Complex Individuals

People, in general, are very complex creatures. We’ve millions of signals per minute, synapses, senses, impulses, chemical, biological reactions, exothermic, endothermic, thoughts complex strings of DNA. It’s little wonder that people are confusing.

I recently had a conversation in which someone said that my tastes, as an autistic person, are different from those of another person with autism. A point that they appeared to be surprised by. That’s rather like saying that two people with brown hair are going to like the same type of music.

Sure, there are certain traits by which autistic spectrum disorder is recognised and diagnosed. However, we are not all the same, anymore that two neurotypical people are the same.

Back to basics for anyone not paying attention…

Common threads:

Every single person on the planet differs in some tiny way: We, the autistic community have some areas in which we struggle, mainly in social situations and in having a tendency to adapt rigid or obsessive interests and behaviour.

I recently had an interview and assessment for an organisation which uses various forms of intelligence for analytic purposes; this proved to me that which I break down any problem into components and approach a problem in this manner, I am not an analyst.

I know a number of highly successful people in the IT industry, who can spend hours working on coding: theirs is a very special skill and one in which, SOME people on the spectrum, have excelled in. I also no a lot of other creative people who also fit within the spectrum. Our passions, obsessions and attention to detail can be incredibly useful in certain technical areas. These passions and obsessions can make us very interesting people: they can also lead us to ramble on regardless of how long the other person lost interest in our conversation…

.. sorry about that, to anyone who has had to listen. ‘Now, can I tell you about this power meter than I am considering?’

My own tendency to obsess leads to, when teaching, me giving incredibly detailed notes, handouts and lesson plans. I am, however, taking a slight career curve; as teaching English as second Language is simply failing to meet my financial needs and with this in mind, I have accepted a support role working within the autistic community and helping others, a role that I am very much looking forward to.

My personal obsessions, include my mountain biking and generally keeping in shape to benefit that. I’m not a naturally gifted athlete, and my claim to fame is that I have been overtaken my a several time Olympic and World Champion.

However, as a person who isn’t overtly technical, I know an awful lot about bikes. In much the same way as I’m not an electrician but I can wire up a nightclub setup almost without conscious thought. I’m not sure that on either, I can perform anything more complicated than rudimentary maintenance without far more effort, time, frustration, foul language or things being thrown; so repairs and such get done by someone with a different skill set to me.

It is therefore, important when considering a person with autism to remember that it is a very, very wide spectrum. For myself, I’m fairly high functioning; I can do most necessary things independently and there are those who require a great deal of support and assistance.

I was recently praised upon my honesty in talking about how the condition affects me. I talk about it, because, as a person in my forties before being made aware I read… by this, I mean that I read a lot, I then embarked upon a course to learn more about the condition, which allowed me to understand further and to relate my own experiences to the subject matter. I’m no expert, I just know a little. But in being open and honest about my being on the spectrum, I am be open and honest: why should I pretend to be something I’m not?

If I pretend, then I’m lying and I would rather not. Also, I believe that offering people the information allows them to process it. Also, by being open, I hope to reduce stigma. After all, there is a lot of us out there in the world and I hate to think that people are having to hide: the world is a scary enough place without having to hide and keep secrets.

I have the fortnightly sense of impending dread at the thought of going to Aldi this morning; but frankly I have reduced this fear of packing at the same speed as the cashier can scan the items by telling them that I am autistic and can they just give me a moment to pack.

Anyway, I hope that this helps someone. Whether they are on the spectrum personally, or if the spectrum touches upon their lives.

Anyone wishing to chat can contact me. I am also going to put up more specific cycling content later on this week for anyone interested.

Winter training

At the moment, training has been challenging; not because of fitness although I doubt that anyone is either not as fit or fast as they would like. In reality, despite having been injured and requiring surgery, my fitness is returning.

The problem has been the weather, we’re under the third flood warning inside a month now in West Yorkshire and frankly the trails are waterlogged. I am also reasonably considerate of my environment and realise that riding washed out trails and even fire roads is simply destructive to the trails, causing far more erosion than I am happy with. Therefore, it’s that time of year when ‘turbo training’ becomes sensible.

Basically, this indoor cycling with a twist. Personally, my budget meant sticking with a more basic ‘Smart Trainer’, a TACX Satori, which is ANT+ and Bluetooth compatible and links to various apps.

Now, personally, I like metrics: I like facts, figures, graphics and being able to assess progress or weakness. My autistic brain works well with being able to look over these metrics and compare one week with another and one ride with that performed by another rider. This is possibly less important if you’re not intending to compete, but for me, in preparation to compete, it’s invaluable information.

Indoor cycling is, by and large, a hot, sweaty and highly uncomfortable task; many referring to their sessions as ‘a pain cave’. It hurts, it’s also incredibly boring. Hence, the industry has created various apps, linking to these Smart Trainers to make it less dull.

In interests of getting the best deal, all of these are essentially a premium product, i.e. you have to pay for any real functionality. All of them offer a limited free trial, some a week and others up to a month, or a limited mileage. Make no mistakes, this is now big business with apps such as Swift having a massive share of the market and sponsoring large scale corporate events and competitions as well as having close sponsorship links with events including the UCI Road Racing World Cup.

So I thought that I would give some of these a short review; the benefits and the pitfalls as well as my personal opinions. I will state that I do not receive any endorsements, sponsorships or inducements at all from any of the companies mentioned here.

Zwift:

As I said, big business: According to Wikipedia, as of January 2018, there were over 550,000 accounts. According to Forbes, the company is estimated to be worth $180 million.

This particular app blends training with the world of computer gaming. Allowing riders (and runners with a compatible treadmill) to compete on various courses, including UCI World Championship stages and one which is purely fictitious, called Wattopia.

It’s rather social, you can join friends on rides, compete in events and there are a limited number of training plans: although, these are all very specific to road racing. The app is compatible to Apple TV and, as I am an Apple fanboy, this appealed to me. However, I found constant glitches with the system between my trainer and the app itself. The avatar representing myself only seemed to pedal on rare occasions, the app rarely recognised my cadence (speed of pedal rotation) and this eventually bugged me.

Add to that, it was rather buggy in recognising my heart rate monitor. I also tried both a Bluetooth and ANT+ heart rate sensor.

For the most expensive product, it simply didn’t work for me.

I am aware, although I haven’t tried it, that there is now a mountain bike trail in Beta stages but this requires another sensor and to be honest, I’m not going to spend the money on something that isn’t perfect.

£12.99/month

Sufferfest

Appropriately named, this is a serious training app for serious people. It’s not at all game-like. Again, it’s orientated towards road cycling, but I feel that it’s something I just have to tolerate; road cycling attracts far more money in most of the world and many roadies still think of mountain bikers as neanderthals or stoners (not that MTB attracts anywhere near the drug cheating, but that’s an aside.)

Graphics on this app are simply footage taken from various stage races; the content is actually secondary to the training programme itself. It also offers a rather holistic training programme; incorporating motivational training and yoga.

In short, for me, there is some real positive benefits to this app for my purposes. What let’s it down is that watching race footage from road stage races, is, in my opinion as a mountain biker, rather boring.

£7/month



Rouvy

I installed this two days ago. I uninstalled it today. Ride information doesn’t seem to be able to synch to social media, or to Garmin Connect or Strava; both of which I use to record my rides.



The video footage is also rather limited and a lot of rides seem to be simply following a trail on a map. The video footage is nice when it’s available, although strangely the developers felt the need to incorporate a dog taking a crap in the video footage; not sure why, but I rather suspect that the childish joke would get rather tired after the one time.

£9/Month


TACX

I’m currently still on my free trial, but so far this seems reasonably good. However, it’s still not ticking all of the boxes.



Footage is very clear, there plenty of routes to ride, you can ride GPX tracks if you wish and upload your own route maps. It’s early days on this app, so I’m going to hold off on a lengthy review at this stage. However, Tacx has been acquired by Garmin, yet, there is not an obvious way to upload virtual rides to Garmin Connect: I feel that as a company, this is missing a trick.

£9.99/Month

As I’ve said, I don’t think that any one product is perfect, nothing actually beats being able to simply get out and ride, enjoy being in the outdoors and feeling the wind on your face and fresh air feeling your lungs. However, under the current lousy weather conditions, indoor training has it’s place.

Forms and my phobia of them

I’ve mentioned previously who I hate completing application forms.

This shows just part of the ream of paperwork

I’ve now been offered a job as a support worker for the National Autistic Society, a role that I am rather looking forward to.

Understandably, there are a lot of hurdles and hoops to be surmounted before commencing the role. The interview itself was friendly and they did try to make the experience as comfortable for me as possible; I had disclosed that I am on the spectrum, prior to the interview. I hate wearing a tie and was allowed to remove it for the interview, which does help me to relax a lot. (Strangely, I am perfectly comfortable in a day cravat.)

I have now to fill out about 20 plus pages of information, renew my DBS (although now for working with vulnerable adults, rather than working with children, so slightly different). Health monitoring questionnaires and have to provide an entire history since leaving school. I left school in 1988… I have no recollection of most of this, what and where. I have been advised that ‘best guess and approximation’ will suffice.

Whilst I do fully appreciate the need to protect client’s but this is going to require digging into the deep recesses of my memory in order to complete this. I also have to provide a personal reference for any gaps; again, this is required for a period of 31 years. During this time, I have travelled, lived in numerous Cities, addresses, held many jobs, been made redundant several times, had disagreements with employers, failed to ‘fit into the team’ on a couple of occasions and spent time looking for employment. None of this has been particularly easy and it’s not going to be especially easy to remember. The same goes for getting references from people 31 years ago. Many of the companies are no longer in existence, I know for a fact that at least three former managers have since died; one during the time I was working for them – and no, I wasn’t responsible!

In short, I can only think of only two people who have known me for that long and I have lost touch with them on a least one occasion during this period.

Hating and fearing forms means that I have to force myself to do this task; I have asked my partner to help me, but I’m high functioning and need to try and do this as best I can by myself. I will speak with the HR department and see what they advise.


I’ve spoken to others on the spectrum and some also share my sense of dread at completion of forms. I suspect that, for everyone, making an application for a job is far easier to simply send out a CV and covering letter and in these times of online applications, so many roles don’t even require a covering letter as CVs are going to be filtered through some dreadful recruitment sales team. In short, I suppose that this makes applying for things so much easier although also more ineffective. Maybe it encourages us to find a comfort zone and once found, reside in it.

Anyway, a new job will lead to new adventures, chance to travel. Although arguably not as much as I would like. I plan on doing at least one mountain bike race in Switzerland next year and it would also be nice to do the Marathon MTB race at the Roc Bike festival in France.

The concept of MTB marathon events rather appeals to me and having spoken to others of a similar age, it seems to suit. I have excellent endurance and I’m happy to simply keep riding for long periods. Endurance events allow me time to settle into my pace, which isn’t always possible in a race lasting an hour or an hour and a half.

I’m good on the start grid as I’m reasonably strong, but I can then struggle to keep that urgent pace throughout the first lap of a circuit, which can see me going backwards down the field. As such, an endurance race allows me to settle in and move forwards through the field, picking riders off gradually.

I will also be considering getting a cheap car as a ‘run around’, the problem with that is that Bradford is the highest insurance risk in the Country and support staff salary, especially for a charity isn’t going to make me wealthy.

That said, “new job, Yay!” A little ‘run around’ will allow me to get to events and make life easier in so far as my partner and I will be able to visit friends and family easier: we like her family and I like a couple of mine, I also haven’t seen many of my friends more than once since moving back to the U.K. three years ago.

Anyway, stay safe guys and it’s always nice to here from followers.

Hair today… Gone tomorrow

IMG_0068_2

Yes, that sweet, badly dressed child in the picture is actually me: just a very long time ago. Note the length of my hair.

I hated having my hair cut, or touched in fact. This was at least during the 1970s, so most people had dreadful hair, meaning that I was not alone.

I had to be forced into having my haircut, generally when I could no longer see through the fringe. I hated the barbers, always fearing that they would cut me. I also hated that sitting still in a queue waiting for something I found highly unpleasant. Further to this, a stranger entering my personal space, armed with something sharp and pointy, with noises from everywhere and people I don’t know surrounding me in what I found to be a highly stressful environment was something to be avoided at all costs.

Consequently, as a child, my hair was often cut by my grandfather, who was an engineer and not a barber or hairdresser in any way, shape or form. This meant that I was less distressed by the experience of having my fringe cut (more often than not, it was as much as anyone could manage), but the reality is that had, at that time, I have had any awareness of style, the embarrassment of the hairstyle would have been mortally distressing.

I have spoken to several people with children on the spectrum and this sense of hating having a haircut is not uncommon. The National Autistic Society offers some advice here. 

Further advice can be found here.

Additionally, as awareness of Autism grows, so does the number of people who make efforts to help people to cope and lead as full a life as possible. This includes hairdressers who provide a more comfortable environment for people to have a haircut in and a simple Google search should help most people who are looking to help a child with sensory issues in this area.

Now, personally my hair, when I had some, was always very straight, which made it impossible to do a lot with, especially whilst growing up the sensory issue in this area reduced.

I found that as I was growing up, finding a hairdresser or barbers with a minimal queue to be helpful, preferably one without too much paraphernalia within my line of sight to be beneficial. It was actually rather difficult to do anything much with my hair; and believe me, I have tried.

I stuck with the same simple hairstyle for well over a decade, but it was at least short, neat and suited me, reasonably well.

I then began to become more ‘creative’ with my hair, at about the same time that it started to ‘disperse’. I had a mohawk for a while and then when the hair of the top had become too sparse, I grew the hair at the back into a cue, which was frequently plaited. Laugh, if you must but remember that ‘Hey, I’m a Goth, silly and quirky hair go with the black wardrobe and clumpy boots!’

In a similar fashion, my hair has been, black, blue-black, red (like Scarlet Red), purple, white blonde (for about ten minutes – a Glaswegian friend informed me “You look like a f*&ckin’ lightbulb!”) and on one fateful home dying event, a pinkish-gingery-blonde, best described in the immortal words of Billy Connolly as “Turkish Hooker Blonde”.

My half-brother, who is six years younger than me started to go bald far before me; the difference being that my brother had long blonde hair and is still, to this day, using a carefully haircut so as to attempt to deny what is blindingly obvious, especially on a summer’s day.

In contrast, whilst I had to invest in a hat, life without hair is far easier. It also seems to suit me and in exchange, my facial hair has been cultivated but I despise the ‘hipster beard look’ so it’s kept short and tidy. Again, the beard has allowed me some room for self-expression and has been several colours; more recently, I have embraced it more naturally and accepted the fact that white is overtaking the residual colour.

My advice is that it’s not uncommon and that there is now advice out there and people who are skilled in helping people with sensory problems involving haircuts. It’s also not something common in adults, so the key is patience and understanding. I hope that I have helped a little.

Food, glorious food!

food

I was discussing the issue of food, diet and the neurodiverse yesterday evening and I had to consider if and whether my own dietary choices were affected by autism, and, if so, whether this is still a case.

I cannot speak as a parent, for I am not one. I am speaking in relation to children I’ve been around and from my own memories and things I have been told about my formative and early years. I’ve also not been helped by the fact that my mother’s ability to cook and her idea of a varied diet are almost non existent.

However, as a toddler, I am told that I would only ever eat one type of food, either tinned spaghetti or spaghetti hoops; occasionally, I would have sausages as well. As a small child, my mother and I lived with my grandparents and my grandmother actually had the ability to cook and bake.

Thus, from an early age, I was encouraged into the kitchen, encouraged to mix things by hand, often doing the thing I dislike of getting my hands sticky or dirty (and spending more time washing them, then getting them dirty or sticky; which is still the case!) My grandmother encouraged me to explore tastes, colours which weren’t orange and textures which weren’t slimy.

I clearly recall to this day, the smells, the light and senses in that kitchen above any other.  I remember being allowed to lick the spoons, or bowls after something had been prepared and was in the oven. I remember, being keen to be involved in the cooking process from this early age and whilst growing. Somewhere along this journey, developed a love for food, for eating and preparing food.

My mother’s attempts at ‘cooking’ should have been enough to put me off; she never quite got the hang of it and meal variation was based upon ‘I feel like ____ item’ and then it being the sole option for at least 6 months. People assume that I exaggerate (including her, who will swear blind that we all had Cordon Bleu standards of find dining every night) and I wish that I were. So, at times, I had a bad relationship with food, in places. I was always underweight because I was active and had no concept of balance.

Skip forwards a couple of decades, I’ve seen people who with similar passion for food, have taken this to a professional level: something which I never had any desire to do, I once worked for about 9 months as a kitchen porter and seeing the chef’s, the unsociable hours, dreadful working conditions, tendency towards drug and alcohol abuse and general poor lifestyle that was a side effect were dissuading factors even when I was eighteen years old.

I do still, however, get great joy from cooking; especially for others. Alone, I can be given to bouts of ‘can’t be arsed’ and grabbing something convenient. However, when I have company or my fiancée is here, I enjoy planning menus, preparing and cooking. I also get pleasure from the fact that others enjoy my efforts.

I do, frequently cook some favoured dishes, I gave up eating pork about 5 years ago, when living in Switzerland because I made friends with some local pigs in the village I lived in. Similarly I made friends with the veal calfs and quit veal; although I only recall having eaten it a dozen or so times. More recently, I had the wonderful experience of feeding lambs and goats and kids. Consequently, I’m grateful that cows, fish and chickens aren’t that friendly.

In respect of how my autism affects my diet as an adult, I feel that I do try to have a balanced and varied diet. I do, however, tend to eat all of one thing before I start on another, which some people find strange. It’s not to say that I don’t appreciate how one thing compliments another, but it’s just the way that I’m wired. How to try to reduce me doing that? Stews, casseroles and such; everything mixed together and I probably won’t try to separate them. Probably, but I’m not sure how much is conscious anyway, such is neurodiverse behaviour.

Our tastes do develop and I was discussing with another person how her autistic child favours beige food. My own tastes continue to enhance, I now like things which were abhorrent a year or so ago. I think that a love and passion for food and dining is a positive way around limitations.

Now, sports nutrition: I have certain specific meals before a race or event. The evening before tends to feature pasta (although I don’t tend to carb load for a XC race which is 90 minutes in duration) and fish, usually salmon and my favoured method is in quiche, which something like spinach. Plus, salad. On race day, it’s not alway possible to eat a healthily as I would like, race times and facilities dictate to an extent. I try get in lean protein, a chicken breast or something and always eat a couple of hours before start times. In terms of during an event, I am moving away from using energy gels of late. They create litter or require that you put a sticky packet back in a jersey pocket, which in turn becomes a coagulated mess and it’s just unpleasant to deal with afterwards.

With these facts in mind, I have been trialling energy chews; currently using the Clif Energy Blox  as I can throw a handful into a jersey pocket loose and grab one or two as required. They also have a texture rather like wine gums, which is preferable to gels, in my opinion. I also use Torque Fitness energy drink in a bottle, which mixes well and works well with my hydration and digestion**. How much or how little of each depends. Although less on a standard ride than on race day. Post race, I tend to just a USN Lean Whey Protein shake **.

** I am not paid by these companies, nor do I receive any sponsorship or free products

Feeling a lack of control

Roller Coaster

As a person, I crave several states of being and living: control, order, regime and to a degree, certainty. The problem which I am currently encountering is that a large proportion of these are not entirely within my own control.

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a discussion with a person who having served for several years within the military they had now embarked upon a degree in a language, as a mature student and, like many undergraduates (even myself, back then), saw themselves as having a rosy future after graduation, so long as they made the effort to be successful. I remember pointing out that a degree doesn’t actually guarantee you anything, save for a sheet of paper and the entitlement to use a collection of letters after your name. It a may be a conduit to something else, but it’s no longer a case of a degree/masters/doctorate is a guarantee of employment and a more protected passage through life. Those things died out decades ago; I am currently not the only unemployed undergraduate I know of and I’m certainly not sitting on my metaphorical laurels (6 interviews in the last 14 days!)

Currently, my own journey feels rather like being on a fairground ride and I’ve always hated those. In the last few months, I have been messed around more than I care for. In fact, today I have been told to ‘Piss off, if I don’t like it’ by a school who having offered me a role at 20 hours a week, on a good hourly rate some three or four weeks ago suddenly went silent about a start date and face to face meeting. The director of this company then went to China on a business trip and no one answered phone calls, voicemail and email only managed to illicit a reply after 6 requests for an update. The school then re-advertised for online teachers for 4 hours a week and that this was the only reason I had been given the courtesy of a call today (the call was 18 late). I will refrain from naming and shaming the school, but they are based in Leeds and teach non-native English speakers, so anyone who reads this and is looking for TEFL work may get in touch if they wish clarification.

The Autism Act is designed to create a level playing field for those with autism. However, does it?

Reliance on legislation means that we need to make potential employers aware of our condition; which is something we may not wish to share. Once we have informed people of this fact, we cannot retract the knowledge or stigma which might be attached to anyone with any form of limitation.

The employer cannot reject a candidate specifically because of autism, but of two equal candidates, one on the spectrum and one not, well I’m not sure if that has a bearing on helping to make a difficult decision easier or not.

Personally, I’m not good at meeting a lot of people for the first time; it takes me a while to settle into an environment, this can be social or professional. Until this becomes familiar, I will being ‘masking’ and that requires a lot of energy to appear to be able to fit into a large group or appear to be making eye contact, i.e. NT behaviour. Therefore, an interview is a tough process for me and others on the spectrum in most cases; in very rare cases, I find people who I automatically can relate to, but this is rare – I recall once being interviewed by a fellow Goth for a role in a law firm, who I suspect was also on the Autistic Spectrum because we both got rather excited about music, club nights, festivals and so on, to the extent that I’m not sure that we discussed the role or my skill set relating to it the job for more than a few minutes out of an hour long interview.

The problem I have is that my desire for certainty, control, stability and all of the other external things I desire is that I can only control a small proportion of the equation. I can continue making applications, completing forms (which require a lot of energy from me),  putting on a tie (I loathe wearing a tie), attending interviews, spending countless hours in interview preparation and research and so on. I’m just hopeful that the result will eventually turn to my favour.

To anyone else in the same position; I wish you the best of luck.