Friday 25 November 2011

Bids and Training

This week at Autism Works has seen me giving some training at Connexions in Sunderland and starting on putting together another funding bid, this time to Deloitte Social Innovation Pioneer Fund. Readers of this blog will be familiar with the themes of 'coming out of your comfort zone' and 'thinking outside the box'. From the training session that I coordinated with Connexions, both myself and the Connexions staff agreed that these two themes play a key part in understanding Asperger's Syndrome as well as coping with it, including tailoring recruitment tools to accommodate people with Asperger's Syndrome.

My last entry was largely about how people with Asperger's Syndrome spend much time operating outside their comfort zone. In addition to this, I also often find, and chances are that those with Asperger's Syndrome reading this entry may perhaps also feel this, that to function effectively it can take quite a bit of effort to think outside the 'Asperger Bubble', which to some extent can influence thoughts and actions, as well as being able to read other people. But when doing an activity with the Connexions staff on forming suitable questions to ask candidates with Asperger's Syndrome in a job interview, the staff were first to admit just how hard it is, as it takes a lot of thinking outside the 'professional bubble' that they are used to working within to make such adjustments.

Readers may also remember that two sample interview questions that we like to talk about have have a good chuckle over at Autism Works when we talk about this subject are:

How would you describe yourself as a 'good communicator' at all levels?

What sets you apart from the other candidates as to why you are the best person for the job?

As I am sure most will agree, they are both pretty stupid questions, not least because the first question contains the vague statement 'good communicator'. When I asked the staff about how they would rephrase these questions so that they made more sense to a candidate with Asperger's Syndrome, the first thing that they admitted was how hard it was. It is particularly hard as they have to think from the perspective of the Asperger's Syndrome candidate, and how they would interpret and answer such questions. Suggestions that they came up with included explaining what they meant by terms such as 'good communicator' or 'good team player'. Though these suggestions are helpful, what it is often best to do where possible is to make interview questions as specific to the job that the candidate has applied for as possible.

Often, when talking about previous job interview experience, in hindsight most of us seem to agree that many of the questions we have been asked in such situations are irrelevant to the job we have applied for. Often, for a person with Asperger's Syndrome learning how to succeed at a job interview is the hard part, more so than learning how to do a job. An analogy that Grayson, our Test Manager, used was how when you are 'learning to drive', you are learning to pass your driving test more so than drive on the road.

I am progressing steadily with pulling the company's Operational Manual together, including the company's recruitment policy and I am also revisiting previous funding applications that we have put in to help prepare for the bid to Deloitte. Elsewhere, now that it is coming towards the end of November, I am starting to prepare for Christmas as well as planning on entering Mastermind again. Be sure to watch this space to see how this progresses.

Friday 18 November 2011

Beginner's Mind and Pudsey Bear

Last week, I talked about coming out of comfort zones, something which many people with Asperger's Syndrome, including myself, feel that they spend much of their time doing. This theme has been talked about quite a lot in Asperger forums within the social networks this week, with one comment suggesting that because people with Asperger's Syndrome spend so much time operating outside their comfort zone that it creates low-level anxiety that can result in a weaker immune system. In this entry, I am going to go a little further looking at how coming out of your comfort zone can develop Beginners Mind, a useful strategy when learning new tasks.

In relation to Asperger tendencies, including with the positive aspects of the condition such as curiosity in searching for information and good memory to store knowledge, facts and figures, it is often so difficult to put it aside for a while, to the extent that one may loose touch with what it is like to be new to something. As readers of this blog will know, I have personally found mindfulness practice, including meditation and basic yoga helpful for this. But even within such techniques, I have found that it can be easy to stay with a practice formula which becomes one's comfort zone to the extent that there are different elements of practice that get lost. 

Over the last week though, I have found that it is helpful to explore the practice from a beginners' perspective by revisiting techniques that I don't practice as regularly as others. One of the advantages that mindfulness practice has to help develop the refreshing quality of beginners mind is that there is a huge range of techniques, including over 80,000 known movements in Yoga, so there is plenty of scope for revisiting enabling different and new experiences. Just by revisiting a technique or movement that one practices perhaps infrequently,  we can experience what it is like to start or attempt something that is unusual or new to us.

Since working on our first contract at Autism Works, uncharted territory for the company, it has brought some new tasks and duties to my role as Operational Manager, including processing costs of sales spreadsheets using Microsoft Excel. When approaching learning new or different tasks, applying beginners' mind not only helps one be present with learning the task, but also helps one to un-learn methods and put any knowledge and expertise aside where necessary, so that old habits don't interfere too much. 

Where I find beginner's mind particularly helpful though is when I am giving training as much as when I am receiving it, which helps me when understanding the perspectives of who I am providing training for much better. When one has done something for a number of years and accumulates a high volume of knowledge and experience, this can be become a handicap when it cuts one off from new experiences and understandings of a particular subject, including Asperger's Syndrome. Approaching the subject from a beginners perspective often allows me to learn as much from the audience I am training as they learn from me.

Today is Children in Need day, which reminds me of something that I used to get a lot of fun out of doing in my previous job - dressing up as Pudsey Bear! Disguised as Pudsey, I would scour Durham County Hall with two students from Durham Trinity School for donations, and we broke the record quite a few times! When people asked who was in the bear suit, the students would say that this this is Pudsey Bear himself, so that I could get away with making rude gestures at the Leader of the Council and Chief Executive! Unfortunately, at Autism Works we don't have a bear suit, though I have done my bit this year purchasing a BBC Look North Weather Calendar, the proceeds of which will go to a very worthy course. If you would like to purchase one of these calendars with some lovely images of the North East of England, click on Pudsey below:

Applying beginner's mind may also hopefully help me with writing future blog entries, to find some relevant new approaches. Be sure to stay tuned to Adventures with Autism Works for more refreshed approaches and to tune into Pudsey on the BBC tonight.

Autism Works would also like to thank everybody who has donated or been involved in fundraising for  Children in Need 2011 

Friday 11 November 2011

Testing and coming out of Comfort Zones

This week has been quite a testing week for me and the team at Autism Works. Using the word ‘testing’ seems quite appropriate working for a software testing firm! When I say testing I don’t necessarily mean that it has been a difficult week, but rather a learning curve in that I am learning new processes within my capacity as Operational Manager. In one sense though, when new duties are beginning to find their way into my role, it gives me a feeling of how my job is developing, as the company grows.
Despite the extensive mindfulness practice that I have undertaken over the last two years including meditation practice and basic yoga, it still sometimes takes me quite some effort to come out of my comfort zone in working environments and I have in particular noticed my tendency to ‘shy away’ from numbers! This tendency perhaps partly relates to me not being used to working with numbers as much as I am with letters and words as well as being hopeless at maths when I was at school, contrary to the stereotype that people with Asperger’s Syndrome are good at maths!

This week, I have been learning how to do Cost of Sales spreadsheets to calculate the profitability of the work we have been carrying out. From my previous blog entries, you may remember me talking about how developments in history rarely occur in isolation. Such processes are also visible in the development of an enterprise, especially if the enterprise is one that is breaking relatively new ground like Autism Works. Acquiring our first contracts from clients has seen us adapting to different ways of working in line with the clients’ requirements as well as bringing me new tasks, for which I have to learn new processes and, in some cases, unlearn old habits. The combination of learning and un-learning helps one revisit task and duties that may not have been undertaken in a while, from where skills so often get lost.
As well as shying away from numbers, I have also noticed that I have a tendency to procrastinate over software packages that I am not familiar with, largely because I don’t use them as much as others particularly Microsoft Excel. I am confident though that the more I use it regularly, I will become more accustomed to it. As the cost of sales spreadsheet that I am working on is our first, so it is a process where we will very likely have to learn from mistakes to get it right for our business.
Elsewhere, since my last blog entry, I have been in situations where I am largely within my comfort zone, giving training on Asperger’s Syndrome to staff at ESPA, which ironically involves interactive activities where staff are encouraged to come out of their comfort zone to experience  what it may be like to have Asperger’s Syndrome, which is often quite fun! In the meantime, stay tuned to New Aspie Horizons for the latest developments in the world of Autism Works.
Autism Works staff would like to take this opportunity to pay our respects for Remeberance Sunday this coming weekend.