Friday 20 July 2012

Double Checking, ESPA Graduation and Autism for Heroes

This week at Autism Works has seen me pick up some important tips when doing functional testing as well as the delight of watching this year's ESPA graduation ceremony at the Tyne Journal Theatre in Newcastle.

As I wrote about in last week's blog entry, at Autism Works we have been testing a mobile phone app and I have been carrying out some functional testing of its links, which I managed to do without missing any errors. However, when checking to make sure that they were correct, it was only after my checking was proofed by my software testing colleagues that there was something that I missed. From this though, I realised the importance of double-checking, which I will make sure I do when working on our next contract.

Though I initially felt a little 'bad' at not spotting something, I do feel some reassurance in that it was only one error out of so many and that one does have to make mistakes to be able to do it right, and that not coming from an IT background together with limited knowledge of IT, in many ways I have a good background for software testing as I am not used to working within IT processes familiar to software developers. With experience, I am sure that I will continue to improve and gain confidence when working on future projects, especially since I enjoyed testing my first mobile app!

Gaining confidence was very much a buzz-term throughout this year's ESPA Graduation. It was the second time that I have had the pleasure of seeing how much ESPA has made a difference to so many students at this event, not just in formal education and successful work placements that many of this year graduates have had but also in terms of independent skills that they feel they have developed, such as using public transport, cooking and many others that most of us take for granted. When starting at ESPA, many of this year's graduates had perhaps either been told that they would 'never be able to do this because they were autistic' or never personally believed they could, but their ESPA experience, including the travel training that the charity provides for its students, has made a huge difference to them to the extent that it has enhanced the quality of their life, including beyond ESPA.

This year though, what was particular delight to see, especially in relation to the work I do, was how the confidence that ESPA students had gained had benefits not only for the students but also for charity. This year has seen another innovation in Autism4Heroes, a unique charity made up of young people with autism from across North East England supported by family and friends who have two missions:

1. To raise as much money for a chosen charity
2. To raise awareness of the potential of people with autism through a variety of performing arts events

This year, their chosen charity is Help for Heroes. In recognition of their hard work, Autism4Heroes have been invited to give a performance at the Catterick Rehabilitation Centre, where injured soldiers receive treatment, which was built using funds from Help the Heroes.

Stack pillar at Marsden Beach, South Shields
Elsewhere, I am now up to ten miles with my training for this year's Bupa Great North Run, running up from Roker to Marsden and back. One of the biggest challenges I am finding with running, especially at this distance is the continuous nature of it, but I am finding that my mindfulness practice is helping me notice the breath during running, including the variation in breath length, so that I can be mindful of when my heart is in need of more air, thus enabling me to continue without stopping. A big thank you to all who have donated to Daisy Chain for whom I am running in aid of so far. For further donations, please visit my sponsorship page at

Autism Works would like to say a huge thank you t Autism4Heroes for their very inspiring work and for what they have raised for Help the Heroes. To hear members of Autism4Heroes discuss their project on BBC radio Newcastle, click here

Friday 13 July 2012

Mobile App Testing, Meteors and Newcastle Apocalypse

Welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works. My last two weeks at Autism Works, as you may have seen in my two previous blog entries, have been highly varied regarding what I have been up to and where I have been. Though the variation and change of setting and scenery have been enjoyable, in accordance with how I am affected by Asperger's Syndrome, it is nice also to have some routine and repetitive work for a change.

For much of this week, I have been testing a mobile phone app, using functional testing techniques to see if the links from the app worked. In the world of software testing, which I am still very new to, functional testing involves identifying the functions of the software component being tested, in this case the mobile app, and its execution and recording the expected and actual outputs on a spreadsheet. I was pleased to find that I was able to do it both quickly and successfully without missing anything, and most importantly, it made me feel valued within the team, further enhancing my role in the company. According to Deloitte, mobile phone apps is a huge growth area. Currently, there are two million mobile apps and this is set to double over the next two years. Hopefully we will test many more!

Water at car roof height, Heworth
As I briefly touched upon in my previous entry, two weeks ago I found myself, as did the whole of the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the surrounding area caught in the middle of floods and a thunderstorm. Described as 'Newcastle Apocalypse' on Twitter, when the sky suddenly seemed to go dark it reminded me of the film Independence Day where a huge shadow is cast over New York by an invading alien spacecraft. The experience of Newcastle Apocalypse was a huge step outside of my comfort zone not only regarding coping with walking through floods, but also seeing sights that I had never previously seen including water at car roof height and people being rescued from flooded houses by lifeboat. Previously the only times I had seen such sights was on television. The most iconic image from what turned out to be a quite memorable day was the huge bolt of lightening that almost struck the Tyne Bridge, which featured on the national news.

Family being rescued from flooded home by lifeboat, Heworth
Readers of this blog may also remember that cloudy skies obscured what will almost certainly be the last chance to see the Transit of Venus during my lifetime, but with a bit of luck, the skies will hopefully clear in time for the next major astronomical event this year, the Perseids Meteor Show which is due to peak between 12-13 August. Though perhaps not as talked about or observed as much as moons, planets stars, nebulae and constellations, observation and study of meteors and indeed if they are large enough to survive the fall through Earth's atmosphere to land and become meteorites, also provide a fascinating insight into the origins of the solar system, including the origin of life on Earth. At a lecture given by Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, that I attended at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland this week, I found that some meteorites found on Earth actually pre-date the Solar System. Most excitingly, studying meteorites is one of few ways in which humanity can get up close and personal with material that originates from inter-stellar space beyond the Solar System, gathered and ejected by comets.

Coming back down to Earth, I am still continuing with my training for the Bupa Great North Run, which is now only two months away. Currently I am up to ten miles, but I feel as though I am gradually getting there. Daisy Chain, the charity whom I am running in aid of, has also been in the local news recently about how demand for their services has gone up by 600 per cent, while at the same time its income has fallen. To obtain an idea of the huge difference that Daisy Chain makes to many of the families it supports, see the promotional video below:

My sponsorship page can be accessed at A huge thank you to all who have donated so far.    

Be sure to stay tuned to Adventures with Autism Works to see how this unfolds.

Thursday 5 July 2012

Clocks, Thunderstorms, Floods and a Walk in the Woods

Welcome back to the second part of my Asperger talks journey through the north west. Last week, the theme was about train journeys and astronomy. In this week's entry, I am going to focus on aspects more closely related to a more familiar topic to readers of this blog - mindfulness and coming out of comfort zones, including applying mindfulness within giving a seminar on Asperger's Syndrome.

While giving a seminar on the theme of Mindful Living with Asperger's Syndrome in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, the circumstances of the day gave me the perfect opportunity to bring mindfulness into a working situation. I was due to speak later in the day, but due to a hold up on the motorway, the two speakers who were due to speak before me couldn't make it until later, so I needed to speak earlier than planned, thus come out of my comfort zone. Applying mindfulness to the situation, I was able to tune into the present by describing how it can feel to have Asperger's Syndrome, by coping with a disruption in routine. This is something that is difficult for many people with Asperger's Syndrome to do, but I felt that I was able to step outside my comfort zone effectively as it fitted in so well with the theme I was talking about, tuning Asperger's Syndrome into as it is in the present moment.

Rufford Old Hall, Lancashire
While in the north west, I visited the fascinating Rufford Old Hall, a National Trust property in Lancashire, home of the Hesketh family for over 500 years and also where a young William Shakespeare performed before he was famous. What intrigued me most when visiting the 16th-century property was the lantern clock in the living room. The visitors sheet asks what can you notice about this clock, and on closer inspection, one finds that it only has a hand for the hour, whereas today we are so used to seeing a minute and second had on a clock face that when stepping back in time, we forget how time used to be seen as much more fluent, a concept which it is sometimes helpful to apply when stepping back from the flow in the present.

Lantern clock at entrance of Rufford Old Hall
With the purpose of mindfulness practice being to tune one into the present, it seems odd to associate it with a place of historical interest about the past, but thinking back to when time was seen as more fluent made me realise how much of contemporary life is driven by factors that put us on 'automatic pilot', including precise times, timetables and schedules, including for work and transport requirements, to the extent that we plan our lives around them to the extent that we often experience difficulties coping when something goes wrong. Locally, a recent example of this was the floods that followed a thunderstorm in Newcastle, where just about all public transport, including the Tyne and Wear Metro, came to a halt and many of the road and rail networks had to close due to floods or landslides. So I found myself having to walk almost eight miles before being able to get a lift home!

Time is of the essence to many of us in that we become so over-dependent on it that we loose touch with the present. Sometimes it helps to step back from the flow enabling us to observe this. In Laos, where I visited in April, though it appears as a 'backwater' through western eyes being one of the world's poorest nations, when stepping back from what one may be used to in the west, we can also see what we have lost in how driven by time and demand we are that we loose touch with our natural pace of life. The official name of Laos is the Lao Peoples' Democratic Republic (PDR), but the Laotians like to say that it unofficially stands for 'Please Don't Rush', which is evident in that shops and places of business still, for the main part, open and close at their own convenience, without the rush around the clock to open up stores or to get to the stores as soon as they are open.

Foxglove, Mereton Wood, Lancashire
While in the Lancashire and Hertfordshire, I also went on some short walks through woodlands, observing plant life, including some beautiful foxglove in Mereton Wood, Lancashire. A walk through the woods is a good way to step back from the flow, being at ease with nature, being with natural time rather than be constrained by clock time, the latter of which is more conducive to experiencing the benefits of mindfulness practice unfolding. In the meantime, here and now, stay tuned to this blog to see how the adventure with Autsim Works unfolds moment by moment as well as my Double Challenge for Daisy Chain.