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Alex Douglas-Kane shares her experiences and understanding of Discover Nature Awareness

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Tracking with Asperger’s

  1. Can people with Asperger’s make good trackers?
  2. Is there a line of work were they can utilise their skills, if so what is it?
  3. How do they see tracks on the ground?

These are all questions I feel that need to be explored and no doubt as the answers appear more and more questions will arise, great can’t wait.

I would like to share with you some tracking experiences I had while working with young men who presented with ADHD and Asperger’s.

It has been hope for some time now to be able to use tracking as a therapeutic intervention.

My first experience with Asperger’s was when I went tracking one day up to some sand dunes near to where I live with some young men and several adults, the idea for the day was to see how these young men would get on with tracking.

I asked one of my colleagues to go and hide anywhere in the dunes without us knowing where he went. After taking the boys through some basics off tracking, we set off to have some fun in locating my colleague who was hiding among the grass in the sand dunes. Being as we were tracking in sand it would prove not too difficult a medium to work with for the boys.

I asked my colleague to set up some critical points along the way, these where places where he would stop for a while to make a decision as to which direction to go in, he was instructed to move around a bit looking for the best way to go and I would use these points to ask the boys questions, for example "what happened here"?

As we followed the staff members trail, we came across an area of fouled tracks, and I could see his boot tracks in and out; however one of the boys could actually see the tracks in amongst all the other tracks. I could not see a thing a short while after leaving the foul tracks behind the same boy then said that we were no longer following the same boot print.

So we took a closer look at it, we measured it as we had already taken measurements from the first track with our tracking stick and sure enough and to my surprise, we were following a different person with the same tread on their boot as my colleagues and there was only a small difference in size.

How random is that.

We back tracked and the young man pointed to where he could see the real trail leading off to the right, we duly followed this and within moments we located the member of staff’s hiding place.

So how was he able to see tracks on the ground, where I could not?

Sometime after that day I came across a video on YouTube were a lady was explaining about autism in particular Asperger’s. She was saying that people with Asperger’s see in the same way horses do, in pictures and she gave an example of a cross.

If you will, picture a red cross that is made up of hundreds of tiny red crosses, where I would see just on big Red Cross someone with Asperger’s would see the hundreds of little red crosses. When I heard this suddenly it became clear to me how that young man was able to the tracks in the muddy foul tracked area. This got me thinking about other possibilities. Such as how can I expand my understanding and bring it to my work and encourage these young people to work with the skills they have rather than assume that they need our help all the time. In other words what can I learn from them?

Another time I was with a group of boys who were following a trail laid for them until they lost it. I encouraged them to spend time trying to work out what had happened and to see if they could pick up the trail again. What happened next for me was wonderful. These boys find it hard to stay still let alone focus on one thing and here they were, all three of them sat by a footprint for twenty minutes discussing what might have happened, working together by asking each other questions and getting each other to go off and check the mole hills and other soft soil areas for tracks that look the same as the track they were following.

They were in fact on the wrong track, but the value of letting them problem solve and work together far outweighed the task of tracking, which we were able to pick up latter anyway. That, for me was one of those magic moments in life.

Can people with Asperger’s make good trackers?
This I am not sure about yet as I would need to take them out more and set up exercises where I can measure the outcomes. However, I feel there is some potential here, and it may be that like us not everyone is suited to tracking.

Is there a line of work were they can utilise their skills, if so what is it?
I do not know the answer to this question but it is worth exploring, I do know however, in the case of these young men with more practise and encouragement from me, and for them to realised the potential in themselves and the value of what they are doing for one or two of them in their mature years the possibility may have been there. But they would have required more hands on from staff to encourage them in this field, is that realistic. Well if you want it bad enough then why not.

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