Friday 19 October 2012

Partnerships and 'Safe' Tweeting

This week has seen a major and exciting development at Autism Works. After successfully completing a testing project on time and to budget, the company has been invited to enter into a long-term partnership with Camasco.

Based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Camasco, who employ 20 people and export case management software to organisations in the UK, Europe and the United States, were so impressed with the service we have provided at Autism Works, feeling that it has added to the quality of their product. At Autism Works though, what we are especially pleased about is that as well as Camasco selecting the company to carry out the work for them in relation to their commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR), but also that they obviously appreciate our persistent and independent approach as well as quality of service we can provide. Camasco takes CSR and meeting business requirements very seriously, and by contacting with us Autism Works, they are well-placed to meet both.

In a wider context, this partnership could have a major impact. First of all, by valuing skills of workers with autistic spectrum conditions, including Asperger's Syndrome, it is supporting the Autism Act 2009 by contributing to not only spreading awareness of autism in the employment market, but also encouraging acceptance. Secondly, as Autism Works also strongly values the tangible social impact we feel it can deliver combined with Camasco's emphasis on CSR, the partnership is also an early supporter of the recently-passed Social Values Act. At Autism Works, we are especially grateful for the faith that Camasco have show in our abilities.

As readers of this blog may also remember that of previous major developments that have taken place at Autism Works, the company was selected for Social Innovation Pioneer status by Deloitte. This week we have had visits from representatives from Deloitte, including Warren Chester, who has been appointed a non-Executive Director at Autism Works and will advise us on Sales and Marketing. Together with the partnership we have just established with Camasco, this will hopefully put Autism Works in a strong position to bring in some more interesting and exciting contracts in the coming months.

Changing the subject completely, as you may seen in the news, there have been a number of high-profile controversial rants on Twitter over the past few months from cricketers, footballers, politicians and various other celebrities. As a Twitter user myself, I was interested to receive a tweet from the Post Office asking what Twitter users felt would be good guidelines for 'safe tweeting'. Something that immediately occurred to me was that practising 'safe tweeting' was a good opportunity to not only practice mindfulness by not acting on emotions and posting what turns out to be an offensive tweet, but also an area where Buddhist ethics can be applied in a modern and secular context, in this case, refraining from harsh or hurtful speech. One doesn't have to be a 'Buddhist' or even spiritual to practice this, but before tweeting, it sometimes helps to step back for a moment to think it anyone who may see and read this 140-max character statement will hurt, offend or upset. However, I will leave this for individual Twitter users to decide this for themselves.

Despite the so-called 'evils' that social networks can have courtesy of a very small percentage of irresponsible users, they are particularly useful in sharing links and in my case, promoting fundraising challenges, including my pursuit to summit Kilimanjaro to raise much-needed funds for the Daisy Chain project. For more information, be sure to visit the following link

Autism Works was also delighted to hear the news of Home Secretary Theresa May's decision not to extradite Gary McKinnon to the United States earlier this week, finally bringing an end to several agonising years of waiting. We wish Gary, his mother Janis Sharp and all his supporters the very best for the next stage of the process.

Friday 12 October 2012

School Reunion

Readers of this blog will most likely be used to its 'present' tense focus in relation to the mindfulness descriptions, but this entry will be an exception to the rule, as in the last week I have been revisiting my past at a school reunion catching up with my former teachers and former pupils.

Monkwearmouth Comprehensive, the school in Sunderland I attended between 1989-1994, celebrates its 50th anniversary as a school this year and organised a 50th anniversary reunion party open to former pupils and current/former members of staff from the school 's 50 years. The event, organised by Adam Walter, a teacher at the school from 1975-2009, was a huge success and raised over £1000 for the school. There was a huge turnout of both former pupils from different eras and teachers from past and present. When writing my autobiography Glass Half-Empty Glass Half-Full, in which I describe the ups and downs of my school experiences, I did hint towards the end that wouldn't be so keen to go to something like this. by time time of my second book though Asperger's Syndrome and Mindfulness, I had learned how to see people from my past, including former teachers and peers, as they are now.

If anyone reading this blog has read my first book, they will possibly recall that I experienced some difficult times at school as a pupil with undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome, with bullying and generally being misunderstood. As initially difficult as it was, I eventually managed to get over blame that I had towards people from my past who made my life difficult, directly or indirectly. This is has been very difficult for many adults diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome later in life, and I am no different. When giving a seminar with Tony Attwood, author of The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome, I learned that some adults with Asperger's Syndrome are given therapy to help cope with the after effects of schoolyard bullying similar to that given to Vietnam War veterans to help cope with traumas that ensued following the conflict. By tuning to the present though, I began to realise in later life that my teachers and peers didn't know there was a reason for why my behaviour and social presentation appeared 'different' as much as I didn't.

With former PE Teacher Adam Walter
Inclusion within mainstream education is a much more highly topical theme than it was during my time at school, but I do remember and also recall in Glass Half-Empty Glass Half-Full that attempts were made by the school to 'include' me. The most memorable was when I was invited to come along on the school football team's trip to Anfield to watch Liverpool play Southampton in 1990 and organise a quiz for the bus journey in relation to my special interest in football trivia. Despite not being good at playing the game, I got a run out that day! This is something that I will always be grateful to Adam Walter, PE teacher, for. For this, as well as the support I had from my former head teacher, Jim Farnie, I wouldn't swap the mainstream school education I had for a special education, having at one stage been offered a place at a special school (of which I wasn't aware of until my Asperger's Syndrome diagnosis).

With former Head Teacher Jim Farnie
Having seen how much support for school pupils with special needs in mainstream education has improved when visiting schools to give training, something that I felt my experience of undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome taught me was that it is possible for a pupil with an Asperger's Syndrome diagnosis to 'survive' mainstream school without formal support, while progress can be made with additional informal support. Most importantly though, what I like to make a point of when visiting schools to give training on Asperger's Syndrome, is the importance of early diagnosis, which can make a huge difference in enabling where necessary support can be identified and implemented.

With England and Team GB international Jill Scott
Also at the event was Jill Scott, who represented Team GB in the women's football tournament at London 2012. A few former pupils from Monkwearmouth School went on to become professionalfootballers, including Martin Smith and Michael Proctor who played for Sunderland, Jill was the school's first full international footballer and has also represented the England women's team at two World Cups and two European Championships. In the meantime, I wish the school all the bets for another fifty years!

Special thanks to Adam Walter and to Monkwearmouth School for all their hard work in making this wonderful event possible.

Friday 5 October 2012

Chalet Lines and Preparing for the Push to the Summit

Welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works after a two-week break. After the euphoria of completing the world's largest half-marathon, which I had the joy of recalling in my previous entry, now is time for me to come back down to earth again and concentrate on more immediate commitments in the present and over the coming months, including continuing with the ISEB Foundation Certificate, speaking/training events that I have next month as well as next part of my fundraising campaign for Daisy Chain - the push to the summit!

After experiencing the elation of a personal triumph, it is easy to see why some may get carried away to the extent that the euphoria can take one out of the present. Sometimes factors such as the build-up of anticipation before a special event can lead towards an anti-climax, especially if there are feelings of jubilation or triumph at the peak of the event, from which there is a long way to come down from mentally. However, over the last fortnight since my last blog entry, I feel that I have strongly experienced the value of stepping back from the flow to tune myself back to the present moment with mindfulness practice, bringing the focus of my attention to matters in the present as well as my next set of commitments to prepare for.

Chalet Lines in performance at the Live Theatre, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Switching off from ISEB, speaking/training and fundraising, this week I have been to see an entertaining performance of Chalet Lines at the Live Theatre on Newcastle-upon-Tyne's Quayside. Set at Chalet Number 12 at Skegness' Butlins' resort, where the Walker family's women have been holidaying since 1961, Chalet Lines takes the audience through five decades of birthdays, hen parties, gossip, arguing, heartache remedied by laughter. Drama and entertainment goes hand-in-hand with much of the work I do with giving training on Asperger's Syndrome, including sometimes using drama workshops to give participants an idea of how it may feel to have Asperger's Syndrome.

The contrast of characters Chalet Lines, written by Lee Mattinson, provide for great entertainment with Abigail, the down-trodden daughter (Viktoria Kay) of Loretta (Sharon Percy) who is subject to 'put-downs' from her mother while her sister Joelene (Sammy T Dobson) plays the part of the apple in her mum's eye. As you may remember from my previous entries, I recently went to see the stage version of the Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time. This expression immediately brought back memories of when Christopher Boone said why do we say such an expression when an apple is too big to fit in someone's eye! Viktoria Kay's brilliant portrayal of young Abigail gave an insight into the 'trapped' world of a misunderstood teenager, similar almost to how a person with Asperger's Syndrome can feel, particularly when her Aunt Paula (Jill Dellow) asked her if there really is such a thing as 'normal', while teaching her the Macarena dance.

Retuning back to the present, I am in the process of preparing for speaking/training events I have coming up in November and I am also preparing for the next stage of my fundraising challenge for Daisy Chain, which is to summit Kilimanjaro in October 2013. When giving training on Asperger's Syndrome, I often talk about why mountains have base camps, and why an Asperger's Syndrome diagnosis itself is like a base camp, as it gives one an opportunity to step back and assess and reflect on their own journey so far, before continuing onto the next part of the journey. For me, completion of the Great North Run represents the 'base camp' in my double challenge challenge. The next part of the journey for is to keep up the training and maintain the confidence going into the next part, the push to summit of Africa's highest mountain. To visit my updated Justgiving page click the following link