Derby
Visiting Derby to give a talk, I also had some time to visit Britain's first public park, the Arboretum, opened in 1840. Set aside from the pace of urban life, public parks provide an accessible space in which to not only step back from the flow, but also to observe and appreciate the rhythms and flow of nature regarding the horticultural aspect of a park. Such an appreciation of natural time is more conducive to noticing the effects of mindfulness practice than mechanical or digital time, or within projected timescales. Where noticing the effects of mindfulness practice in work situations, including plans for company growth, it helps not to expect such moment but rather persist with the development of Autism Works and allow growth of the company to occur organically.

As readers of this blog may remember, I have previously written about how the effects of mindfulness helped me complete the 2012 Bupa Great North Run. Where I can bring a mindful approach to the next part of my double challenge to raise much-needed funds for Daisy Chain, to summit Kilimanjaro, is rather than doing the trek to reach the summit, but to go for the summit not just to do the trek, but to continue with my training that I undertook for the Great North Run as well as undertaking some shorter treks closer to home. To find out more about my challenge, visit the following link http://www.justgiving.com/Chris-MitchellGNR/
       
I would also like to take this opportunity to extend my compassion to those who have lost their lives on active service with the Armed Forces as well as their families with Remembrance Sunday approaching.



Friday, 19 October 2012

Partnerships and 'Safe' Tweeting

This week has seen a major and exciting development at Autism Works. After successfully completing a testing project on time and to budget, the company has been invited to enter into a long-term partnership with Camasco.

Based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Camasco, who employ 20 people and export case management software to organisations in the UK, Europe and the United States, were so impressed with the service we have provided at Autism Works, feeling that it has added to the quality of their product. At Autism Works though, what we are especially pleased about is that as well as Camasco selecting the company to carry out the work for them in relation to their commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR), but also that they obviously appreciate our persistent and independent approach as well as quality of service we can provide. Camasco takes CSR and meeting business requirements very seriously, and by contacting with us Autism Works, they are well-placed to meet both.

In a wider context, this partnership could have a major impact. First of all, by valuing skills of workers with autistic spectrum conditions, including Asperger's Syndrome, it is supporting the Autism Act 2009 by contributing to not only spreading awareness of autism in the employment market, but also encouraging acceptance. Secondly, as Autism Works also strongly values the tangible social impact we feel it can deliver combined with Camasco's emphasis on CSR, the partnership is also an early supporter of the recently-passed Social Values Act. At Autism Works, we are especially grateful for the faith that Camasco have show in our abilities.

As readers of this blog may also remember that of previous major developments that have taken place at Autism Works, the company was selected for Social Innovation Pioneer status by Deloitte. This week we have had visits from representatives from Deloitte, including Warren Chester, who has been appointed a non-Executive Director at Autism Works and will advise us on Sales and Marketing. Together with the partnership we have just established with Camasco, this will hopefully put Autism Works in a strong position to bring in some more interesting and exciting contracts in the coming months.

Changing the subject completely, as you may seen in the news, there have been a number of high-profile controversial rants on Twitter over the past few months from cricketers, footballers, politicians and various other celebrities. As a Twitter user myself, I was interested to receive a tweet from the Post Office asking what Twitter users felt would be good guidelines for 'safe tweeting'. Something that immediately occurred to me was that practising 'safe tweeting' was a good opportunity to not only practice mindfulness by not acting on emotions and posting what turns out to be an offensive tweet, but also an area where Buddhist ethics can be applied in a modern and secular context, in this case, refraining from harsh or hurtful speech. One doesn't have to be a 'Buddhist' or even spiritual to practice this, but before tweeting, it sometimes helps to step back for a moment to think it anyone who may see and read this 140-max character statement will hurt, offend or upset. However, I will leave this for individual Twitter users to decide this for themselves.

Despite the so-called 'evils' that social networks can have courtesy of a very small percentage of irresponsible users, they are particularly useful in sharing links and in my case, promoting fundraising challenges, including my pursuit to summit Kilimanjaro to raise much-needed funds for the Daisy Chain project. For more information, be sure to visit the following link http://www.justgiving.com/Chris-MitchellGNR/

Autism Works was also delighted to hear the news of Home Secretary Theresa May's decision not to extradite Gary McKinnon to the United States earlier this week, finally bringing an end to several agonising years of waiting. We wish Gary, his mother Janis Sharp and all his supporters the very best for the next stage of the process.

Friday, 12 October 2012

School Reunion

Readers of this blog will most likely be used to its 'present' tense focus in relation to the mindfulness descriptions, but this entry will be an exception to the rule, as in the last week I have been revisiting my past at a school reunion catching up with my former teachers and former pupils.

Monkwearmouth Comprehensive, the school in Sunderland I attended between 1989-1994, celebrates its 50th anniversary as a school this year and organised a 50th anniversary reunion party open to former pupils and current/former members of staff from the school 's 50 years. The event, organised by Adam Walter, a teacher at the school from 1975-2009, was a huge success and raised over £1000 for the school. There was a huge turnout of both former pupils from different eras and teachers from past and present. When writing my autobiography Glass Half-Empty Glass Half-Full, in which I describe the ups and downs of my school experiences, I did hint towards the end that wouldn't be so keen to go to something like this. by time time of my second book though Asperger's Syndrome and Mindfulness, I had learned how to see people from my past, including former teachers and peers, as they are now.

If anyone reading this blog has read my first book, they will possibly recall that I experienced some difficult times at school as a pupil with undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome, with bullying and generally being misunderstood. As initially difficult as it was, I eventually managed to get over blame that I had towards people from my past who made my life difficult, directly or indirectly. This is has been very difficult for many adults diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome later in life, and I am no different. When giving a seminar with Tony Attwood, author of The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome, I learned that some adults with Asperger's Syndrome are given therapy to help cope with the after effects of schoolyard bullying similar to that given to Vietnam War veterans to help cope with traumas that ensued following the conflict. By tuning to the present though, I began to realise in later life that my teachers and peers didn't know there was a reason for why my behaviour and social presentation appeared 'different' as much as I didn't.

With former PE Teacher Adam Walter
Inclusion within mainstream education is a much more highly topical theme than it was during my time at school, but I do remember and also recall in Glass Half-Empty Glass Half-Full that attempts were made by the school to 'include' me. The most memorable was when I was invited to come along on the school football team's trip to Anfield to watch Liverpool play Southampton in 1990 and organise a quiz for the bus journey in relation to my special interest in football trivia. Despite not being good at playing the game, I got a run out that day! This is something that I will always be grateful to Adam Walter, PE teacher, for. For this, as well as the support I had from my former head teacher, Jim Farnie, I wouldn't swap the mainstream school education I had for a special education, having at one stage been offered a place at a special school (of which I wasn't aware of until my Asperger's Syndrome diagnosis).

With former Head Teacher Jim Farnie
Having seen how much support for school pupils with special needs in mainstream education has improved when visiting schools to give training, something that I felt my experience of undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome taught me was that it is possible for a pupil with an Asperger's Syndrome diagnosis to 'survive' mainstream school without formal support, while progress can be made with additional informal support. Most importantly though, what I like to make a point of when visiting schools to give training on Asperger's Syndrome, is the importance of early diagnosis, which can make a huge difference in enabling where necessary support can be identified and implemented.

With England and Team GB international Jill Scott
Also at the event was Jill Scott, who represented Team GB in the women's football tournament at London 2012. A few former pupils from Monkwearmouth School went on to become professionalfootballers, including Martin Smith and Michael Proctor who played for Sunderland, Jill was the school's first full international footballer and has also represented the England women's team at two World Cups and two European Championships. In the meantime, I wish the school all the bets for another fifty years!

Special thanks to Adam Walter and to Monkwearmouth School for all their hard work in making this wonderful event possible.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Chalet Lines and Preparing for the Push to the Summit

Welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works after a two-week break. After the euphoria of completing the world's largest half-marathon, which I had the joy of recalling in my previous entry, now is time for me to come back down to earth again and concentrate on more immediate commitments in the present and over the coming months, including continuing with the ISEB Foundation Certificate, speaking/training events that I have next month as well as next part of my fundraising campaign for Daisy Chain - the push to the summit!

After experiencing the elation of a personal triumph, it is easy to see why some may get carried away to the extent that the euphoria can take one out of the present. Sometimes factors such as the build-up of anticipation before a special event can lead towards an anti-climax, especially if there are feelings of jubilation or triumph at the peak of the event, from which there is a long way to come down from mentally. However, over the last fortnight since my last blog entry, I feel that I have strongly experienced the value of stepping back from the flow to tune myself back to the present moment with mindfulness practice, bringing the focus of my attention to matters in the present as well as my next set of commitments to prepare for.

Chalet Lines in performance at the Live Theatre, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Switching off from ISEB, speaking/training and fundraising, this week I have been to see an entertaining performance of Chalet Lines at the Live Theatre on Newcastle-upon-Tyne's Quayside. Set at Chalet Number 12 at Skegness' Butlins' resort, where the Walker family's women have been holidaying since 1961, Chalet Lines takes the audience through five decades of birthdays, hen parties, gossip, arguing, heartache remedied by laughter. Drama and entertainment goes hand-in-hand with much of the work I do with giving training on Asperger's Syndrome, including sometimes using drama workshops to give participants an idea of how it may feel to have Asperger's Syndrome.

The contrast of characters Chalet Lines, written by Lee Mattinson, provide for great entertainment with Abigail, the down-trodden daughter (Viktoria Kay) of Loretta (Sharon Percy) who is subject to 'put-downs' from her mother while her sister Joelene (Sammy T Dobson) plays the part of the apple in her mum's eye. As you may remember from my previous entries, I recently went to see the stage version of the Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time. This expression immediately brought back memories of when Christopher Boone said why do we say such an expression when an apple is too big to fit in someone's eye! Viktoria Kay's brilliant portrayal of young Abigail gave an insight into the 'trapped' world of a misunderstood teenager, similar almost to how a person with Asperger's Syndrome can feel, particularly when her Aunt Paula (Jill Dellow) asked her if there really is such a thing as 'normal', while teaching her the Macarena dance.

Retuning back to the present, I am in the process of preparing for speaking/training events I have coming up in November and I am also preparing for the next stage of my fundraising challenge for Daisy Chain, which is to summit Kilimanjaro in October 2013. When giving training on Asperger's Syndrome, I often talk about why mountains have base camps, and why an Asperger's Syndrome diagnosis itself is like a base camp, as it gives one an opportunity to step back and assess and reflect on their own journey so far, before continuing onto the next part of the journey. For me, completion of the Great North Run represents the 'base camp' in my double challenge challenge. The next part of the journey for is to keep up the training and maintain the confidence going into the next part, the push to summit of Africa's highest mountain. To visit my updated Justgiving page click the following link http://www.justgiving.com/Chris-MitchellGNR/


Friday, 21 September 2012

Elation! Mission Accomplished Part One!

It is over a week ago now and I still can't believe it, but I managed to successfully complete the world's largest half-marathon! If someone had told me a few years back, when I much of my spare time was spent very inactively, either worrying too much, comfort eating or just watching television, that I would one day complete a half marathon, I would have been in hysterics.

Coming down Marsden Bank, South Shields, just before the last mile
After having some doubts about whether or not I would actually complete it or pick up a strain along the way, which had occurred twice during my training, I found that once I got going, and with the cheering crowd encouraging the runners on, I suddenly forgot any doubts that I had and when crossing the Tyne Bridge, I felt that was the part of the run that said 'welcome to the Great North Run', but it was when I got past Heworth roundabout, the highest part of the route and then towards the halfway point that I felt that I was actually 'doing it'. With the wonderful crowds who came out to watch handing out cups of water, ice pops and jelly babies, I found that I was able to forget any feelings of fatigue or exhaustion when reaching the last mile and eventually the finish. Each and every moment of the run was magic, and the elation I experienced when crossing the finish line was something I will never forget.

One of the biggest aspects of the challenge of completing a half-marathon in relation to Asperger's Syndrome, is that it is a way to cope with some of the difficulties that the condition can present regarding anxiety, much of which stems from doubt, by facing up to them. To face up to such anxiety, I saw it as an opportunity to practice mindfulness, where attention to the breath during the run helped me stay focused on the present during each of the 13.1 miles. I also felt that combination of simple yoga stretches and meditation practices helped me to keep my back upright while running as it had occurred in training where I had 'slumped' a little and it was putting strain on my knee joints, allowing me to run for longer. Attention to such bodily sensations can make a huge difference for such a challenge.

The crowds I felt were as much the stars as the runners. Without them, I probably couldn't have done it. What has been especially lovely though, is that as well as my own elation, it appears from the many messages I have had from family and friends that there are many people who are elated for me. What has made the Great North Run experience so special, as it no doubt has for many others taking part this year, is that it gives you both a sense of achievement and contribution for a worthy cause, in my case supporting many young people and families affected by autism at Daisy Chain. When I have given talks and seminars on Asperger's Syndrome, it has happened were people have found themselves in tears being so proud of me and in the weeks leading up to the Great North Run, many have told me how proud have been of me taking on such an ambitious challenge, but one thing that is for sure though, I had never felt any more pleased with or any prouder of myself than I did after completing the run!

Meanwhile, coming back down to Earth after the euphoria of the big day, I am continuing to work my way through the ISEB, learning about the difference between the users and suppliers, including possible problems with requirements-based testing and how ill-specified requirements can present problems. One has to be especially careful about vagueness of requirements, particular when a requirements document says that it intends the software to perform a particular function but doesn't specify how it does it. This where a requirements list from a customer may become more like a 'wish list' than a requirements list, but the supplier may not have the same assumptions as the customer. This is where applying strengths that Asperger's Syndrome can present, including eye for and attention to detail and specific accuracy, can produce specific requirements documents for customers to enable functional specifications for suppliers. For if suppliers identify features only from the requirements document, it may result in a system not performing a function users want that wasn't specified in the requirements they weren't contracted to meet. Attention to detail in a physical sense got me through the Great North Run, hopefully I can apply it in a technical sense to eventually pass my ISEB!

At Kala Pattar, 2009
Completing the Great North Run represents 'mission accomplished' for the first part of my double challenge to raise much-needed funds for Daisy Chain. The next challenge is slightly more ambitious - to summit Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain at 5896m, in October 2013. Whereas the Great North Run was a step into the unknown for me, Kilimanjaro will be a challenge that I have been more used to having previously trekked to Everest Base Camp in 2009 to raise funds for the National Autistic Society, though the conditions along Kilimanjaro's Lemosho Glades route (the route I will be taking) will be very different to the Himalayas, and perhaps even more varied. Being slightly higher than Everest Base Camp (where the highest point Kala Pattar is 5550m), coping with the higher altitude will also be more challenging. To find out more or to donate to this part of my challenge, see the following link http://bit.ly/L2eWtp

To stay fit for my Kilimanjaro challenge, and also to possibly enter future half-marathons and maybe even a full marathon, I am certainly going to keep up with my training. In the meantime, a huge thank you to everyone who has so far donated to my challenge on behalf of Daisy Chain and to the crowds who came along to cheer on this year's Great North Runners.

I am equally as proud of all the other runners who took part in this year's Bupa Great North Run, raising funds for very worthy causes and making a huge difference to the lives of so many. Elsewhere, I would also like to extend my compassion to friends and relatives of the 96 football fans who lost their lives during the Hillsborough Disaster on April 15th 1989, after recently released documents shed new light on this human tragedy.

Friday, 14 September 2012

A Curious Incident and Big Day Build-up

Welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works. Now that it is September, the first reminder that comes to mind for me is how much closer the Great North Run is. As I write this blog, it now less than two days away! However, aside from my training for the run, I have continued with studying towards the ISEB and I have also had the pleasure of viewing the stage version of the best-selling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which brought back a lot of phrases I am familiar with from my past!

Luke Treadaway as Christopher Boone
Broadcast live from London's Cottesloe Theatre at Tyneside Cinema, the stage version of Mark Haddon's best-selling novel, adapted for stage by Simon Stephens was a fantastic and innovative production. Having previously read and enjoyed the novel, at around the time when my first book Glass Half-Empty Glass Half-Full, one of the aspects of adapting such a story to the stage while writing a book directly from my own personal experiences of Asperger’s Syndrome that I felt would be such a difficult task was to with much of the story being ‘in the head’. Similarly, when I am giving training on Asperger’s Syndrome, I try as best I can to give audience members an idea of how it may actually feel to be a person with Asperger’s Syndrome. Because the descriptions of events surrounding the death his neighbour’s dog Wellington by the central character, Christopher Boone (played by Luke Treadaway), are so individualistic, I did have questions about how this could be done on stage. From an Asperger perspective, I was very impressed with how this was put across.

The way that Christopher gave very literal answers to questions asked by his father and the policemen, as well as literal interpretations of literal instructions and metaphors (which he felt should be called ‘lies’) and how confusing he found people generally, reminded me a lot of my own childhood. Like Christopher, I did have a tendency to ‘regurgitate’ excessive facts and information about astronomy, but I did also hear the familiar phrases ‘Christopher please’ and ‘Christopher give it a break’ that his parents often would say to him almost as if they were coming back from my past! Also like Christopher, I did also have dreams about becoming an astronaut when I grew up for similar reasons, to get away from the excessive confusion of being around people and various other human conventions that I felt didn’t make sense!

What was especially impressive though about the production when putting across the story through the mind of Christopher was with the sensory aspect of autism, particularly when at the railway station, where they used a montage of different sound effects heard in such an environment from adverts, broadcasts and echoing tannoy messages where one struggles to make anything out, as well as flashing a list of different rail service providers along the stage floor, to illustrate confusion and anxiety. The concluding part of the story though, where Christopher achieves his A-Star in maths and realises that he could do more than he was capable of after finding his way to London from Swindon to see his mother was heart-warming, when he realised that he was braver than he thought!

Coming back to my own life experiences, I felt a similar feeling after reaching Everest Base Camp in 2009 to raise funds for the National Autistic Society, realising that I was capable of more than I thought. Before this, I had never thought of myself entering a half-marathon. As I mentioned when speaking on BBC Radio Tees this week*, just to complete the Bupa Great North Run will be a huge achievement for me, on the same level as reaching Everest Base Camp was. To donate to my effort, visit the following link http://www.justgiving.com/Chris-MitchellGNR/

*To listen to my interview with BBC Tees' Mike Parr this morning about my participation in this Sunday's Great North Run at the following link http://bbc.in/TXinmc My interview takes place from 2.22. 

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Tyneside Cinema for their help in arranging a collection point for the Daisy Chain Project, as well as to the cinemagoers who very kindly donated.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Unique Perspectives, Team-working, and August Blue Moon

As I continue to work towards the ISEB Foundation Certificate, the more it opens me to where potential strengths of employees with Asperger's Syndrome can be applied not only to testing software itself, but to other aspects of employment, including indirectly to team-working. Team-working is an aspect of employment that people with Asperger's Syndrome are still often stereotyped as having difficulty with, often preferring to work alone. However, unique individual perspectives that a person with Asperger's Syndrome may apply when working alone can be transferred with great effect to team situations.

An area of software testing where unique individual perspectives in employees with Asperger's Syndrome can be applied is within acceptance testing. In software testing speak, acceptance testing is primarily concerned with whether it works or not from the users perspective. How a piece of software works if often individual to the user, an example being if Microsoft released a new or updated version of MSWord, a user who simply wants to type and print a letter may assume it works OK, but a developer writing code may need the product to be robust, so from the latter perspective, the presumption that it works is no longer safe. So whether or not a piece of software works has a personal perspective. It may work for one individual's purpose, but not for another.

Thi    This is where a group of employees with Asperger's Syndrome can apply different and often unique perspectives to the project that they are working on as a team. The different perspectives can test different functions of the software which can give developers a good indication of how their product will or in some cases won't work with a diverse range of potential users. It is often said that people with Asperger's Syndrome are even more different as individuals than people not on the autistic spectrum, a quality that can indirectly apply to working in a team. Another quality that I like to think can help an employee with Asperger's Syndrome relate effectively to other team members is if they have experienced personal difficulties or hardships, including those in relation to their experiences of Asperger's Syndrome, it will help them understand and be sympathetic towards a fellow team member experiencing similar difficulties.


         Away from Autism Works and ISEB, today will see, literally, a 'once in a blue moon' event. Today, as I write this entry on the last day of August, there is a blue moon, though the moon is not literally blue! In astronomical/calendar speak, a blue moon month is month in which there are two full moons. A significant blue moon month for me was in May 2007. Full Moon in May is significant because it is symbolic of the birth, enlightenment and passing into Nirvana of the Buddha. May 2007 was the first time that I partook in a Vesak festival at Harnham Buddhist Monastery in Northumberland and I learned that if there are two full moons in may, Vesak is celebrated on the second full moon, or blue moon in May.   

         In September, I have Tyneside Cinema's live screening of the stage version of Mark Haddon's novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and then on September the 16th it is the big day - Bupa Great North Run Day! It is a huge step into the unknown for me as I have never done anything like this before, though I am relatively confident that I have made reasonable progress with my training to enable me to complete it on the day to raise funds for the Daisy Chain Project. Daisy Chain will have a stall in the charity village at the finish line in South Shields if anyone planning on coming along or are taking part in the event themselves would like to find out more. To donate, the link is http://www.justgiving.com/Chris-MitchellGNR/ 
         
         Happy Blue Moon Day to you all! 

         The other significant event the occurs on August Blue Moon Day (today) is the funeral service of the first human to set foot on the Moon Neil Armstrong, who sadly died earlier this week, a man who experienced the ultimate in stepping into the unknown with the iconic quote: 'That's one small step for man, and one giant leap for mankind'. RIP Neil Armstrong (1930-2012).










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Friday, 24 August 2012

Systematic Coverage and Mindful Applications

Welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works. Since my last entry, I have been working on the ISEB Foundation course, as well as reviewing some of Autism Works' Operational procedures, including in relation to approaches I have come across in the ISEB course.

Much emphasis in the many books and guidance presently available on the subject of Asperger's Syndrome is on how the condition affects one in the working environment itself and during the recruitment phase, the latter which appears to be a particularly huge stumbling block to many candidates with Asperger's Syndrome. What I am finding though is that there appears to be very little guidance on induction, as a successful and supportive induction process can make a huge difference to how a new employee with Asperger's Syndrome, especially if they struggle with change including adapting to new environments, different practices and unfamiliar people.

When learning about approaches to software testing while doing ISEB, I have found some interesting parallels with developing Asperger-friendly operational procedures, including recruitment policies as well as approaches towards software testing that can be incorporated into the company's operational practices, including systematic approaches. When learning about different testing methods, I came across the waterfall method, which was at one time a standard model for testing software in the 1970s, but is seen today as too time consuming and inflexible to apply to current day large projects, and more flexible methods, including Rapid Application Development (RAD) and Iterative Incremental models, have had to be learned. Similarly, to recruit people with Asperger's Syndrome, employers need to learn different and more flexible approaches to their recruitment procedures, including asking closed rather than open or abstract questions.

One of the first questions software testers ask, especially when testing a big software project, is how much testing is enough? It is rarely possible to test everything due to time and budget constraints, so instead, testers focus on the parts of the software that are the most critical, or where the bugs are likely to cluster. Similarly, when offering support to new inductees at Autism Works, it may not quite be possible with available resources to offer comprehensive support, so instead, it will perhaps be more appropriate to take a systematic approach, focusing support offered during the induction stage where it is needed, including in relation to anxiety and sensory issues that an inductee may experience.

Readers of this blog will be familiar with how I discuss how I have applied mindful approaches to life, including in both my professional and personal life. Away from work, I have also found a systematic approach helpful in my home life, including in cooking. Though I have cooked Thai stir-fries for quite some time, I only recently found where I was going wrong, which was throwing all the ingredients in all together, which could often result in some of them, particularly those that cook quicker than others, being over-cooked or burnt. I found that the quality of my meals was so much better by adding different ingredients at different stages to give them the right amount of cooking, rather than some being overdone.

Another bit of news that I have is that I am now up to £500 with my fundraising for Daisy Chain with less than a month to go before the first part of my challenge, the Bupa Great North Run. As well as the meditation practice, I am also finding yoga practice helpful in finding my balance when running as sometimes your posture can slip to the extent that it can put a lot of strain on the calf muscles. Meanwhile, as demand for Daisy Chain's services continues to increase, if you wish to make a donation, please visit the following link: http://www.justgiving.com/Chris-MitchellGNR/

Monday, 13 August 2012

First Days at Works, Creativity and Meteors

In the media world, August is usually silly season for news and features, but at Autism Works, this summer has been different, as we have had a busy testing case load which has seen me experience different software testing processes as well as the excitement and, as I write this entry, the aftermath of London 2012 and the Perseid Meteor Shower.

Learning and partaking in testing of a testing project we currently have on the go has almost been like a first day at work! One is operating outside their comfort zone when learning new tasks. With this project being hugely different to the previous one that I worked (which was web-based), learning and getting used to the procedure for the software we are currently testing was like a first day at work. First days at work are often rough for most of us. Having experienced so many false starts in my employment, I feel as though I have had enough first days at work to become accustomed to expect the unexpected. What is for sure though in the software testing world is that each new testing contract is almost like starting a new job. Being tuned into the moment at the point of starting a new testing contact really does help in learning habits and routines picked up from the previous work in progress, and the supportive environment is certainly a bonus.

Testing Flow Diagrams in the Autism Works break-out room
Since my last entry, I watched an interesting video of a talk at the TestBash, a one day conference hosted by the Software Testing Club, about the theme of creativity in software testing, almost like painting a picture or taking a photograph to explain software testing in simple terms, as well as to find creative approaches towards finding defects. this relates to the autism awareness training aspect of my role at Autism Works where I have found visual methods for learning very helpful, including colour-coded flow diagrams, which our break-out room is now full of. When giving training on Asperger's Syndrome to new staff at ESPA, I was delighted when one of the new recruits said during the Q & A session that before the session she had so many questions to ask, but I managed to answer them all!

Like just about the whole of the UK, Olympic fever has found its way into the Autism Works office and we managed to catch the cycling, rowing and canoeing successes that Team GB have enjoyed during our coffee breaks. Team GB's performance at London 2012, in winning 29 gold medals, as well as finishing above Russia in the medal table, has been nothing short of inspirational. It is a far cry from Atlanta 1996 when there was only one British gold medal. National Lottery funding has obviously made a huge difference. The next challenge though is to maintain it.

On the theme of the Olympics, I got to have a hold of an Olympic Torch in an unusual situation for such an opportunity, during a dark sky observing session at Derwent Reservoir, where one of the other observers, Claire Pazcko, brought the torch she proudly carried through Sunderland during the torch relay, very kindly letting people  have a hold of it. Claire was nominated as a torch bearer for her dedication to the St Oswald's Hospice. I went up to Derwentside to observe the Perseid Meteor Shower. Though the sky was mainly cloudy, I was lucky enough to see two shooting stars without the aid of a telescope of binoculars after the clouds started to clear towards midnight.   

Back had Autism Works, the company has a celebration of its own with Software Test Analyst Dan Cottrell passing his ISEB Foundation Certificate, which is a huge step for the company as well as Dan himself. This fits in well with Autism Works' goals in working with employees to achieve an industry-recognised qualification. With my double challenge, I am now up to 13.5 miles with my running for the Great North Run which is now about a month away as I write this entry. I have also heard that double gold medal winner Mo Farah (who won gold on the Men's 5,000m and 10,000m) is starting the run this year, which should be a great inspiration for the 54,000 participants from all walks of life and for a huge variety of charities/causes. To continue to follow this, visit the following link: http://www.justgiving.com/Chris-MitchellGNR/

Special thanks to Claire Pazcko for letting me have a hold of her Olympic Torch and also to the gamesmakers who have made a huge contribution to making London 2012 so successful, including Claire Wynarczyk, a friend of Autism Works from Ashington, Northumberland, whom you can listen to talking about her London 2012 gamesmaker experience on BBC Radio Newcastle's Aflie and Charlie Breakfast Show at the following link http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/p00wppc8 

Congratulations also to Dan Cottrell on passing his ISEB Foundation Certificate - we are all extremely proud of you!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Double Checking, ESPA Graduation and Autism for Heroes

This week at Autism Works has seen me pick up some important tips when doing functional testing as well as the delight of watching this year's ESPA graduation ceremony at the Tyne Journal Theatre in Newcastle.

As I wrote about in last week's blog entry, at Autism Works we have been testing a mobile phone app and I have been carrying out some functional testing of its links, which I managed to do without missing any errors. However, when checking to make sure that they were correct, it was only after my checking was proofed by my software testing colleagues that there was something that I missed. From this though, I realised the importance of double-checking, which I will make sure I do when working on our next contract.

Though I initially felt a little 'bad' at not spotting something, I do feel some reassurance in that it was only one error out of so many and that one does have to make mistakes to be able to do it right, and that not coming from an IT background together with limited knowledge of IT, in many ways I have a good background for software testing as I am not used to working within IT processes familiar to software developers. With experience, I am sure that I will continue to improve and gain confidence when working on future projects, especially since I enjoyed testing my first mobile app!

Gaining confidence was very much a buzz-term throughout this year's ESPA Graduation. It was the second time that I have had the pleasure of seeing how much ESPA has made a difference to so many students at this event, not just in formal education and successful work placements that many of this year graduates have had but also in terms of independent skills that they feel they have developed, such as using public transport, cooking and many others that most of us take for granted. When starting at ESPA, many of this year's graduates had perhaps either been told that they would 'never be able to do this because they were autistic' or never personally believed they could, but their ESPA experience, including the travel training that the charity provides for its students, has made a huge difference to them to the extent that it has enhanced the quality of their life, including beyond ESPA.

This year though, what was particular delight to see, especially in relation to the work I do, was how the confidence that ESPA students had gained had benefits not only for the students but also for charity. This year has seen another innovation in Autism4Heroes, a unique charity made up of young people with autism from across North East England supported by family and friends who have two missions:

1. To raise as much money for a chosen charity
2. To raise awareness of the potential of people with autism through a variety of performing arts events


This year, their chosen charity is Help for Heroes. In recognition of their hard work, Autism4Heroes have been invited to give a performance at the Catterick Rehabilitation Centre, where injured soldiers receive treatment, which was built using funds from Help the Heroes.


Stack pillar at Marsden Beach, South Shields
Elsewhere, I am now up to ten miles with my training for this year's Bupa Great North Run, running up from Roker to Marsden and back. One of the biggest challenges I am finding with running, especially at this distance is the continuous nature of it, but I am finding that my mindfulness practice is helping me notice the breath during running, including the variation in breath length, so that I can be mindful of when my heart is in need of more air, thus enabling me to continue without stopping. A big thank you to all who have donated to Daisy Chain for whom I am running in aid of so far. For further donations, please visit my sponsorship page at http://www.justgiving.com/Chris-MitchellGNR/

Autism Works would like to say a huge thank you t Autism4Heroes for their very inspiring work and for what they have raised for Help the Heroes. To hear members of Autism4Heroes discuss their project on BBC radio Newcastle, click here


Friday, 13 July 2012

Mobile App Testing, Meteors and Newcastle Apocalypse

Welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works. My last two weeks at Autism Works, as you may have seen in my two previous blog entries, have been highly varied regarding what I have been up to and where I have been. Though the variation and change of setting and scenery have been enjoyable, in accordance with how I am affected by Asperger's Syndrome, it is nice also to have some routine and repetitive work for a change.

For much of this week, I have been testing a mobile phone app, using functional testing techniques to see if the links from the app worked. In the world of software testing, which I am still very new to, functional testing involves identifying the functions of the software component being tested, in this case the mobile app, and its execution and recording the expected and actual outputs on a spreadsheet. I was pleased to find that I was able to do it both quickly and successfully without missing anything, and most importantly, it made me feel valued within the team, further enhancing my role in the company. According to Deloitte, mobile phone apps is a huge growth area. Currently, there are two million mobile apps and this is set to double over the next two years. Hopefully we will test many more!

Water at car roof height, Heworth
As I briefly touched upon in my previous entry, two weeks ago I found myself, as did the whole of the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the surrounding area caught in the middle of floods and a thunderstorm. Described as 'Newcastle Apocalypse' on Twitter, when the sky suddenly seemed to go dark it reminded me of the film Independence Day where a huge shadow is cast over New York by an invading alien spacecraft. The experience of Newcastle Apocalypse was a huge step outside of my comfort zone not only regarding coping with walking through floods, but also seeing sights that I had never previously seen including water at car roof height and people being rescued from flooded houses by lifeboat. Previously the only times I had seen such sights was on television. The most iconic image from what turned out to be a quite memorable day was the huge bolt of lightening that almost struck the Tyne Bridge, which featured on the national news.


Family being rescued from flooded home by lifeboat, Heworth
Readers of this blog may also remember that cloudy skies obscured what will almost certainly be the last chance to see the Transit of Venus during my lifetime, but with a bit of luck, the skies will hopefully clear in time for the next major astronomical event this year, the Perseids Meteor Show which is due to peak between 12-13 August. Though perhaps not as talked about or observed as much as moons, planets stars, nebulae and constellations, observation and study of meteors and indeed if they are large enough to survive the fall through Earth's atmosphere to land and become meteorites, also provide a fascinating insight into the origins of the solar system, including the origin of life on Earth. At a lecture given by Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, that I attended at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland this week, I found that some meteorites found on Earth actually pre-date the Solar System. Most excitingly, studying meteorites is one of few ways in which humanity can get up close and personal with material that originates from inter-stellar space beyond the Solar System, gathered and ejected by comets.

Coming back down to Earth, I am still continuing with my training for the Bupa Great North Run, which is now only two months away. Currently I am up to ten miles, but I feel as though I am gradually getting there. Daisy Chain, the charity whom I am running in aid of, has also been in the local news recently about how demand for their services has gone up by 600 per cent, while at the same time its income has fallen. To obtain an idea of the huge difference that Daisy Chain makes to many of the families it supports, see the promotional video below:


My sponsorship page can be accessed at http://www.justgiving.com/Chris-MitchellGNR/ A huge thank you to all who have donated so far.    


Be sure to stay tuned to Adventures with Autism Works to see how this unfolds.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Clocks, Thunderstorms, Floods and a Walk in the Woods

Welcome back to the second part of my Asperger talks journey through the north west. Last week, the theme was about train journeys and astronomy. In this week's entry, I am going to focus on aspects more closely related to a more familiar topic to readers of this blog - mindfulness and coming out of comfort zones, including applying mindfulness within giving a seminar on Asperger's Syndrome.

While giving a seminar on the theme of Mindful Living with Asperger's Syndrome in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, the circumstances of the day gave me the perfect opportunity to bring mindfulness into a working situation. I was due to speak later in the day, but due to a hold up on the motorway, the two speakers who were due to speak before me couldn't make it until later, so I needed to speak earlier than planned, thus come out of my comfort zone. Applying mindfulness to the situation, I was able to tune into the present by describing how it can feel to have Asperger's Syndrome, by coping with a disruption in routine. This is something that is difficult for many people with Asperger's Syndrome to do, but I felt that I was able to step outside my comfort zone effectively as it fitted in so well with the theme I was talking about, tuning Asperger's Syndrome into as it is in the present moment.

Rufford Old Hall, Lancashire
While in the north west, I visited the fascinating Rufford Old Hall, a National Trust property in Lancashire, home of the Hesketh family for over 500 years and also where a young William Shakespeare performed before he was famous. What intrigued me most when visiting the 16th-century property was the lantern clock in the living room. The visitors sheet asks what can you notice about this clock, and on closer inspection, one finds that it only has a hand for the hour, whereas today we are so used to seeing a minute and second had on a clock face that when stepping back in time, we forget how time used to be seen as much more fluent, a concept which it is sometimes helpful to apply when stepping back from the flow in the present.

Lantern clock at entrance of Rufford Old Hall
With the purpose of mindfulness practice being to tune one into the present, it seems odd to associate it with a place of historical interest about the past, but thinking back to when time was seen as more fluent made me realise how much of contemporary life is driven by factors that put us on 'automatic pilot', including precise times, timetables and schedules, including for work and transport requirements, to the extent that we plan our lives around them to the extent that we often experience difficulties coping when something goes wrong. Locally, a recent example of this was the floods that followed a thunderstorm in Newcastle, where just about all public transport, including the Tyne and Wear Metro, came to a halt and many of the road and rail networks had to close due to floods or landslides. So I found myself having to walk almost eight miles before being able to get a lift home!

Time is of the essence to many of us in that we become so over-dependent on it that we loose touch with the present. Sometimes it helps to step back from the flow enabling us to observe this. In Laos, where I visited in April, though it appears as a 'backwater' through western eyes being one of the world's poorest nations, when stepping back from what one may be used to in the west, we can also see what we have lost in how driven by time and demand we are that we loose touch with our natural pace of life. The official name of Laos is the Lao Peoples' Democratic Republic (PDR), but the Laotians like to say that it unofficially stands for 'Please Don't Rush', which is evident in that shops and places of business still, for the main part, open and close at their own convenience, without the rush around the clock to open up stores or to get to the stores as soon as they are open.

Foxglove, Mereton Wood, Lancashire
While in the Lancashire and Hertfordshire, I also went on some short walks through woodlands, observing plant life, including some beautiful foxglove in Mereton Wood, Lancashire. A walk through the woods is a good way to step back from the flow, being at ease with nature, being with natural time rather than be constrained by clock time, the latter of which is more conducive to experiencing the benefits of mindfulness practice unfolding. In the meantime, here and now, stay tuned to this blog to see how the adventure with Autsim Works unfolds moment by moment as well as my Double Challenge for Daisy Chain.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Seminars, Astronomy, Railways and Different Perspectives


It seems as though I find myself having to do this on a relatively frequent basis when beginning my blog entries, but once again apologies for the lateness of this entry. However, readers will be quite excited to know that the last fortnight has been a fascinating experience from both an Asperger perspective with the seminars that I have been giving and a travel perspective with the train journeys and the places that I have been lucky enough to have had some time to visit.

My busy week of talks, seminars and workshops began with the Autism Show 2012 at Excel London, where I gave a seminar on Asperger’s Syndrome and Employment, including looking at some of the operational procedures that I have developed at Autism Works, before having the privilege to listen to Ari Ne’eman speak. Ne’eman (who is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome), was appointed by Barack Obama in 2010 to serve on the US National Council on Disability, gave a very inspiring speech on the rights of people on the autistic spectrum to be included within mainstream society as they are, rather than being pigeon-holed or seen as needing to be cured. This relates to what we would like to achieve at Autism Works where we would eventually like to provide opportunities for employees to earn an industry-recognised qualification, the ISEB Foundation Certificate, which can also lead to opportunities beyond Autism Works, rather than feeling as though they are in an ‘autism bubble’.

Statue of John Betjeman, St Pancras International, London
One of my favourite aspects of giving talks, seminars and workshops on Asperger’s Syndrome is that it has taken me to places throughout the UK that I perhaps wouldn’t normally visit as well as along some very picturesque railway routes. Travelling to Lancashire via Carlisle took me through the peaks of the Lake District and past the sands of Morecambe Bay. As the late John Betjeman, former Poet Laureate, said, views from railway journeys give a different and often unique perspective of landscapes.

Carr House, Much Hoole, Lancashire
While in the north-west I also found time to visit Carr House in Much Hoole, Lancashire, where Jeremiah Horrocks is said to have observed the Transit of Venus in 1639. As you may remember from my last entry, along with many others I missed out on seeing this year’s transit (the last until the year 2117) due to heavy clouds, but weather couldn’t stop me from gaining a view of Carr House! Like the view from a railway carriage gives a different perspective on landscape, observations of astronomical events not only often give us a different perspective of the universe but have, historically, often changed our perception of it. As the first to observe the transit with a telescope, projecting the Sun’s image onto the wall, Horrocks made measurements the derived a value for the solar parallax that showed that the Sun was further away from Earth than previously thought, thus a step in opening us up to a larger Solar System and Universe full of possibilities which would gradually unfold.


Having already used two of what I call my ‘Guilty Asperger Pleasures’, railways and astronomy, to illustrate the value different perspectives, I must now get back on track and apply this value to software testing. One of Autism Works strengths as an independent software testing service is that we see software products from outside the constraints under which the developers work, thus being able to see and identify bugs that most likely bypass them, which I am finding in some testing that has just come in. For more about this, as well as different and unique perspectives, stay tuned to Adventures with Autism Works.

On the subject of different perspectives, mountain treks have enabled me to gain a different perspective of who I am in relation to my Asperger diagnosis. To find out about or make a donation towards my next challenge to raise much-needed funds for The Daisy Chain Project, please see the following link http://www.justgiving.com/Chris-MitchellGNR

Friday, 8 June 2012

Vesak, Moving Office and Cloudy Skies

Welcome back to normal at Autism Works after the circus of the bunting and red, blue and white over the long weekend! It would be unfortunate for some, but fortunately for me, I managed to avoid the majority of the Jubilee celebrations by stepping back from the flow at Harnham Buddhist Monastery in Northumberland, where I have been participating in Vesak, celebrating the birth, enlightenment and passing into Nirvana of the Buddha.

During Vesak, Ajahn Munindo, Senior Abbot at Harnham gave a series of Dhamma talks after periods of meditation. most interestingly, he gave one on literal interpretation of the Buddhist scriptures. As a person with Asperger's Syndrome, literal interpretation of written word is a topic of interest to me. Literal interpretation of metaphors by people with Asperger's Syndrome can sometimes be comical, but where it can also be problematic is when it collides with an Asperger aspect that is considered a strength - rules orientation. What is often difficult for a person with Asperger's Syndrome understand though is the context in which such texts or rules are written. Ajahn Munindo also said that when reading the scriptures, it helps for one to detach from the written words of the scriptures, so that you don't become 'conditioned' by them.

The Jubilee celebration wasn't the only thing that I missed this week, as due to weather conditions, along with many others who had woken up early, was the Transit of Venus. Cloud cover obscured the event, which won't be seen again until the year 2117. Though it was a disappointment not to see the black disc of Venus cross the Sun, the clouds and rain didn't stop the happy and joyful atmosphere within a group of members of Sunderland Astronomical Society at Roker Beach who had brought flasks of hot drinks and containers of food. That we won't see the Transit of Venus again until 2117 shows us just how insignificant human lifetimes are within the broader context, especially in the context of astronomical events. As Ajahn Munindo also said during my monastic stay, no being that has ever lived is immortal, for nothing is fixed or permanent.

Having been a short week at Autism Works, other than finally having broadband installed in our new office and a process of shifting furniture, computers and cables downstairs, there really hasn't been too much to report. I can happily say though that we have a little more space in our new office, including an extra room, which Peter is especially thrilled with! However, I have a very busy two weeks coming up with four speaking engagements including at the Autism Show at London Excel, before heading to the North West to speak at the Cheshire Branch of the National Autistic Society. In between all this though, I will be watching Euro 2012, which kicks off today with co-hosts Poland facing surprise 2004 champions Greece, and will also see Bruce Spirngsteen at the Stadium Light as well as continuing my training for the Bupa Great North Run. I have my fist 5km Park Run  in Sunderland this weekend. To find out more about my challenge, visit my sponsorship page at http://www.justgiving.com/Chris-MitchellGNR

To see how this all unfolds, stay tuned to Adventures with Autism Works.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Talks, Seminars and Funding Bids

Welcome back to some more adventures with Autism Works. I am well-known for taking a long time to settle down back into home life after being away for a while, but this year, it seems to have taken me a little longer, despite having been back home for almost a month since my holiday! Then it suddenly occurs to me that it is the first day of June and I have a busy time coming up of presentations! added to that, I am also due to start working on my first funding bid since were were awarded Social Innovation Pioneers status by Deloitte.

After a month of places as diverse as Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, the next few weeks sees me visit the delights of Cheshire, Hertfordshire and London to give talks and seminars, together with some publicity for Autism Works. On June 16th, I will be giving a seminar on Aperger's Syndrome and Employment at The Autism Show, which takes place at Excel London, near Canary Wharf. Readers of this blog may remember that at last year's inaugural I got to meet Jane Asher. After speaking on the theme of Asperger's Syndrome and Mindfulness Techniques last year, I am looking forward to revisiting to talk about how to shape working environments around employees with Asperger's Syndrome. As you will see on the Autism Talks programme (in association with Autistic Rights Movement UK), there are some interesting speakers giving their perspective  of autism and Asperger's Syndrome on a range of themes.

Back at Autism Works, we are just about to commence on putting together another funding bid, this time to the Investment and Contract Readiness Fund. As readers may remember, we have been unsuccessful with previous bids we have put in because we have been 'too small' to have any real impact. Now though, that we have more employees than we did back then as well as having successfully completed testing contracts together with the doors that being a Deloitte Social Innovation Pioneer has opened for us, we should be better placed to apply this time.

Away from work, after finally regaining some momentum after my 'holiday hangover', I have been doing much preparation work for my talks next month, as well as getting my training back on track for this year's Bupa Great North Run as well as my campaign to summit Kilimanjaro in October 2013. The talks also present a good opportunity for me to promote my campaign as well as the work done by Daisy Chain, particularly as 3,000 people are expected to attend this year's Autism Show. I have had some more very generous donations over the last two weeks. To find out how this is progressing or to donate, visit the following link - http://www.justgiving.com/Chris-MitchellGNR

Over the next week there are two events coming up relating to my special interests, starting with Vesak on June 2nd, celebrating the birth, enlightenment and passing into Nirvana of the Buddha and then on June 5-6th the Transit of Venus. Last visible in 2004, this transit will be the last opportunity to view it until the year 2117, so hopefully the skies will be clearer than they are forecast for Bank Holiday weekend!

To find out how these events go, stay tuned to Adventures with Autism Works!