30 April 2007

All on the spectrum now

Last Monday I took some time out from the Triathlon Training that is increasingly dominating my days, my nights, my waking thoughts and - worst of all - my blog, to go to a lecture.

It was two hours, I calculated, lost for training. In that time I could have:
  • swum 7 x 100m off 3 minutes, and
  • run the 5.5km treadmill programme at level 4 (level 5 if they would only keep the bleeding gym at the 19° that they are supposed to) and
  • had another attempt at the tantalising 1 hour barrier for the bike home (PB 1h05)
Ah well. The event was Autism Nation - a panel discussion on autism at the ICA. The star of the show was the clever, intellectual and urbane Simon Baron Cohen, but stealer of the show was the fierce, opinionated professional talker-of-down-to-earth-common-sense Dr Michael Fitzpatrick. Alt-views were provided by the intensively unautistic Marti Leimbach while the genuine real-life autist Kamran Nazeer loomed impassively from the edge, carefully refraining from eye contact with the rest of the panel who, quite naturally, ignored him.

The panel waxed lyrical all evening, and on my note pad I jotted down a page of their original thoughts; thinking back on it over the week since one thought in particular struck me - in terms of sociability and ability to communicate our tolerant, inclusive modern society has quite raised the bar in terms of what is considered normal: Nowadays children in quite ordinary schools are expected to participate in drama, hold and attend parties, talk about sex and sexuality in the classroom (talk in the classroom, I mean, of course, not talk about sex in the.... you know what I mean!) they are expected to be able to engage meaningfully with people of astonishly diverse backgrounds and avoid any scarily intensive hobbies, all in order to be considered normal. Behaviours that would have been considered quite usual in 1957 are, in 2007, plotted carefully on the all-embracing, all encompassing autistic spectrum.

What is autism? Simon Baron Cohen identified four traits
- difficulty socialising
- lack of empathy/interest in others
- intense interest in a narrow range subject
- repetition

It was an interesting evening, and exactly a week later I was still thinking on it as I splashed out my life-threatening 500m in the pool and pounded out a tedious 5km on the treadmill.

Between the two, I practised transition: I got out of the pool and took out my racing top [super-wicking, dry-quick, ultra light; no armpit holes £84.99] from my locker and laid it out carefully on the floor in front of me, flat and untangled, just as it will be in the race, with the back rolled up just a little bit. Then I stood up straight and stared at it for a moment, and visualised.

Water dripped slowly from my arms to the floor, I could quite distinctly hear the hum of the air conditioner and I could smell the sweat of the changing room and the chlorine on my skin.

Slowly and deliberately I counted to three and then - to the astonishment of my neighbours - I burst into life and hauled the top over my head and, writhing desperately, managed to haul the tightly rolled fabric down my damp back. Immediately it was on, I dropped on ground, toggled up my trainers, then leapt to my feet and put my cycling helmet on. And stoppped my watch.

A sudden hush had descended on the changing room.

"Blenheim Palace?"asked my neighbour?
"Thames Turbo, said I,
"Word of advice", he said, not unkindly, "Put an arm in first, before it goes over your head. Much faster that way"

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