Review: The Autistic Guide to Adventure
Outdoor adventuring can be life changing - it makes you physically and mentally stronger, takes you to new places and introduces you to new friends, as well as being an exhilarating challenge - but it can be stressful when there are unexpected social and sensory challenges involved.
I was kindly sent a copy of The Autistic Guide to Adventure: Active Pursuits from Archery to Wild Swimming for Tweens and Teens (Jessica Kingsley Publishing) by Allie Mason, autistic adventurer. Illustrated by Ella Willis. Here is my review.
Allie says that when she was younger, she really struggled to access sport and other adventurous activities, without ever being able to identify why. Since her diagnosis, Allie now has names for the barriers she faced to leading the active lifestyle she desired - such as sensory sensitivity, executive dysfunction, emotional dysregulation, amongst many others.
She still faces these barriers today, but now has the tools to address and mitigate them. She didn’t want to keep these tools to herself, so wrote The Autistic Guide to Adventure. She wanted to share what she had learnt with the rest of her community, in case it could also help them. As a mother in a neurodivergent family I am very familiar with the struggles autism can present in certain situations, so I was excited to read this book.
Allie introduces various activities ranging from fossil hunting to sailing. These all have a fact sheet about the sensory experience involved.
My children can be affected by noise and sensory experiences. Whilst being outside and active can be a great way of regulating them, it can be a barrier to some activities and so having a summary of the sensory experiences involved in each activity is very helpful.
There are lots of activities covered in this book, perfect for children to discover a wide range to try. There are support needs covered as well for each activity.
You can see an excerpt of the book, about hiking, here: The Autistic Guide to Adventure | Outside & Active (outsideandactive.com).
I like that the books includes suggestions on approaching activities for when you're just getting started, as well as a handy budgeting system. The personal anecdotes and interviews with autistic athletes are also a great touch. Hearing from #ActuallyAutistic people is so very important.
I was very interested to read the sections about stand-up paddleboarding and wild swimming. I like how it described stand-up paddleboarding as adaptable for mobility or sensory needs. This is so true, I often move around the board due to sciatica and a bad back. I like the emphasis on safety as well, such as wearing a buoyancy aid and being a strong swimmer. The same with swimming, having a tow float.
Barriers to adventures
I know from personal experience that being outside and active helps depression and anxiety. For me, being in cold water (wild swimming) and far away from people on the water (stand-up paddling) helps my mental health and I love to encourage other people to do the same. Like Allie, I did my adventuring as a child through the pages of books; the Famous Five, St Clare's, the Faraway Tree. Like Allie, I feel I had an invisible barrier preventing me from actual adventures. I am starting my own diagnosis journey now and believe any resource which can help people access the outdoors despite barriers such as sensory sensitivities, emotional dysregulation, executive dysfunction and social interaction issues is a great thing.
I found the book really helpful and would recommend it to others. It's time for a new generation of autistic adventurers!
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