Friday 21 September 2012

Elation! Mission Accomplished Part One!

It is over a week ago now and I still can't believe it, but I managed to successfully complete the world's largest half-marathon! If someone had told me a few years back, when I much of my spare time was spent very inactively, either worrying too much, comfort eating or just watching television, that I would one day complete a half marathon, I would have been in hysterics.

Coming down Marsden Bank, South Shields, just before the last mile
After having some doubts about whether or not I would actually complete it or pick up a strain along the way, which had occurred twice during my training, I found that once I got going, and with the cheering crowd encouraging the runners on, I suddenly forgot any doubts that I had and when crossing the Tyne Bridge, I felt that was the part of the run that said 'welcome to the Great North Run', but it was when I got past Heworth roundabout, the highest part of the route and then towards the halfway point that I felt that I was actually 'doing it'. With the wonderful crowds who came out to watch handing out cups of water, ice pops and jelly babies, I found that I was able to forget any feelings of fatigue or exhaustion when reaching the last mile and eventually the finish. Each and every moment of the run was magic, and the elation I experienced when crossing the finish line was something I will never forget.

One of the biggest aspects of the challenge of completing a half-marathon in relation to Asperger's Syndrome, is that it is a way to cope with some of the difficulties that the condition can present regarding anxiety, much of which stems from doubt, by facing up to them. To face up to such anxiety, I saw it as an opportunity to practice mindfulness, where attention to the breath during the run helped me stay focused on the present during each of the 13.1 miles. I also felt that combination of simple yoga stretches and meditation practices helped me to keep my back upright while running as it had occurred in training where I had 'slumped' a little and it was putting strain on my knee joints, allowing me to run for longer. Attention to such bodily sensations can make a huge difference for such a challenge.

The crowds I felt were as much the stars as the runners. Without them, I probably couldn't have done it. What has been especially lovely though, is that as well as my own elation, it appears from the many messages I have had from family and friends that there are many people who are elated for me. What has made the Great North Run experience so special, as it no doubt has for many others taking part this year, is that it gives you both a sense of achievement and contribution for a worthy cause, in my case supporting many young people and families affected by autism at Daisy Chain. When I have given talks and seminars on Asperger's Syndrome, it has happened were people have found themselves in tears being so proud of me and in the weeks leading up to the Great North Run, many have told me how proud have been of me taking on such an ambitious challenge, but one thing that is for sure though, I had never felt any more pleased with or any prouder of myself than I did after completing the run!

Meanwhile, coming back down to Earth after the euphoria of the big day, I am continuing to work my way through the ISEB, learning about the difference between the users and suppliers, including possible problems with requirements-based testing and how ill-specified requirements can present problems. One has to be especially careful about vagueness of requirements, particular when a requirements document says that it intends the software to perform a particular function but doesn't specify how it does it. This where a requirements list from a customer may become more like a 'wish list' than a requirements list, but the supplier may not have the same assumptions as the customer. This is where applying strengths that Asperger's Syndrome can present, including eye for and attention to detail and specific accuracy, can produce specific requirements documents for customers to enable functional specifications for suppliers. For if suppliers identify features only from the requirements document, it may result in a system not performing a function users want that wasn't specified in the requirements they weren't contracted to meet. Attention to detail in a physical sense got me through the Great North Run, hopefully I can apply it in a technical sense to eventually pass my ISEB!

At Kala Pattar, 2009
Completing the Great North Run represents 'mission accomplished' for the first part of my double challenge to raise much-needed funds for Daisy Chain. The next challenge is slightly more ambitious - to summit Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain at 5896m, in October 2013. Whereas the Great North Run was a step into the unknown for me, Kilimanjaro will be a challenge that I have been more used to having previously trekked to Everest Base Camp in 2009 to raise funds for the National Autistic Society, though the conditions along Kilimanjaro's Lemosho Glades route (the route I will be taking) will be very different to the Himalayas, and perhaps even more varied. Being slightly higher than Everest Base Camp (where the highest point Kala Pattar is 5550m), coping with the higher altitude will also be more challenging. To find out more or to donate to this part of my challenge, see the following link

To stay fit for my Kilimanjaro challenge, and also to possibly enter future half-marathons and maybe even a full marathon, I am certainly going to keep up with my training. In the meantime, a huge thank you to everyone who has so far donated to my challenge on behalf of Daisy Chain and to the crowds who came along to cheer on this year's Great North Runners.

I am equally as proud of all the other runners who took part in this year's Bupa Great North Run, raising funds for very worthy causes and making a huge difference to the lives of so many. Elsewhere, I would also like to extend my compassion to friends and relatives of the 96 football fans who lost their lives during the Hillsborough Disaster on April 15th 1989, after recently released documents shed new light on this human tragedy.

Friday 14 September 2012

A Curious Incident and Big Day Build-up

Welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works. Now that it is September, the first reminder that comes to mind for me is how much closer the Great North Run is. As I write this blog, it now less than two days away! However, aside from my training for the run, I have continued with studying towards the ISEB and I have also had the pleasure of viewing the stage version of the best-selling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which brought back a lot of phrases I am familiar with from my past!

Luke Treadaway as Christopher Boone
Broadcast live from London's Cottesloe Theatre at Tyneside Cinema, the stage version of Mark Haddon's best-selling novel, adapted for stage by Simon Stephens was a fantastic and innovative production. Having previously read and enjoyed the novel, at around the time when my first book Glass Half-Empty Glass Half-Full, one of the aspects of adapting such a story to the stage while writing a book directly from my own personal experiences of Asperger’s Syndrome that I felt would be such a difficult task was to with much of the story being ‘in the head’. Similarly, when I am giving training on Asperger’s Syndrome, I try as best I can to give audience members an idea of how it may actually feel to be a person with Asperger’s Syndrome. Because the descriptions of events surrounding the death his neighbour’s dog Wellington by the central character, Christopher Boone (played by Luke Treadaway), are so individualistic, I did have questions about how this could be done on stage. From an Asperger perspective, I was very impressed with how this was put across.

The way that Christopher gave very literal answers to questions asked by his father and the policemen, as well as literal interpretations of literal instructions and metaphors (which he felt should be called ‘lies’) and how confusing he found people generally, reminded me a lot of my own childhood. Like Christopher, I did have a tendency to ‘regurgitate’ excessive facts and information about astronomy, but I did also hear the familiar phrases ‘Christopher please’ and ‘Christopher give it a break’ that his parents often would say to him almost as if they were coming back from my past! Also like Christopher, I did also have dreams about becoming an astronaut when I grew up for similar reasons, to get away from the excessive confusion of being around people and various other human conventions that I felt didn’t make sense!

What was especially impressive though about the production when putting across the story through the mind of Christopher was with the sensory aspect of autism, particularly when at the railway station, where they used a montage of different sound effects heard in such an environment from adverts, broadcasts and echoing tannoy messages where one struggles to make anything out, as well as flashing a list of different rail service providers along the stage floor, to illustrate confusion and anxiety. The concluding part of the story though, where Christopher achieves his A-Star in maths and realises that he could do more than he was capable of after finding his way to London from Swindon to see his mother was heart-warming, when he realised that he was braver than he thought!

Coming back to my own life experiences, I felt a similar feeling after reaching Everest Base Camp in 2009 to raise funds for the National Autistic Society, realising that I was capable of more than I thought. Before this, I had never thought of myself entering a half-marathon. As I mentioned when speaking on BBC Radio Tees this week*, just to complete the Bupa Great North Run will be a huge achievement for me, on the same level as reaching Everest Base Camp was. To donate to my effort, visit the following link

*To listen to my interview with BBC Tees' Mike Parr this morning about my participation in this Sunday's Great North Run at the following link My interview takes place from 2.22. 

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Tyneside Cinema for their help in arranging a collection point for the Daisy Chain Project, as well as to the cinemagoers who very kindly donated.