Friday 20 January 2012

Stargazing and Lecture Planning

Welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works. This week has been exciting, as I have been doing some Stargazing! Earlier in the week, I went to an event at Gibside, a National Trust-owned country estate near Gateshead as part of the BBC's Stargazing Live series presented by Professor Brian Cox and Dara O'Briain. The event at Gibside was one of a number of events taking place throughout the United Kingdom to encourage interest in Astronomy. Elsewhere this week, I have also been in the process of planning my annual lecture and workshop at Northumbria University next week for the MA (Hons) Autism students.

Astronomy was a childhood obsession and is still one of my favourite interests. Growing up as a child with undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome, often feeling so misunderstood I used to gaze up at the night sky wondering if there were any worlds out there where I would feel more accepted. Taking part in Stargazing Live brought back some of these childhood memories. Looking through some of the telescopes brought along by various local astronomical societies, I got some great views of Jupiter and its four largest moons, the Orion Nebulae, the Pleiades in the constellation of Taurus (pictured below) and a few others, but unfortunately there isn't quite enough room to name them all here!

Having been an 'escape' for me during childhood, in adulthood, stargazing has also helped me with my mindfulness practice, particularly when I have been on meditation retreat at the Samatha Centre in Powys, Wales, where on a clear night, away from light pollution, one can so so many more stars than normal, including an arm of the Milky Way. One of my favourite aspects of stargazing is that it provides a link with the past, with the stars being as they were however many light years they are away from us. For instance, the stars in the Pleiades are between 390 and 450 light years away so we see them as they were this long ago, back to around when Galileo first started using a telescope for astronomy. Meanwhile, one of the purposes of meditation is to 'tune in' to the present by focusing on the breath here and now in the present. Tuning into the present involves tuning your past into the present. When focusing on the breath in the present, the stars in the sky being as they were in the past, help me tune into the present, thus helping me control anxiety that I sometimes experience in relation to Asperger's Syndrome.

Where astronomy has some relevance to my lectures and workshops on Asperger's Syndrome relates to special interests that people with Asperger's Syndrome may have. Astronomy is sometimes over-stereotyped as an Asperger-like interest or obsession. What I like to focus on with Asperger-related special interests is, rather than taking them away, approaching them flexibly by looking at where they link to other interests or areas of study, almost like 'signposts' to other parts of the National Curriculum. As well as being linked to its closely related science subjects, an interest in astronomy can also be linked to Greek mythology, looking at how the constellations were formed, as well as music (Gustav Holst's The Planets Suite), literature (science-fiction novels/comics), history (looking back in time at the stars as to historical events on Earth in relation to to how many light years away different stars are) and many others, for which again there isn't quite enough room to cover!

As well as my lecture, next week I also have a meeting with Daisy Chain about the challenges that I mentioned in my previous entry to discuss options on participation. To find out how it all unfolds as well as to see how my lecture went, stay tuned to this space, through being 'present' with it.

Special thanks to Hannah Bayman and Trai Anfield from the BBC Look North Weather team for providing the link for obtaining tickets to Stargazing Live during their weather forecasts

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