Friday 24 February 2012

Now it's time to do the ISEB, now it's time to keep active!

This week has seen me step into the unknown at Autism Works in starting working towards the ISEB Foundation Certificate. As an industry-recognised qualification for software testing, the ISEB Foundation Certificate could be of great help in my future if I can attain it. Elsewhere, I am continuing with my training for the Bupa Great North Run and have also been to the cinema this week to see The Muppets, which brought back so many magical moments and wonderful memories!

Both starting the ISEB Foundation Certificate and participating in a major half marathon, albeit the latter isn't until  September, represent to me stepping into the unknown, as they are both new territory for me. Stepping into unknown territory has become very much a feature of my time at Autism Works as I seem to have found myself doing it on a regular basis. The biggest change for me to adjust to when I was first appointed as Operational Manager at Autism Works was the working culture in that the working arrangements are so much more flexible than they were at my previous employers where the set-up was much more rigid. With the post being a new post, I understood that the duties and responsibilities were still subject to development. Being able to anticipate such changes in my role though has really helped.

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the concept of unlearning old or conventional methods and practices, which can also mean unlearning habits. Something that I find though with learning new skills, such as learning software testing techniques, is that it is as much about changing the way you think as it is about memorizing jargon as well as various processes. Though it is early days into my ISEB Foundation Certificate (I have only just started), something that I am slowly beginning to pick up is that there are many processes that are complicated by jargon, rather like how the game of cricket can appear to an outsider. Hopefully, the more I become used to the jargon, the more I will be able to familiarise myself with the processes and before long, I may be able to understand what my software-orientated colleagues are talking about!

I was able to take a break from my Great North Run training and my duties at Autism Works earlier in the week to see The Muppets perform their first show together for many years, made possible by Walter, their biggest fan, who got to perform with them. The literal humour and running gags that often featured in the show used to have me in hysterics that I struggled to get out of, as well as Fozzie Bear's jokes being so bad that they were hilarious! I was so delighted to see that they were all just as good and as hilarious this time around, not to mention that they have all aged well, especially Kermit!

I guess in relation to how I am in relation to Asperger's Syndrome, literal humour appeals to me. Comedy is often the world seen through different eyes, including Asperger eyes, but what makes the English language so advantageous to comedy is that there are so many words that sound the same but mean different things. There were one or two parts though in the film that if you have so many affectionate memories of growing up with the show are difficult to watch without shedding a tear, especially when they all joined in to sing 'The Rainbow Connection' together.

Haven't they aged well!
Regarding my half-marathon objective, if anyone is interested in making a donation towards Daisy Chain, the charity I will be running for, my donations page has now gone live on JustGiving. To visit this page, click on the following link-

Stay tuned to see how this progresses!


Friday 17 February 2012

Warming Up and Overcoming Procrastination

This week has seen Autism Works submit its second round application to the Deloitte Social Innovation Pioneers Award and I have also submitted my entry form for this year's Bupa Great North Run. The latter represents a quite significant step in my life, not least because for much of my life the idea that I would take on such a challenge was unthinkable!

A busy last few days had seen me doing much last-minute research to add weight to Autism Works' application to Deloitte to give a strong case. On the subject of weights, this week I have had a fitness consultation at the gym where I have adapted my training programme to meet my needs for taking on a half-marathon. Obviously, it is not possible to train for such an event entirely in a gym, as one would have to spend quite some time running on a treadmill, not to mention it isn't possible to recreate outdoor conditions in a gym. So as part of my commitment, I am going to make it a goal over the next few weeks to do some more running outside with the weather starting to get a little warmer.

As well as the stamina required for distance running, I found out during my consultation that it will also help to keep the weight-lifting aspect of my training going, as well-tuned muscles provide for more flexibility, greater endurance as well as aiding mental health, thus providing a good foundation on which to run. To aid my mental health, continued mindfulness practice, including some basic yoga stretches should reinforce this. An Asperger quality that helps with such preparation is attention to details such as these, which can make quite a big difference.

The big challenge for me though is to put such details into practice, as at the moment, I still have a tendency to 'procrastinate' a little before starting a training session. I did used to experience this with my meditation and mindfulness practices exercises when I was relatively new to it. It took me quite some time to be able to open to it effectively and go straight in to it, but I am hopeful that I can overcome this over the next few weeks with a little effort.

As I have said, it is a significant step that I have taken in entering such an event. To complete it though will be a giant step for me. Reaching Everest Base Camp to raise funds for the National Autistic Society back in 2009 enabled me to realise that it was possible for me to take on physical challenges, as well as opening me up to a new vocation in life, undertaking physical challenges for charitable purposes. Preparing for the Great North Run to raise funds for Daisy Chain this time represents a continuation of this. I am not aiming to do it within a particular time, but just to complete it will be a major achievement for me. But to make that possible, the hard work starts now.

In the meantime, at Autism Works, work will continue as normal.

Friday 10 February 2012

Research, Progressive Memory and Vivekarama

Welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works. Let's start with some good news. We are through to the second round of the Deloitte Social Innovation Pioneer Award! We now have another application form to fill in and submit to Deloitte next week. Elsewhere I have agreed to participate in some research at Durham University later this month on prospective memory and also this week, I have made my first visit to Sunderland's new Buddhist temple.

Since I received my Asperger's Syndrome diagnosis back in 1998, I have usually been quite forthcoming in participating in Asperger-related research, as long as it is ethically approved. Often, participation has been quite fun. This time last year, I took part in some research they did on 'autobiographical memory',  including being able to relate past experiences to hypothetical situations. This year, Durham University's Psychology Department are researching 'prospective memory' in both people with an ASC diagnosis (including Asperger's Syndrome) and people not on the autistic spectrum. Quite the opposite of autobiographical memory which relates to long-term recall, prospective memory refers to remembering to carry out a plan or task, such as taking a turkey out of the oven, or turn up to an appointment at the right time such as seeing a doctor, dentist etc.

In the world of psychology, it isn't fully understood how prospective memory works, let alone how it is affected by Asperger's Syndrome. From personal experience though, I have felt that sometimes excessive anxiety and worry associated with Asperger's Syndrome can interfere with immediate priorities in the present. Where I have found myself forgetting to carry out immediate tasks or even just making a start on tasks in hand as well as forgetting to attend appointments or collect important items, including prescriptions, is when I have been preoccupied with worry as to my long-term future.

Quite often, through the obsessive-compulsive tendencies that some people with Asperger's Syndrome appear to have they can become attached to worry and anxiety that it may affect their short-term memory. In previous jobs, something that I used to find was that, though I have a good recall for facts and figures (including those relating to special interests), at the same time when answering phone calls I was often unable to remember the name of the caller when putting calls through! I guess this is one of the more misunderstood aspects of Asperger's Syndrome.

As readers of this blog will most likely recall, I have previously written about how mindfulness practice has helped me tune into the present moment. Relating to this theme, I made my first visit to Vivekarama, Sunderland's new Buddhist temple and meditation centre, which has been opened by Venerable Ashin Nandapala, who was awarded a PhD in Buddhist Studies by Sunderland University in 2011 and has been a monk in the Burmese tradition of Buddhism for over 30 years.

Venerable Ashin Nandapala opens Vivekarama, Sunderland's new Buddhist temple

As well as the Deloitte application, another form I have to fill in is my entry form for the 2012 Bupa Great North Run, a job over the weekend. In the meantime, stay tuned to Adventures with Autism Works.      

Friday 3 February 2012

Challenges, Training, Aurora-Chasing and A Curious Incident

This week, I have found myself doing a lot of planning, including setting some challenges as well as preparing to manage some changes in my role at Autism Works that are coming over the next fortnight. Also, I am putting together some slides for a presentation I have coming up next month for Diversity Works - The Untapped Workforce at Sunderland's Nissan Sports and Conference Centre.

This event is organised by the Sunderland  Local Autism Working Group, with whom I have been working, in association with the Percy Hedley Foundation and is aimed at employers large through to small to medium, who may be interested in understanding and hopefully benefiting from the skills and abilities that people with a range of differences*, including Autism and Asperger's Syndrome may have to offer. If interested, you can find out more at the Sunderland4Autism website which went live earlier this week. The site has a link to this event, as well as a directory of local services in Sunderland for adults with autism and Asperger's Syndrome, thus supporting the Local Autism Plan.

Next week, I am due to learn some new skills in software testing, when we are expecting the next set of work to arrive. This will be an interesting challenge for me, as most of the time, learning a new skills involves coming out of your comfort zone, and can be as much about unlearning old methods and habits as much as learning new processes, and in the case of software testing, a new language. What I am looking forward to though with the software training is working much more closely with our two Software Test Analysts Dan and Chris and Grayson, our Test Manager, who will be going through much of it with me. This experience could also reinforce the ongoing development of the Autism Works operational procedures, including in developing policy around working with client organisations, through understanding more about how they work.

On the subject of challenges, I am continuing to work with Daisy Chain on raising funds for the charity by entering this year's Great North Run and in 2013, trekking to Kilimanjaro. I have had the enjoyment of giving talks and training to Daisy Chain and I have been so impressed with the work they do. What they have done so well in particular as an autism charity is that they have encouraged interest and support from outside the 'autism bubble' (people on the spectrum and their parents), including from businesses. To enable the charity to continue their good work, their Chief Executive Matt Simpson has taken on the challenge of trekking to the summit of Kilimanjaro this year to raise much needed funds. For more about Matt's challenge, click here. I hope to continue this in raising over £3,000 from both the Great North Run and Kilimanjaro, as well as charting how the physical exercise continues to help with my self-esteem, a different form of training to software testing training! Watch this space for more on this as it develops!

Elsewhere, like much of the North of England, I have caught the 'aurora bug', with the Sun going through the Solar Maximum, giving off numerous Coronal Mass Ejections (CME), making it possible to see the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, to be seen further south than usual. I got a glimpse of them from Sunderland back in the late-1980s, but unfortunately, I haven't been quite as lucky this time around. I walked along the beach at Whitburn, near where I live Sunderland, during the dark on two different nights. One night it was clear, but the CME wasn't powerful enough. The following night, the CME was much stronger but it was cloudy. However, it was nice to have a whole beach to myself despite the chilly temperatures!

Meanwhile, in the autism world, I have heard that Mark Haddon's best-selling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been adapted as a stage play. It is currently on show at London's Cottesloe Theatre (part of the National Theatre) and may go nationwide if successful. It will be interesting to see how the stage version is done, as much of the novel describes the experiences from inside the mind of Christopher, the boy with Asperger's Syndrome and central character of the story.

Stay tuned to Adventures with Autism Works to see how these challenges unfold!

*Notice I have used the term 'differences' to describe autism and Asperger's Syndrome rather than 'disabilities' or 'conditions'