Paul Nussbaum is a national autism speaker and consultant with wide experience presenting to teaching professionals about coping with autism and transition to successful employment. Paul has appeared in several documentary films about autism, including the recent Trauma Warriors about the often unrecognized kinds of trauma experienced by autistics. Paul serves on the executive committee of the Autistic Global Initiative, is on AASCEND’s Board of Directors and is a board member of Ascendigo. An avid outdoorsman, Paul spearheaded the Conquering Heights trans-Sierra winter expedition highlighting autistic ability, and is now preparing for a more ambitious trip across the Greenland icecap to further awareness of autistic ability. Paul founded and runs a successful handyman business.
Greenland! Since I was a kid, I have always dreamed of trekking in the snow and ice. I remember memorizing the Rime of the Ancient Mariner when I was twelve and was smitten with the description of ice:
“And ice, mast high, came floating by…”
The frigid land “of mist and snow”
I fantasized of building caves in the snow to sleep in; I wanted to be a survivalist, out there alone, though, at this juncture, I had never heard the term “survivalist”.
Last weekend, I met Paul at the Autsit http://www.autismtheory.org/Autsit/ .
This weekend, I am attending the AASCEND conference in San Francisco, and he will be there, as well.
I talked to him a little about the possibility of me going on the Greenland trip, but it is probably too short notice.
So, I’d like to use take this opportunity to explain how much heavy physical exertion helps me.
All my life, I have enjoyed strenuous exercise – at age 12 I was a long distance cyclist – up to 200 miles in one day. I won various awards, and was featured in the local newspaper. The bike club suspended its rule that riders under age 16 be accompanied by an adult for me. (I heard it went back to 16 after I left – I started having increasing autistic behaviors and was “sent away” – puberty is a bitch)!
While researching the Sensory Diet, I came across the idea of regular strenuous exercise for my type of sensory overstimulation (and under stimulation, as well; I have a high pain tolerance and need strong tactile input – heavy pressure – which is partly why I like a weighted vest and heavy clothing and bedding. I simply cannot “feel” physical sensations emanating from outside my body like others do.
Therefore, the exercise serves as a release from being a wreck when overexcited from auditory and visual overload, and provides the intense physical sensations I need, as I don’t extract them from the environment easily.
The endorphins don’t hurt, either.
I utilize my autistic one-pointed concentration to make me an above average athlete, and, as I was telling Paul, when I am running I feel strong, free and graceful. I am not engaging in any of the stereotyped movements of autism because my body is fully engaged. I don’t look weird, and am thoroughly immersed in the rhythm of running, my breath, mind and body synced.
It is a blissful feeling; and for this reason, I cannot understand why people I pass often have such looks of pain on their faces. I realize they are running in order to lose weight (most likely), and don’t really enjoy it, but I wish everyone could have the gift I have always had – the pure joy of body and mind moving effortlessly through space. Exercise is meditation, for me.
This Greenland expedition seems perfect for me; I love being challenged physically – the reason I entered – and graduated – Structure Firefighting Academy at a “late” age I was the oldest in my class the graduate; the other guy my age failed.
So, even if I can’t go to Greenland this time, maybe I can get in on the next trip.
Or, at least, go skiing!