Friday, 6 September 2013

Growing a Social Enterprise, Colour Coding and Monsters

With it being the holiday season, August tends to be rather a quiet month in many respects, hence the lack of activity here on Adventures with Autism Works. As some may have seen in blogging activity elsewhere on the Jessica Kingsley Publishers blog, my personal emphasis throughout the summer has been on continuing mindfulness practice as well with training for my upcoming trek to Kilimanjaro, which is now less than a month away. The arrival of September though has already brought some interesting experiences and developments.

This week, I have been across to Merseyside to give some training on mindfulness practice and Asperger's Syndrome to Wirral Autistic Society, an organisation similar in some ways to ESPA, who provide educational and residential services to adults on the autistic spectrum, including Asperger's Syndrome. It had felt like quite some time since I did my last talk, so I had wondered if I may come across as 'rusty', but largely thanks to a very understanding audience, I managed to find flow through the talk given in two parts, the first being around the relationship between Asperger's Syndrome and the effects of mindfulness, and then in the second, some simple mindfulness practice exercises.

Later in the day, I also got to hear Dean Beadle speak about his experiences of Asperger's Syndrome, which was highly entertaining, so much for any stereotypes that suggest people on the autistic spectrum don't have a sense of humour. Being ten years younger than myself, an advantage that Dean has is that he is closer to his childhood, including his school experiences than I am now. Despite the hardships he went through during these years, what I was so impressed with about Dean's speech was how he was able to recall it with such humour, as well as without laying blame to anyone from his past, even professionals who unofficially diagnosed him as a monster! Feedback from  the audience though suggests that that 'monster' has evolved into an inspiration!

Wirral Autistic Society Garden Centre at Bromborough Rake
Those who follow Autism Works on Facebook may recall various comments about extending employment and meaningful activities for adults on the autistic spectrum beyond IT. An encouraging sign that I was shown at Wirral Autistic Society that this is being taken into account is with social enterprise that they are growing in more ways than one - a garden centre that provides employment and meaningful activity opportunities for their service users The visit tied in nicely with what I was talking about as regards to noticing the effects of mindfulness practice which are more likely to take shape in plant time than in clock time. Such an approach can also be therapeutic for people on the autistic spectrum in a working environment. Gardening is an activity liked by many people with Asperger's Syndrome I have met as a garden provides a personal space for them in which to step back from the flow. In this way it is a good activity in which to practice and cultivate mindfulness, while plant cultivation takes place.

Colour-coded pricing system
From a practical perspective, the garden centre has also found that adjustments implemented and innovations developed to accommodate the needs of people on the autistic spectrum can also have benefits for those not on the autistic spectrum. to help accommodate aspects of autism such as visual thinking and need for routine, staff at the garden centre follow visual timetables, including colour-co-ordination, similar to the software testing flow diagrams on the office walls at Autism Works. An innovation that has helped customers when coming to the centre to buy plants is a colour-coding system for pricing of plants.  

Just like giving my first talk and workshop for quite some time felt, writing my first Autism Works blog entry has taken some effort, but once I find flow with something, it generally starts to come together and appear much clearer to me. Hopefully I will find flow for challenges and commitments I have in the coming weeks and months. Stay tuned to Adventures with Autism Works to see how this unfolds.

I am due to fly out to Tanzania for my Kilimanjaro challenge in aid of the Daisy Chain project, supporting families affected by autism, on September 29th 2013. Donations can still be made at my sponsorship page at http://www.justgiving.com/Chris-MitchellGNR/ 

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