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Breaking autistic stereotypes through long distance walking with Ian and Eve

“We want to give people the confidence to go out and do stuff and try new things they might be too nervous or scared to do and to be whoever they want to be.”

Autism and other forms of Neurodiversity are undoubtedly difficult to live with within a society structured around being ‘normal’.

We all celebrate difference when it’s put on a pedestal (Think Elon Musk, Anthony Hopkins, and Tim Burton), yet when we actually meet individuals on the Autism Spectrum, I believe we are collectively guilty of seeing them not as diverse, but simply different.

This is a shame. A shame for you and me, but also a shame for people like Ian and Eve, who are both Neurodiverse, and in their case, Autistic.

I say a shame, not because I am sorry for Ian and Eve, that they are Autistic, but because we miss the brilliance of their brains, which process the world around them differently from the rest of us.

Ian and Eve, through their remarkable challenge, hope to challenge the perception of Autism, and hope to inspire those with Autism to do things that may seem scary and to challenge the status quo on the perceptions of autism.

They are doing this through a remarkable walk from Dunnet Head, to the Lizard, the furthest point in Scotland, to the furthest point in England.

I messaged Ian to say hello, after he posted some photos in the community, and he agreed to answer some questions I had around the walk.

So without further ado, I introduce you to Ian and Eve.

Ian, and Eve, thanks for joining me. Please tell me a bit about yourselves.

We are a home educating family living in rural Scotland near Stirling. Myself (Ian) and Eve (age 8) are both autistic having both been diagnosed several years ago. And then there’s my wife Sarah, our dog and our 2 cats.

We are an outdoor family and love being outside whether it be walking, canoeing or camping etc in any weather.

Being outdoors, walking in particular, allows us to access places and experiences that most people will never have the privilege of experiencing or seeing.

The outdoors is both Eve and I’s ‘happy place’ and being outside in nature, in the hills, mountains and wild places lets us all be ourselves and feel happy and content. It takes away the everyday worries, that I know we all face, but for autistic people the ‘everyday’ can be so much more overwhelming. Being outdoors also removes us from some of the people who may judge or criticise us for being different, you will often hear us singing (out of tune) and laughing as we walk before you see us!

It gives us a very different perspective on life, a simpler existence where we can remove ourselves from social media, news, modern life in general and the pressures to conform….
For all of us, as a family, being outdoors in the ultimate freedom and liberation!

What inspired you to take on this particular challenge, over many of the other things you could have done to raise money?

We decided to take on this challenge to raise awareness of autism as both myself and Eve have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD. (‘a word of caution… the official name is very controversial… because most people with autism argue it anything but a ‘disorder’, we do not call it a disorder).

Autism comes with lots of preconceived ideas, assumptions, and stereotypes. We wanted to show everyone that there is far more to being autistic than people often think and that being autistic doesn’t prevent people from achieving great things!

We wanted to do something of this scale to make people take notice and be both surprised and inspired by what we are doing and to realise that having a disability doesn’t mean one is not capable of doing or achieving their goals!

We want to give people the confidence to go out and do stuff and try new things they might be too nervous or scared to do and to be whoever they want to be.

We love walking and being outside. This is where both myself and Eve are at our happiest. Eve is naturally an adventurous child and we want to nurture this within her so she can go on and achieve great things.

It was actually Eve who suggested doing this walk! (and she is already talking about wanting to do another one next year!)

Eve is home educated and a massive part of her learning is done in the everyday (to give her education more context and real life applications). When out for a walk we will talk about the things we see from trees, to insects and clouds and integrate core skills such as reading, math and science.

Then once home (or in a tent, having a break etc) we will ‘Google’ the various questions she had that we don’t know the answers to, like ‘how old is the oldest tree?’. It is a fantastic way to learn and Eve is discovering so much on this journey, that we hope will give her an amazing life experience that she can learn from and look back on with pride in years to come.

How much preparation and planning has gone into your adventure?

There has been lots of planning and preparation that is still ongoing. We only plan a few days ahead as things can change so quickly and as a result plans have to change too.

We did a lot of research and planning on our route choices and gained a lot of insight from other people who have walked various sections. However, this is still adapting and changing all the time. Only the other day we changed a small section of our route due to not wanting to walk through a field full of cows, calves and bulls!

We also spent a long time researching equipment trying to find the best stuff for our budget that was lightweight but also durable enough for Scotland in March! However, even now we are still finding things that didn’t work or weren’t as good as we’d hoped.

Fitness wise, we didn’t do any specific training as we were already a fairly active family.

Which route are you choosing to follow?

We are trying to stick with as many national trails on route as we can just to try and make our lives that bit easier. As these are clearly signposted and you can get maps and guidebooks etc. However, this has not always been possible or the most convenient route to take. So we have done some cross country navigation too which has been interesting.

So far we followed the John o’Groats Trail which proved very difficult. We then did the Great Glen Way followed by the full West Highland Way. We then made our own way to Edinburgh following the canals and again chose our own route through the borders using a mixture of routes where we joined up with the Pennine Way on the Scotland/England border. And we’ll follow this all the way to Edale in the Peak District.

Yes. As a family, we all have a great love of the outdoors from walking to canoeing.

Eve and I have completed several long distance hikes including the Rob Roy Way and the Great Trossachs Path. All 3 of us completed the Berwickshire Coastal Path last year.

Back in 2020 we attempted the West Highland Way but had to stop on day 2 due to the first lockdown due to Covid 19. But we have completed it now as part of our route to Land’s End!

What message around Autism do you hope that people will take away from following your journey?

Autism affects approximately 1 in 100 people with girls often being misdiagnosed or diagnosed later in life.

When people think of autism they probably think of the stereotypical traits such as obsessive interest in specific topics, repetitive behaviors, structure and routine, communication difficulties, and public outbursts.

Although these traits may be true for some people (both neurotypical and neurodivergent) they do not represent the full spectrum of people with autism.

Every single person with autism is unique and has different characteristics and it is not fair or correct to assume everyone is the same simply because they have a diagnosis of ASD.

Autism has long been thought to affect boys more than girls with boys being 4 times more likely to be diagnosed than girls.

One reason for this massive underdiagnosis in girls is a phenomenon known as autism masking whereby a person disguises their autistic traits to ‘fit in’ with their neurotypical peers.

This is incredibly damaging to the individual resulting in constant exhaustion, explosive outbursts, and lifelong mental health issues. We want to try and make people aware of these issues and the potential for diagnosis where people can get the help and support that they need to better understand themselves.

We want to encourage people to be more open and understanding of people with autism. We may behave or act differently from others but that doesn’t mean we should be treated any differently.

That child still wants to be invited to his/her classmate’s birthday party even if they don’t like the noise and bring ear defenders so they can attend, for example.

Within every autistic person is the need to feel accepted for who they are and their unique and amazing personalities. With a little more understanding we want to try and ensure that everyone is accepted for who they are, regardless of autism or not!

Autism doesn’t have to prevent a person from achieving great things, on the contrary, it can be with the correct support and guidance harnessed and focussed to achieve things that can literally change the world… Elon Musk?

What have been the high points of your walk?

The walk so far has been fantastic. We have met some of the nicest and most generous people you could ever hope to meet.

Some of the best points by far are all the people we have met, the offers of help, words of encouragement, and the donations and support we have been offered. It’s been incredible and has blown my mind.

Some of the main things we can both take away from this challenge are how little you actually need and a deeper appreciation of the simple things in life such as a hot or cold drink!

What have been the hardest parts of your walk?

The hardest so far has been the North East coast of Scotland. The wind, rain, and cold were brutal in March.

Trying to tackle the north section of the John o’Groats Trail that in places where there is nothing more than a mud slide into a Geo, hundreds of feet above rocks and stormy seas, waves bigger than our house in 50mph winds with barbed wire everywhere was a huge mental and physical challenge.

What made it harder still (for me as a father) was trying to deal with the challenges and dangers enthusiastically, with energy and a sense of humour, to keep Eve motivated, engaged, and happy. We retreated to walking down the A9 for most of this route which felt like the lesser of two evils.

What can readers do to support you?

We have a Facebook page where we post daily updates on our progress

We have the charity page where supporters can donate to The National Autistic Society

We have a Go Fund me page to help us with costs of equipment, fuel, food, etc to complete our challenge

And also a Buy Me a Coffee fund where people can choose to buy Eve a treat such as an ice cream or chocolate bar, and myself a much needed coffee

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