Alert readers from around the world will be aware that there has been another devastating series of big magnitude earthquakes north of Christchurch, one of the effects of which was our first tsunami alert since the coastal sirens were installed, Christchurch is probably one of the safest places in New Zealand now thanks to the old shaky buildings either collapsed or demolished. Repairs and rebuilds have resulted in a stunning new look for the city with lots of low-rise and hugely strengthened office blocks and a large residential area in the inner city planned to start soon.
For the devastated citizens of Kaikoura, heartbreak and much fear as to their future as their traditional money earners, centred on the sea, have all been obliterated. Road links along the fabulous coast road are completely buried under millions of tonnes of rock, the seals have lost their favourite breeding place and their favourite rocks to sunbathe on, and lobsters and shellfish suffered a 4 metre uplift from the sea into the killing daylight. People are trying to rescue them but the new underwater habitat is not like the one they had.
For us in Christchurch, PTSD effects just when we thought we were "coming right" and the effects of the Monday early morning evacuation have lasted all week.
On the bright side, Aspiehelp has decided to hold the first ever entirely Aspie Conference in New Zealand, towards the end of 2017 and planning has begun. Speakers will be almost entirely Aspie/on the spectrum and the programme will be more relaxed than is usual at other conferences when everything is packed in tightly. We'll tell you more as things progress!
After 14, 500+ earthquakes, one would be forgiven for thinking that these borborygmi (?) of Mother Earth should have settled down by now. Unfortunately, this is not the case and we are having the occasional near magnitude 5 still.
The city is changing rapidly with new buildings and beautifying projects, but is still years from being completely restored. It will, eventually, be a stunning city with beautiful sunny buildings in a park-like setting, a truly 21st Century city.
Aspiehelp is becoming much better known and sought out for the help we can offer. Some people need quite complex plans to be carried out and others just need "course corrections".
We are finding quite a few families unhappy with the schooling their child or children are receiving and we recommend Ao Tawhiti/Unlimited High School and Discovery for primary school age. All the young folk we have referred to Ao Tawhiti have flourished in that environment where before they were miserable. Every city should have such schools!
Aspiehelp is asked for a very wide range of help- education, employment, housing, relationships, social skills strategies etc. We learn something new every day and this incremental knowledge benefits all our clients. It is a very privileged position to be in, sharing the journey of discovery into AS. It is also exciting, to see people come in looking nervous and apprehensive and leave smiling! We are not a laugh a minute although we do often find our unique aspie wit is recognised by our new clients and appreciated. Sometimes we can be quite challenging by the fact that we also have the traits of Asperger Syndrome (blunt speech is one of the more obvious features). What is often remarked on is that we see and say things so differently from neurotypicals that, at last, our aspies feel they have "found their tribe". That is what we then build upon.
It's not easy being aspie in New Zealand, but we are actually more advanced in general knowledge and understanding than many other countries. We need to build confidence in our tribe so that critical mass is reached to more thoroughly influence education, employment and government policy. Then more of us can take our place as valued members of society with meaningful work and fulfilling lives!
It has been a very busy year. Having two staff persons two days a week has pushed forward our projects and made me realise I wasn't imagining that there was too much work on the admin side for me alone. Various important things have kept Jan out of action for quite some time, but we were able to keep going with Nick and Beth available. The funny thing is, the bigger Aspiehelp gets, the more work is involved.... sometimes it seems as if we exist only to turn our own wheels!
This week, three of us are going to Dunedin to help launch our first new branch (by popular request) as they say.. There will be a radio interview, a newspaper interview, Meetings at the University of Otago, and a public meeting, plus some meetings with members and new members. Aspiehelp Dunedin now has its own Facebook page and welcomes new members. They will be running sausage sizzles to keep their funds keep pace with rent for premises etc, and they will contribute one Trustee to the Aspire Trust Board.
Aspiehelp has got off to a flying start this year. We have held three social events with and average attendance of 17 folk. Last night was a particularly uproarious one, with a wild game of Monopoly in one corner, an even wilder game of "Tip-it" in another, and some keen conversations going on as well. Perhaps it was something in the pizzas at Spagalimis beforehand?!
I must salute the good people at Spagalimis while I am mentioning them. They are unfailingly kind and helpful to our heterogeneous bunch every 2 or 3 weeks, and even notify us if someone forgets to pay, by txt message!
Nick, Leith and Jan are trying to grasp all the niceties of money and staff management at the moment, in preparation for a routine of grant applications to resource Aspiehelp and extend our services. Onwards and upwards!
2014 ended on a high note for us with the renting of excellent office premises for Aspiehelp and The Aspire Trust, as noted elsewhere on this website.
We have a most able Secretary/Receptionist, Nick Stoneman, who will take some of the routine nuts and bolts off our shoulders leaving us to see clients and run workshops etc.
Moving in was a huge task, accomplished mostly by Leith and Nick, although Zee came in very handy when we were reconstructing the huge circular file we were given a couple of years ago. It is quite intricately put together but I knew there would be someone with the brainpower to crack the puzzle, and so it proved. Zee had it sussed in 5 minutes!
Acquiring all the equipment for the office left us a bit low in the finance department and Nick has taken over fundraising by BBQ at the local Mitre10 shop. (Many thanks to them for their ongoing generosity, not just to us but to the charitable community, by making available a "BBQ shack" to use on a day by day basis). We have put together a BBQ kit with everything we need in it, to make packing in and out a lot easier. Future dates at Mitre10 are already booked and we are also looking to provide BBQs at the Weka Pass Railway weekends, thanks to Nick's contacts there.
We feel we finished 2014 on a high note with some great successes in our interventions for clients, and a super end-of-year lunch party at Leith's, with a total of 28 people attending!
We have several exciting plans for 2015, of which we will apprise you later. Thanks for reading!
Your blogger has been a bit delinquent this year from a multiplicity of reasons.. early in the year Christchurch was battered by three "1 in 100 years" storms and my telephone links were down for most of a month. Ill-health and other diversions like being unable to access this site have also contributed to the problems.
Aspiehelp has continued to grow and flourish this year and we have been grateful to receive a generous grant from the Community Trust plus another from the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Trust for printing material on Autism and Asperger Syndrome. (The products of our labours appear elsewhere on this site)- they are free to any organisation in Canterbury and at a modest price for other parts of NZ. An order form will be added shortly.
Also available soon will be badges (we have a badge making machine!), Aspiehelp gift boxes, and copies of Emma Goodall's book "Understanding and Facilitating Autistic Potential". This is a stunner and we will be selling it at NZD$45.00 ($5.00 to our funds), plus postage.
Jan and Leith are pleased to announce they now have their first trainee peer-mentor, Zee Davis, who has already done some great work. We have a going number of younger men as members and it is so good to have a male to work with some of them.
We do have a Facebook page (Aspiehelp Christchurch NZ) which carries quite a lot of information about the rebuild of Christchurch, by the way. We are now into our 4th year post EQ and there are many heartening signs of redevelopment. On the other hand, nostalgia and unexpected reasons for grieving our old familiar city ambush us from time to time. Christchurch will be a stunning modern city eventually, but for many of us, we feel it is a "young person's city". We need that energy to drive it forward but some of the inevitable changes are very stressful. The repair of our infrastructure has led to our city being renamed "the city of traffic cones". I believe there are close to half a million of them on our streets. Roughly 60% of the infrastructure still needs work although there has been wide-scale work done continually since Day 1.
One of the unexpected consequences of the EQs has been the lowering of much of the city land, leading to catastrophic flooding in areas which never previously flooded, or not to such levels. This, on top of all the other problems and a City Council running out of money, is causing a lot of strain. For the first time we have many people homeless and unable to access benefits because they "lack a postal address". We have been able to place four Aspies into Council flats so far this year- sometimes we have to be grateful to be under the disability label!
The usual resources for homeless people are full and don't have room for so many other people. Thankfully, volunteers have stepped forward, provided food and clothing, and brought the problem to government notice, so something is finally about to happen.
We now have a new web-master, Chris Wright, so stand by for some changes!
It has been a fairly busy year, but we are delighted to announce that Aspiehelp now has a permanent home (office) in the undercroft of the Cashmere Presbyterian Church, thanks to a generous grant by the Canterbury Community Trust.
Our new telephone number is 03 337 6 337. There is a message facility also should we not be in the office. Nick Stoneman is our new Secretary/Receptionist and is proving his value every day! He is always cheery and is also a fount of information. When we get our electronic calendar up and running, Nick will be able to make appointments for staff to see you.
At present we are open only Tuesdays and Thursdays, but we hope to go to a third day some time next year. Current hours are: 10.30am to 3.30pm ( or thereabouts).
The Church is on the corner of Dyers Pass Road and MacMillan Avenue, a lovely grey stone church so typical of Christchurch. To find our office, go down the drive in the front of the church, at no. 58 Dyers Pass Road (on foot please!). Our sign will be in place to direct you from there.
This was the largest Conference I have attended yet, with about 1300 attendees. It was held in the Adelaide Convention Centre, which is approximately 3 times as large as the Christchurch Town Hall! It was very well run, with an excellent exhibition section and a very large schedule of plenary and workshop sessions- almost too many , as it was impossible to see/hear more than a fraction of what was offered.
A great promotion was made of "future leaders", i.e. young people under 30 years of age. Those of us who were older were included as "mentors", but in practice, we were pretty much overlooked in terms of what we could offer, and we were not promoted to the attendees as "present mentors", which was rather surprising. It rather gave the impression that there were no leaders on the Spectrum at all, which is far from the truth. A great effort had been made to prepare a lovely quiet room for us to retire to when everything got a bit much, and we had our own catered area next to it. Stephen Shore, Ari Ne'eman and other stars made a point of coming and hanging out with the young ones, which was terrific for them.
A small contingent from Pakistan, India and Malaysia made up the "Asian" part of APAC and it was most interesting to hear how they are working for children on the Spectrum in their countries. An estimate of the total number of people on the Spectrum attending was around 100- maybe a dozen from NZ. We met some people who have, hitherto been names only on our Facebook pages, and strengthened our friendships with them.
I was interested to find that many of the presentations seemed to be repetitions of stories of the speakers' lives that I had read before. The Australians all talked about themselves too, whereas I gave a presentation about the difficulties Aspies typically find in the workplace. It seemed to me that in NZ we talk more about the issues that come up for us and how we tackle them, rather than about ourselves.
An interesting dramatic presentation called "The History of Autism" was given by an all-autistic cast, very well done and worth promoting to a wider audience. One of the things I learned in attending this conference is that some of the younger aspies are not noise-averse, and I found myself frequently wincing and covering my ears! (this happened several times when we were gathered together).
One of the presenters was a researcher into "autism risk" and presented all kinds of tables and figures for "estimating autism risk" in children. I challenged him afterwards and said "what risk? We are born with it, there is no such thing as risk after birth- we either have it or we don't. (The point about such research is that it tends to attract huge amounts of money and therefore such "researchers" are on a nice gravy train). I added, "and please drop the word 'disorder'- I am not disordered and I don't need to be 'fixed' ". He ran away....
I had the opportunity of a long couple of conversations with Dane Dougan of AutismNZ about the future of Aspie and Autie organisations in NZ. It was interesting being able to communicate our issues and worries to the CEO of AutismNZ as it was certainly not possible with his predecessor. This discussion is a "work in progress" and will involve Aspies from the North Island in the near future.
The conference was going to wrap up with an extravagant dinner- very expensive- and I chose not to go. Just as well. I heard the rehearsal, or part of it, and the sound levels were excruciating. Lots of of money was raised but the Aspies were completely not catered for and found their own fun in our own groups.
An interesting experience. At least those aspies who took part have raised our profile a bit more
Apologies to my keen readers, who keep me motivated! I attended two conferences in August and September, one run by Altogether Autism in Hamilton, New Zealand , and the Asia-Pacific Autism Conference in Adelaide, South Australia.
In Hamilton I gave a joint presentation with one of our Board members, Sue Robb, on the establishment of Aspiehelp- Sue gave feedback as to how she had experienced our work and how she has now "found her place" in the world. We also took part in a radio interview for "One in Five" which was broadcast on National Radio and very well received.
There were some excellent speakers and it was great to network with so many Aspies and professionals who have a strong interest in Asperger Syndrome and helping those who have it. We also made first contact with the new CEO of Autism NZ, Dane Dougan, of which more later.
Unfortunately, the venue let the organisers down. The meeting rooms were divided off from a very large room and the partitions were not soundproof. This led to a lot of stress for those on the spectrum. Thank goodness we had some quiet rooms to retreat to! Still, it was another "learning experience" and well worth attending. All in all, there were 11 presenters on the Spectrum, a world first!
Musings by our various Aspie peer supporters