Lessons from 160,000 steps for Autism

Of course I did, I’m an idiot. I doubled the recommended daily amount, I committed to walking (not 10 but) 20,000 steps per day for eight days straight. And when I was done, I was glad that I found it difficult. I was glad I had swung for the fences, grateful for the extra challenge. I learned a whole lot, some of it surprising, some of it unsurprising and some of it self-massage!

Carving out the time to fit in ten miles of walking per day was challenging, disruptive, tiring and outside of my comfortable routine. It was hard. It gave me time to consume podcasts, make phone calls, listen to entire albums, breathe, explore, connect with the dog and it gave me time to think.

“Carving out the time to fit in ten miles of walking per day was challenging, disruptive, tiring and outside of my comfortable routine. It was hard.”

The thinking was more exhausting than the walking, mostly. My main contemplation, the recurring thought that kept popping into my mind was understandably regards my son. He was diagnosed five years ago as living on the Autism Spectrum as a five-year-old, he was my reason for participating.

My thinking constantly revolved around a simple ironic parallel, the fact that HE deals with “challenging, disruptive, tiring and outside of his comfortable routine” every single day. It is hard. Perhaps that is the brilliance of Walk for autism, maybe they realised or maybe not? However, it was not lost on me – he “walks” through the same neuro-typical world as me yet experiences it differently.

“…HE deals with challenging, disruptive, tiring and outside of his comfortable routine every single day. It is hard.”

Walk for autism raises much needed funds for Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) and according to their website “By taking part in Walk for autism, you will help us step closer to our vision that every person on the autism spectrum has: the support they need to thrive; every opportunity to fulfil their potential; a supportive, inclusive community to live in.”

For more information about the impact of my fundraising efforts click here.

In 2021 Walk for autism raised over $1.4m and I contributed over $1,200 which was not bad for a first crack. More impressively, it sparked conversations. I annoyed people via their social media feeds until they either unfollowed me, muted me, ignored me or donated – for eight days in a row. And back IRL friends were reaching out, it was humbling, flattering and progressive.

Open and healthy communication is the key to change. Things are changing.

Everybody’s Autism journey is going to be invariably different, but in my experience talking is the most important step. Talk to your GP, talk to your teachers, friends, family. Talking beats blind internet research and random online searches every time. Talk to someone.

“…I annoyed people via their social media feeds until they either unfollowed me, muted me, ignored me or donated…”

My main regret when I look back over Walk for autism 2021 is that I did not order a T-shirt that fitted me correctly. I was cocky and went for the large, when really I am still an XL. I wish I walked my 160,000 steps in the bright green Walk for autism T-shirt because I am sure it would have resulted in more talk.

Day One

Sunday was the best day of the week to kick off, and will be great to finish on next week. I got out in the morning, took the dog and grabbed a coffee. Stayed local, around town and managed a good five kilometres. Then over the course of the day I accumulated another few thousand, but sitting at the dinner table I needed to excuse myself and brave the rain while I rustled up another hour to reach my first daily goal. Boom!

Day Two

My first weekday, my first work day. Made five phone calls while walking over six kilometres in the early morning. Took a break from my laptop later on to walk the dog up to school pickup in the afternoon and then drove to the gym after dinner to bang out 6,000 steps on the treadmill before they closed. Copped some looks!

Day Three

In the city with meetings all morning, did not start racking up the steps until lunch time. Luckily met up with my Sister and Brother-in-law after work. Sis took me for a massive walk around Melbourne. With a light drizzle and Autumn leaves it was awesome catching up, talking shit and having some laughs while knocking over another 20,000 steps in a day. Even if my BIL did decide to stay home to watch Brooklyn Nine Nine!

Day Four

Morning coffee with the dog, he has more friends around town than I do. Started listening to Season 3 of the Serial podcast, whoa! Got a few kilometres in during my lunch break and then finished in the (pouring) rain while my son (the main man himself) was at his weekly gymnastics class.

Day Five

It was Thursday and I did over 20,000 steps. Next.

Day Six

Slapped myself on the forehead when I drove past a golf club, why did I not plan this better?! I could have been using rounds of golf to rack up the steps, you know “for charity” and the wife would have thrown her full support behind me. Idiot! Today turned into a ripper day of walking, ended up on top of a headland and venturing along some stunning coastline. It was Friday so I finished my 20,000 steps, grabbed some take away on the drive home and cuddled my kids on the couch watching the footy with a beer. Just saying.

Day Seven

Kid-free date night in the city. Walked everywhere and did 20,000 steps easily. Shopping at DFO, Crown Casino was empty, drinks along Southbank, nibbles at Fed Square and then managed to fit in two hilarious shows from the Melbourne Comedy Festival including Dilruk Jayasinha who I can HIGHLY recommend. Then whiskey shots and… I’m not too sure what else!

Day Eight

I cannot stop thinking about my son, and my neuro-typical daughter too. He is brave and she is strong. He is special and she is unique. He is lucky to have her, she loves him so deeply. It has proven to be an emotional day for me as a Dad. Luckily I found a footy! I walked around our local club which has two large ovals and I kicked goals from all angles. Proud of my kids and proud of my efforts as I finished my last steps of Walk for autism.

The collection of lessons from this fundraising undertaking flummoxed me a little. They proved to be an unfolding tapestry of inner thoughts, decisions and perspectives. Taking the time to walk, illustrated the positive power of walking itself. Fresh air, movement, sunshine (and rain), relaxation and space from the everyday.

Giving is powerful

I cannot believe how generous people have been with their giving to this cause and my efforts. It amazes and dazzles me when family, friends and even distant acquaintances reach out and donate their hard-earned money.

I read a great quote once (please let me know who to credit if you know) that says “Nobody ever went broke from giving.” Donating is the perfect balance which results in both people on either side of the transaction feeling warm and fuzzy.

I cannot thank those who donated to my fundraising effort enough.

My son and I did some research into where the money was going and we were both appeased and pleased. Every time I posted my daily summary on Facebook I got at least two more donations. People are awesome, the giving was uplifting, humbling, appreciated and emotional.

Talking matters

Within an hour of my first social media post about my fundraising efforts two friends reached out explaining that they were tackling the challenges of parenting a child on the spectrum. This brave connection resulted in catch ups and productive chats. One fortnight later another mate was discussing his situation with me too. Discussing this stuff makes a huge difference, a positive change that is needed.

Stigma has loomed over mental conditions for too long and I am grateful that as a modern society we now agree on this. Coming out and telling our loved ones (well everyone) about our son’s diagnosis was difficult and an experience I will always talk about with others if they are asking questions.

Little did I realise that there were people I knew who were full of questions. Now I know.

My calves still need work

As readers of other blog posts will remember, my huge calves are actually piss weak. Nothing reminds me of this fact more than calf raises and long-distance walking. Despite my multiple appointments with an Exercise Physiologist it turns out I still need to constantly stretch, roll and rub my aching calves – mainly because Mrs DD won’t do it for me. Sigh.

Awareness is growing

Aspect has published in their Walk for autism promotional material that it is estimated 1 in 70 Australians are on the spectrum, which means Autism in this country now directly affects nearly 1 in 4 families. Whoa! That is huge. It is almost… common. Nearly typical.

“…it is estimated 1 in 70 Australians are on the spectrum, which means Autism in this country now directly affects nearly 1 in 4 families. Whoa! That is huge. It is almost… common. Nearly typical.”

I have a deep and vested interest in the wider acceptance, awareness and understanding of Autism and I am proud of how much I have learned. Only six years ago I knew nothing, now I am helping others cope and eductae themselves with my humble experiences as anecdotes.

“People on the autism spectrum see, hear, feel and experience the world differently” according to the Walk for autism website and it warms my heart that everyday more Australians realise this fact.

20,000 steps is a lot

In my experience I essentially needed to plan for two separate one-hour walks each day to have any chance to reach the daily goal of 20,000 steps, which is the equivalent of 16 kilometres. With my hectic schedule this meant multi-tasking and planning ahead. I had wonderful support and with some juggling and favourable weather I did it.

Physically it hurt, actually that is inaccurate. It was achey, not painful. Thankfully I have learned loads of lessons about my own body since starting this blog and there were times when I needed to be careful and preventative. I had the tools at my disposal to get myself through it.

Podcasts are awesome

This fundraising challenge has allowed me the opportunity to catch up on some serious podcast action. In fact, the content I was consuming on my walks for Autism is such high-quality and so enjoyable that I have grown compelled to compile my own list of the podcasts I am absolutely loving in 2021. That post is coming next.

Photo by Stas Knop on Pexels.com

I consider myself a VERY early adopter of podcasting both as a consumer and a content creator going back over a decade now. Why anybody puts up with the incessant advertising and try-hard comedy on commercial radio is beyond me. My time is worth more than that.

I love my kids

When my mind was clear, when I was free to think about anything, when my thoughts could dance in any direction they gravitated towards my little ratbags. I accept that this would be the case for most parents, especially when raising funds for their child’s condition. However, it surprised me I suppose. More so it reminded me, an undeniable and constantly growing love for a son and daughter that I am blessed to have in my life.

I’ll be registering with Walk for autism again next year, wary not to be taking anything for granted following the twelve months we have just experienced. And after my first fundraising efforts in 2021 resulted in donations that blew my mind, I won’t be preaching or pleading that you should walk too. That’s not my main lesson from all this.

“…when my thoughts could dance in any direction they gravitated towards my little ratbags…”

What I will proclaim is that you should do what feels right for you, because that is always a powerful and rare, two-way force. Get involved, register, donate, volunteer, share or just offer support for any cause or good will deed that serves your soul. It has a remarkable effect, not only for the poor bloke with the aching calves – but more importantly for you, the human helping others.


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