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The Autistic Voice

To inspire, entertain and most importantly help you realise that while life doesn't always follow your chosen path, there is always something positive to be learned and more to be gained. Dr Sandra Beale-Ellis

GRATITUDE – NATURE

Hi Readers

I know… its been a couple of weeks and I should have been blogging about my gratitude challenge.  I am a little behind but I will catch up – promise.

The exciting news is that my book Sensing the City, has finally been finished and is now with the publishers.  As soon as the cover has been finalised and approved, I will reveal it plus a synopsis of the book content.  Just be patient… its due out on 21 August and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

For now, I shall concentrate today’s blog on nature.  I have been inspired today by weeding!

After a lovely yoga class this morning, where concentration was the theme, we practiced balances including tree posture and its various forms.  I then went into my office for a few hours where I became quite stressed and in need of more relaxation.  I decided, for the first time this spring, to do a little work in our large garden.  My plan was to do no more than half an hour, just some tidying and sweeping.  I have just come in from the garden (it was about to get dark) having spent just shy of an hour – I cleared weeds in one large area, collected dog poop (yep, reality kicked in), and walked around the whole garden assessing what was next to be done.

Rather than being tired and fed up as I often am when I leave all the gardening to the weekends, I felt invigorated; grateful for the opportunity to get my hands (well gloves anyway) dirty, to smell the earth and the weeds, to chat to the cockerel as I weeded alongside the chickens, to see the sun in the sky as I grovelled on my hands and knees, pulling grass and dead stuff; clearing space to add beautiful plants and flowers.  All around me were daffodils and hyacinths rising to attention, and snowdrops just beginning to flower.

Often when I finish my normal work day, I will sit in the front of some nameless show on television for a while to ‘relax’.  I am not sure that it really relaxes me; I just feel as though I have wasted an hour of my time.  Today I felt productive, excited that I had started to make the garden look better, and grateful for the opportunity to really feel part of nature.

I go into the evening with renewed vigour, keen to continue to be productive but in a relaxing kind of way.  I am sure I shall sleep better, I will have achieved something useful, and I will have more time at the weekend after teaching, to do something more exciting.  For this Sunday, I have planned an audition to take on a small part at my local theatre; it is years since I was on the stage so I am looking forward to this, albeit nervously.

I may end up working behind the scenes this time if the parts involve too much line learning; but the possibility is exciting regardless.  There is a need for a production assistant as well; perhaps I should take this on; I can be very loud when I need to be; bossy, me… surely not?!!

Wish me luck for Sunday.  For now I am off to feed my fur babies for which I am so grateful.  I need a good long sniff of both of them, and then I shall be very happy for the evening.  I also have a lovely camembert in the fridge ready for baking… a certain LB influenced this one.

Until my next blurb…


 

GRATITUDE – THE REALISATION

imagesHello Readers

I have always considered myself a positive person, who is grateful for what I have.  I am in the midst of a yoga foundation course, and have to write a journal as part of the course.  The comment from the tutor, is that I need to make more notes about showing gratitude, rather than my usual critiquing and reflecting.  During the recent day of training for the course, I heard myself saying rather too much, ‘I can’t do that’, ‘oh I’m rubbish at that’, ‘my balance is bad on that leg’…  I hadn’t realised how much I put myself down when I think I am struggling with something.  It has been a real eye opener.  As I was teaching on Saturday, I heard the same from some of my students, yet I became impatient with them, knowing only too well, that they could do it.

I then had a conversation with my husband, over the weekend, while he was washing my car, as he does every weekend.  Have I been grateful for this activity, or do I take it for granted?

The conversation was around the support we give each other in our lives, for our study, our work, our passions.  I began to doubt myself; do I give him enough gratitude for what he has done for me, for what he loves to do.  Does he give me enough in return?

I had a day of being overwhelmed last week, and my two pooches came and sat on my lap, one of them licking my face as a few tears rolled down.  Am I grateful for the love they show me unconditionally, do I play with them often enough to prove my love for them?

I have an assistant in my office who works hard and steadily through her work without complaint, while around her are two stress-y autistic bosses; one who loses patience at many small problems, and the other who is either hyper-active in all that she does, or feeling as low as can be (that’s me).  It can’t be easy for her, yet she seems to take it in her stride.  Are we grateful?

I have a beautiful house in the country, with a large garden, hens, doves and I grow my own fruit and veg; am I grateful?  At the weekend I moaned quite a bit about how much cleaning it takes… yes I love what I have but perhaps I don’t appreciate it as much as I should.  I am not sure why I moaned – I had a lovely time cleaning and clearing out yet more clutter.

I am quite distraught by the fact that I do not seem to be as grateful as I should be, that I am perhaps not as positive as I thought.

I am therefore setting myself a challenge, which you might want to join in with as well.

I am going to find something I am grateful for each day and write it into a journal (my usual notebook on a special page), for 30 days.  I shall blog about these.  They could be just privately acknowledged, or as a declaration on a social media platform, or just said out loud to your family each day.

Once I have finished the whole 30, I shall publish them as an article on my website, www.theautisticvoice.co.uk.    In the meantime keep coming back to my blog for updates as I progress through my journey.

Good luck to us all.

Until next time…

sandra

 

 

THE ANTICIPATION OF SPEAKING

Welcome to February.  Where has the first month gone?  My goal for the year to simplify life and take on fewer commitments seems to have gone awry.  I have taken committed to a few speaking engagements in the next few months so this blog is about the pre-speech.

20120626-223607.jpgThe night before a ‘talk’ and I’m starting to feel anxious; that knot in the pit of my stomach which threatens to burst if I think about it too much.

My notes are all prepared; no PowerPoint for me this time.  Just me stood in front of a group of people who apparently are eager to listen.

This one is a lunch and I’ve already refused to eat with them.  The autism which is part of me, avoids social functions if possible when small talk is involved.  Add in the after lunch speech, and my anxieties would have been sky high.

The train journey to London has gone too quickly; in a couple of hours the time will be upon me.  This time my husband is at the lunch; the first time he has seen or heard me speak in a professional capacity.

He goes off to lunch and leaves me in a hotel lounge with the train tickets… dangerous.  I was tempted to go home but decided instead to rearrange my notes.  Nothing like last minute changes.

I leave the hotel and head to the venue, only to find they are running late and not even eaten the main course yet.  So I quietly sit in a corner waiting, until eventually they try to persuade me to eat.  Anxiety once again sets in… Delays, expectations not fulfilled, being coerced into an uncomfortable and unfamiliar situation – everything an autistic individual tried to avoid.

Wish me luck.

Until next time

sandra

 

www.theautisticvoice.co.uk

NEW BEGINNINGS

Happy New Year to you all.635856536729266387-1590926749_new-years-resolutions-photo

‘A New Year’s resolution is a tradition, most common in the Western Hemisphere but also found in the Eastern Hemisphere, in which a person resolves to change an undesired trait or behaviour’.

This is the computer search definition of a New Year’s Resolution. Traditionally we all make some kind of resolution, but how important are these really?

I stopped resolutions years ago, but instead set myself a few well-chosen goals. For example in 2014 one of my goals was to become a doctor.  I knew I could achieve it, my doctorate thesis had been handed in December 2013, and my viva for the end of January 2014 was already arranged.  It wasn’t a foregone conclusion however so it still provided me with a challenge.  I passed my viva with minors, so I still had work to do to achieve my goal.  In fact as it turned out, I had many tables to prepare as the examiners apparently needed these to prove my work in a more visual way!  Click on this link to my thesis Perspectives of the Autistic Voice: An Ethnography Examining Informal Education Learning Experiences if you are interested in checking it out.

‘Resolutions’ or whatever you call them should be achievable, with practice, with work, with determination.   Adding a couple of definites; things you will achieve without question, can also help with motivation.

One of mine in the past has been put my keys in the same place every day so I don’t lose them. Meaningless to most, but to me a lifesaver and an act which has saved my sanity. I still remember the time I was walking around the house and garden with my keys, loading my car with charity bags, and I dropped my keys into one of the bags by accident.  Luckily I didn’t take the bags to the charity for several days (I couldn’t find my keys to drive there) so I eventually emptied out all of the bags one day in desperation and found them!

Mostly I try to make meaningful goals which may help others in some way as well, even if it means I am calmer or less anxious and therefore a nicer person to be around.

In 2015 one of my goals was to finish and get published my book Autism and Martial Arts: A Guide for Children, Parents and Teachers. (The details are on my website home page) This was achieved with a lot of work and countless edits and proofreading which was exhausting.  I wanted to achieve this goal to help autistic children; to give them confidence to achieve whatever they wanted to do; to guide parents to find the best clubs for their children; to provide information for teachers to give the best possible experience in martial arts for autistic students.

So, for last year’s goals. One was to take my yoga further and gain more knowledge; I am now in the middle of my foundation course with the British Wheel of Yoga so I have definitely achieved that.  I am aiming for teacher training later this year.  Another made mid-year was to give up eating meat; this was for various personal reasons, but aspects of my health have clearly improved since then.  I am also currently in the middle of my second book editing and I will blog more about this as it gets closer to publication.

I also made several small and seemingly insignificant ‘lifestyle decisions’ some of which I will share with you copied verbatim from one of my many notebooks!:

  • No more skinny jeans unless stretchy!
  • Comfort is key and constantly fiddling is not stylish!!
  • When hair is good colour – don’t change it! (I still change it!)
  • Quality rather than quantity

Now these are hardly life-changing goals but I am sure there are plenty of you out there who feel the same way and write similar things in your notebooks. By the way for those of you who know me well, the last decision has even applied to my ‘notebook collection’.  Yes, I actually pared down my collection last year and try to use the same good notebooks for most things – quality, the ones with the pockets at the back and elastic.  I just add pen loops.  If you need to know about these pen loops, contact me.  They are wonderful.  I digress…

So now, I shall leave you to ponder your goals or resolutions or promises to yourself… I am off to work on one of mine for 2017: finish this second book before my editor emails me again!!

Don’t forget to check out my website www.theautisticvoice.co.uk

Until next time

sandra

HAPPY NEW YEAR

Hello dear readers

Just putting out a beautiful image for the New Year. Back soon for a new year of blogging. 

Sandra

DOGS ARE MY COMFORT

IMG_0079As an autistic individual, I can honestly say that my two little dogs are what get me through the day sometimes.  Whether it is for a quick cuddle, or a sniff to heighten my senses, or even a long hug for my benefit probably more than theirs, they are always there for me when I need them.  In return they are spoilt rotten and know exactly how to get around us.

Of course sometimes they are the cause of the stress; an unwanted wee, snatching any tissues whenever they can, pinching the last bite of a sandwich from my plate when I get up to answer the doorbell (Rosie!).

I have been unwell for nearly three weeks, following a several week period of overload.  Today I became really stressed after work and just needed to hold them.  They let me, even when I had a shouty fit at one point (this does not happen often for me but today I just let go).  I sometimes feel bad that they have to listen to these meltdown episodes but I suppose they are used to them and just seem to know instinctively that we need a cuddle or a kiss.

They are always here if I am unwell, having a fit of tears, or just want to talk to them.  I know it sounds bizarre to the non-dog owners among you, but I swear they understand and know exactly what I need.  It’s more than I can say for many human beings.

So thank you with all my heart to my babies, Holly and Rosie, for being there for me and for my husband Joe who also needs them.  Happy birthday for Friday Holly; 10 years old!

Until next time…

sandra

POST GRADUATE CERTIFICATE IN AUTISM

20120626-223607.jpgHi Readers

Today I especially welcome the students of the London Post Graduate Certificate in Autism and Asperger’s. I write this the night before the last day of the course, when I am scheduled to present.  Sadly, I have been suffering with a chronic chest infection for a week already and I am in no fit state to travel to London right now.  Therefore I have had to speak to Dr Luke Beardon, Course Director and we have mutually agreed I won’t travel this time. By the time I publish this, you will have just finished and be about to leave for home after three days of intensive work.

I love to present to this course and have been doing so for some years. The course literally (I don’t use this word lightly) changed my life.  It was at the course, during the sensory lecture especially, that I had a lightbulb moment and realised that my darling husband had Asperger’s.  So much of what was being said was relevant to him.  After some time for both of us to adjust to this possibility, he sought clinical diagnosis.  A few months later and I started my doctorate at Sheffield Hallam; it apparently became clear to many that I might also have the syndrome.  Later that year I was also diagnosed.

This course for me involved three separate trips to Hertfordshire (192 miles round trip), followed by two papers of based on research and literature reviews. The course opened my eyes to the good, the bad and the ugly of autism and even more of the attitudes others have towards it. It enabled me to really look at my teaching, to listen to my students and to explore the autistic teacher’s experiences as well.  It was a good grounding for me to move onto my EdD, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

As you finish your teaching day, and leave your new found group ‘siblings’ (thanks Jenni for the phrase I know you use for your fellow autistics) ready to go off and get on with your research, may I give you a few tips from experience?

  1. Be really clear about what you want to research, and think how it may fit into any future study (Masters and beyond).
  2. Type up your references as you go – we always think it will be quick to gather them at the end, but believe me… IT ISN’T and there is always one missing which will take you hours to find!
  3. Take note of the list I offered in the second of my presentation slides within your pack. This is so important when considering, working with, researching or writing about us autists ( I hate both terms of aspies and auties). (Apologies, the rest of the slides were not offered as it would have given my game away; as it turned out this was futile).
  4. Read as much as you can around your subject. If you happen to be researching any kind of sport, physical activity or martial arts, my third slide may be of use. Also consider my doctoral thesis which uses ethnography, reflective practice and auto-ethnography as research methods.  The link to this is on my website.
  5. Use Blackboard. I found it really useful but was so frustrated that it was only utilised by a few. As a distance learning course, I really needed to debate certain issues with someone in the know, and there never seemed to be anyone else available.
  6. If you have questions, are unsure, or need support and advice, contact your tutor without fear or anxiety.
  7. Enjoy the process.

I am so sorry I wasn’t able to be there for you today. You are very welcome to contact me if you have questions, comments or just need to sound off about an aspect of your study.  You can find me via this blog, of course; my website www.theautisticvoice.co.uk; twitter @Beale/Ellis or Facebook www.facebook.com/theautisticvoice.  All of these links are on my website as well.

Hope to ‘see you’ here soon

Until next time…

sandra

NETWORKING: AUTISM FRIENDLY?

indexHi Readers

I am writing this blog in the nearly empty meeting room of large London solicitor’s firm.  There are a few people scattered around, drinking coffee and pretending to be busy with emails; a couple of them talking loudly… perhaps they are important?!  I wonder if I have even been noticed, scribbling away in my notebook?

The rest of them are standing huddled together in a small room next door; juggling briefcases, handbags, and cups of tea while they seek out others to pedal their wares to.

There are those who love these networking opportunities, trying to speak to as many people as possible; spreading swarms of bacteria as they shake numerous hands or forbid, air kiss to demonstrate their popularity. They want to be seen, or heard, and are fantastic networkers. In my experience they are usually the ones to avoid; consistently talking about themselves and their business (sport, in today’s case).

I may be here representing martial arts but I really don’t want to talk about any other sport. If it’s not relevant to me, why waste time and ‘ear space’? It will only overload my senses, and I need to keep those clear for the next two hours to keep up with the meeting we are actually here for. I find it difficult to appear interested when I’m not.

At the end they will all congregate again to juggle curled sandwiches and pieces of fruit; not me. I will disappear as soon as they close the meeting. In the spare outside there are a plethora of street vendors slowly cooking their fresh ingredients.

I shall be eating my lunch in the fresh air without someone explaining how footballers justify being paid millions! I shall avoid this somewhat controversial view – I admit I am not a football fan at all – to continue to look forward to some tasty morsels later.

And so with a minute to go, they all start piling into the room, having exhausted their voices, we hope, in readiness to listen.

Wish me luck

Until next time…

sandra

DOCTORAL STUDY: THE SUPERVISOR

holly-books

This was my dog Holly reading my research notes during  the process.  Note the inspirational quotations on my wall!!!

I have been keeping an eye on social media recently and have found that many autistic individuals studying for a PhD, EdD etc, struggle with supervisor experiences. When I was in the middle of the process, I supported another student who had a, shall we say, less than cooperative supervisor.  He was often left feeling useless and frustrated at the way his work was being supervised or not as the case may be.

I was extremely lucky. I had chosen my university, based on two things alone.  Firstly its reputation in the field of autism, and secondly on the person I had earmarked as my supervisor.  During my initial interview to be taken on the course, I had stressed that my application was based on this person becoming my supervisor.  At one point after I had started it seemed this wish was not to be taken into consideration, but I remained determined and I would have left the university if he had not been appointed to me.

Let me tell you why I was so adamant; and why you should be very careful about who supervises you through the process of doctorate study.

The success of the whole process, in my opinion, rests on having good support. This person is with you through several years of study, anguish, contemplation and doubt.  You need to know that this person will support, advise, listen and give you competent and sometimes comforting suggestions to the inevitable dilemmas which will surface.  This person needs to allow you time to sit and mull over ideas, suggest ways to improve your direction, and encourage when you are feeling everything is just too much.

For students who also happen to be autistic, this choice of supervisor is even more important. I list here my thoughts on supervisor choice for you to consider:

  1. Do your research before you start the course. Check out universities in areas you are comfortable travelling to. Don’t allow the journey to cause you any more stress than you need to. I chose a university 228 miles away, but to me getting used to this journey was worth it (I will blog about this some time).
  2. You should arrange an initial meeting with any choice individuals, just an informal chat about your initial ideas and reasons for completing a doctorate. It is essential that after this initial meeting you feel completely comfortable with the way the person engaged with you. I find autistic individuals usually have a sixth sense about a person quite quickly.
  3. Tell the individual what you find difficult, what you need from the tutorials and other meetings, and how they can help you through the process.
  4. Arrange for deadlines – this was absolutely crucial for me. For each section of my doctorate, I planned deadlines of when I would finish a task by; all my plans were sent to my supervisor and he would write them in his diary, pencilling out time to deal with them within an agreed timescale ready for feedback to me. I cannot emphasise how much this helped both of us during the process. It meant I did not have to sit for days or weeks worrying about how I was doing. We had agreed on how quickly I would hear back and he stuck to that over the four years.If I was struggling with a deadline and this did happen occasionally, mainly during the research phase as I experienced overload on a few occasions (more in another blog), I simply emailed my supervisor to explain and we postponed it. We always chose another date though, never leaving it to chance.
  5. Before each tutorial meeting, we agreed a plan for discussion. It may have been issues I needed to mull over with someone, or difficulties I was facing. Often he gave me suggestions for changing, say, my writing style in a particular section, or correcting my referencing.
  6. Ask your supervisor if you can record the meeting. I didn’t record the first one and I struggled to remember everything which was said. Despite making notes, sometimes you just need to listen to what is being said, or during intense discussions, making notes is not always easy. Listening to my tutorials back later was useful. I often did this on the way home via earphones and made necessary notes from the recordings.
  7. Find a place which feels comfortable to have your tutorials. If you are easily distracted, as I am, meeting in the university café is not ideal. One of my tutorials near the end was in such a place and we were constantly interrupted by other staff, students, raucous laughter, clanking cutlery; not ideal as we were discussing selection for the viva panel!
  8. Keep in touch with your supervisor regularly. Even if there is not a specific query, it is good to just check in. Let them know how you are doing, have you found a good book which is helpful, did you have a breakthrough, are you feeling like throwing a brick at your computer? They can’t support you if they don’t know what is going on.
  9. If you are finding that your supervisor just doesn’t get you, or is causing too much frustration and pain on a personal level (there is always frustration on a study level!), speak to the organiser of the course to see if there is a way to change before it gets worse. Bad supervision will give you a bad experience and for autistic individuals this could mean giving up… or worse
  10. Try to enjoy the process. My supervisor supported me to the very end… and beyond. He was there sitting behind me during my viva, and even when we left the room with me in tears (yes I had passed) he was there ready to take me for a celebratory drink.

I am still very much in touch with my supervisor and now my friend. We support each other, recommend each other and still try to work with each other whenever possible.  I won’t embarrass him by naming him, but I know that many of my twitter followers are lucky enough to have the same person supervising them.

Take care…

sandra

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