Friday 31 December 2010

New Years Resolutions

Welcome back,

I hope that everybody reading this blog has had a good Christmas! Now that it is New Years' Eve, some readers, particularly those in Australia, will see in 2011 earlier than some, now is the time for putting together New Year Resolutions. In relation to the eight week course that I completed earlier this month, among my resolutions for 2011, is to be more in tune with the present, rather than stuck in the past or being too 'anxious' about the future.

Right now in the present moment, I find myself procrastinating about what are going to be my New Years' Resolutions. It is one resolution to have to be more in tune with the present, but to be more in tune with the present it helps to be doing something in the present. I have to admit that over the Christmas holidays I have found out just how laxadazical I can be at home, which can be made worse by the distractions of what's on television, not to mention the abundance of Quality Street, Roses and various other eatables there tends to be around during the festive period.

Despite having had some difficulty coming up with resolutions on New Years' Eve, in my previous blog entry I mentioned that something that I would try and pursue more was the potential that the virtual environment within Second Life has in terms of being able to increase awareness of Asperger's Syndrome further as well as give training to possibly bigger audiences without me having to travel to venues or participants having to travel to venues. This is a resolution that I can expand into social networks and the world wide web generally, particularly as my personal website needs modernising. I am sure that most of you who have seen it will perhaps agree that it looks a little old by today's standards. But I am also aware that there is much I need to both learn and unlearn to enable this.

Hopefully, being in tune with the present will help me in what looks like being a busy month when we will be making preparations for recruiting our first software testers. What we don't often realise is that through temporary loss of awareness of the present is how when the present moment unwinds, it often influences the next moment. This in particular applies to decision-making, something that we will be doing much of at Autism Works early in 2011, I hope I am ready!

A note for me to finish on though on the subject of this entry, New Years' Resolutions, is that often, at the turn of each year, when we make our resolutions, an important one we often forget is to make is to see them through, in the sense that we say we are going to do this and that and don't often do it. Though I can't promise anything special, I'll try and make this effort when the time is right in 2011.

All the best for 2011,

Thursday 23 December 2010

Seasons Greetings in the Virtual Environment

Merry Christmas and welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works,

This week, the adventure has taken me into a new world, the virtual world of Second Life, where I was invited to a Christmas party after having been a member for just two days. Such virtual environments are beneficial to many people on the autistic spectrum in the sense that they can take away the anxiety that they may face when going into social situations where they don't know anyone. For me though, getting used to the social conventions of the virtual world has helped me revisit the period of my life prior to my diagnosis, thus enabling me to see my surroundings from a refreshed perspective.

An aspect that I have found helpful from the eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course I have recently completed is approaching situations, including those that are new to you and those you are used to from a beginner's mindset. When giving talks and training on Asperger's Syndrome, a technique that I often use to gain an idea of how it may actually feel to be a person with Asperger's Syndrome is to imagine yourself in a foreign country where nobody speaks English, so you can ask directions. Added to that, there are no English translations on any of the road signs, so you can find your way around. Such situations can be anxiety-inducing to anyone, but the confused and anxious feelings we may experience can be similar to how it can be to be a person with Asperger's Syndrome in normal life.

Though people on the autistic spectrum can feel more comfortable in a virtual environment with the absence of non-verbal communication (e.g. facial expressions), attending a social event within Second Life for me was like experiencing parties in the real world as a person with Asperger's Syndrome! There are so many things that you can do in a virtual environment unknown in the real world, including walk through walls, teleport from place-to-place and even fly like Superman! Additionally, I also have the issue that I don't take to new technology as quickly as some, like Peter, my colleague here at Autism Works, does being from an IT background. Though Peter has admitted that he has felt a little nervous at times in Second Life in terms of knowing what the 'expected behaviour' is.

However, I can see the huge potential that a concept like Second Life has for Autism Works as well as for my own autism and Asperger's Syndrome training through being able to deliver training as well as being able to recruit within a virtual environment. Being able to secure employment within a virtual environment where one doesn't have to balance eye-contact and other non-verbal cues with speech could be of great benefit to many people on the spectrum. When giving training on autism and Asperger's Syndrome, being able to do it in  Second Life would save a lot of travelling time, not to mention the stress of travelling in the current adverse weather conditions we are experiencing here in the UK, and would also be able to invite a wider audience, to raise awareness further.

Over the Christmas break, I will try to make an effort to become more accustomed to Second Life so that I can take full advantage of its potential. I would like to say thank you to Serendipity (real name Thomas) for helping me integrate into my first virtual party and I would also like to wish all readers a very Merry Christmas.

Seasons Greetings,


Friday 17 December 2010

Speeding up, slowing down and coming into the present (including buying them)

Welcome Back to Adventures with Autism Works,

Hope you are all ready for Christmas, and that the stress that the preparations as well as what Christmas shopping can bring isn't getting to you! I went into a few busy stores in Newcastle last weekend to get some presents for my nieces, all the mums were running around looking for the bargains, while the dads were looking for the exits!

Something that I am noticing within the working environment is the interesting paradox that the Season of Goodwill can bring, in terms of how quiet and slow work can be largely because many of us are away or on leave for Christmas, but outside of work just how much of a mad rush society can suddenly become in the weeks leading up to the big day. After finally completing my eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course this week, bringing the qualities I have managed to find during practice into everyday life situations I have noticed just how much this time of year can bring one out of one's comfort zone. For much of the year, it is largely the opposite way, with it being busy at work and then evenings and weekends, for the main part, providing much needed respite.

An aspect that I find of mindfulness meditation practised both within Buddhism as well as in a secular context that helps during the Christmas period is how it helps one to live in the present moment, as often in the run up to Christmas we await the big day and then when it comes it can be an anti-climax and then before we know it, the new year is rung in and it is the January-February blues. Being in the present moment gives us more freedom to step back from the flow during the Season of Goodwill, thus focusing on the true meaning of Christmas.

In the working environment, being in the present moment has helped me focus on tasks that can be done when it is quieter than normal including updating the Autism Works marketing database, an enjoyable job if you like detail as well as continuing to develop the Autism Works Operating Manuals, including an employee handbook to help our first employees whom we hope to recruit early in 2011. Developing the recruitment tools, including the application forms, was hard enough to do with extremely little in the way of good practice examples to build upon. The employee handbook though involves shaping the needs of a workforce with ASC around necessary employment law and good business practice. Fortunately though, I have the support at Autism Works and at ESPA to help keep me on track within a field that like much of what I have experienced in the four months it is now that I have been working at Autism Works, largely unknown territory.

Regarding Christmas shopping, to avoid too much hustle and bustle within the shopping centres, I have bought most of my gifts online this year. Keeping in spirit with the true meaning of Christmas, I like to see happiness in relation not just to receiving gifts, but also when those you have bought gifts for like your gift ideas, as after all it is the thought that counts.

Be sure to continue to follow this blog and to check the Autism Works website and Facebook page for further developments during a quiet season. And remember, keep the Facebook 'likes' coming!

Seasons Greetings!

Friday 10 December 2010

Directness and Honesty

Welcome back,

Over the last fortnight, the adventures with Autism Works has extended beyond the office, with Peter attending meetings with a large potential client in London as well as attending the National Autistic Society's Undiscovered Workforce conference, while I have also been in London to give training this week.

At the conference, Peter felt he learned much from Sarah Hewitt's work within BT. Sarah, who is diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, works as a Technical Consultant with BT and has since played a very instrumental role both within and beyond BT in terms of making employment more accessible to people on the autistic spectrum, as well as supporting people on the autistic spectrum within employment. I have also been privileged to hear Sarah speak on two occasions, and I have to say that her insight as well as the support that she has had from her managers at BT has really helped me with my tasks of developing the Autism Works recruitment process, especially in relation to the limitation of good practice examples available on employment and Asperger's Syndrome.

It was from Sarah's speech at the National Audit Office in October 2009 and BT's Director of People and Policy Caroline Waters' speech that I picked up on effective reasonable adjustments to recruitment processes as well as what I felt had held me back within my own employment history. Reasonable adjustments that Sarah felt she benefited from and that BT had learned regarding the diversity of their workforce were that it helped to, where possible, avoid asking open questions. If you have read my previous blog entries, you will know that over the last two weeks I have been working on designing the application forms for Autism Works, avoiding where possible asking open questions. The forms have since been tested on some of the ESPA students who have given us some really positive feedback, so I guess I can say that they have 'passed the first test'.

Working together from within and outside the autistic spectrum, Peter and I learn so much from each other. In previous employment, I would often worry when asked to be seen by a colleague or supervisor if I was in some sort of trouble due to a professional or social convention I either hadn't observed or broken when unaware, not to mention the consequences it had on others to which I may have been blind to. It is so refreshing for me though that Peter is first to admit that he often feels more comfortable in the Asperger world than the Neuro-Typical world, particularly in relation to 'normal' being a setting on a washing machine! What he says that he likes best about the Asperger world is its directness and honesty, and that progress within large business could be so much quicker as well as products produced being more reliable if they were dominated by people with Asperger's Syndrome!

On this note, the reasonable adjustments made by the likes of BT and Goldman Sachs through their work with NAS Prospects and further built upon at Autism Works as well as the positive meetings Peter has had with our potential clients hopefully go a long way towards enabling wider access to employment for people on the spectrum.

Be sure to revisit this space for further progress updates.

PS. Two weeks ago, in my post Thinking Outside the Box, I talked about the Nine Dots exercise. Here is the answer:

Friday 3 December 2010

Adverse weather conditions and attention to detail

Hello All,

Chances are that those of you in the UK reading this blog will have experienced the challenges of coping with adverse weather conditions this week as I also have. In relation to my interest in and practice of mindfulness, an aspect of being diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome that I find fascinating is how we adapt to different situations, including weather conditions.

Those diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome may well have experienced change or unusual circumstances being difficult to deal with in relation to the condition, particularly if we are 'set in our ways'.  But what we often don't realise at the point of change or unusual circumstances including adverse weather conditions where we find ourselves having to dig paths to our front door, scrape ice off car windscreens, dig ourselves out of car parks however long it takes us, is just what we learn about our abilities when they are tested in such circumstances.

Students of history and sociology will tell us that many technological and social innovations we take for granted now originate from human ingenuity being tested in extreme environments, from sailing into the unknown to finding unknown land masses to visiting the Moon. Like with extreme weather conditions, because we can't plan for them, even with modern conveniences such as weather forecasts available on iPhones, it helps to focus on what we can do in such circumstances, rather than get frustrated with limitations on what we can do.

In relation to tasks at Autism Works, something that not being able to get out of the office this week has enabled me to concentrate on are the tasks that some would perhaps find a little mundane or boring but for me as an Aspie, in relation to attention to detail, which I consider to be one of my personal strengths in relation to my Asperger's Syndrome, I find quite enjoyable. I have continued to update the Autism Works marketing database, including checking addresses and where necessary amending E-mail addresses. In relation to the qualities of attention to detail and persistence as well as patience required to undertake it appropriately and accurately, it is giving me an understanding and appreciation of a Software Tester's job.

Prior to joining Autism Works, the only real IT experience that I had was what I needed to know about the subject to be able to use technology for professional and social purposes, with little actual practical knowledge of its workings. But for when we recruit our first software testers, an understanding of the world they work in as well as tasks and challenges that they will face, will hopefully help me in developing positive relationships with them in relation to any support they may need in making the transition into employment.

Conditions permitting, be sure to watch this space for further developments at Autism Works.