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Ben Weeks @GingerheadBen
, 14 tweets, 3 min read Read on Twitter
Let me tell you a story. It's a bit soft and squidgy and maybe too long, but bear with me.
On Saturdays I work at a climbing wall as an instructor. It's mostly inductions, tasters, kids' awards schemes and birthday parties. But of late something a little different has cropped up.
A 7-year old lad was brought along by his parents to try climbing. He's autistic, and climbing had been recommended as an activity for him to try; the logical nature of the goal (climb to the top) and lack of overwhelming interaction with other people make it a good fit.
At this point I need to clarify something. To use the cliché, Autism covers a broad spectrum, but this young boy is what you might regard as classically autistic.
I hope that's not an offensive statement. What I mean by that is that he barely speaks, doesn't always seem to fully understand instructions, shakes his hands and squeaks and squeals when he gets excited and, to begin with, hardly seemed to notice I was there.
Anyway, we tried him on roped climbing, and he did well. He has natural talent - the sort of awareness of body position and technique that instructors look for in young climbers. In other words, he climbs smart. But as I mentioned, he doesn't always fully understand instructions.
I couldn't get him to let go of the wall and be lowered on the rope once he'd reached the top. Instead, he'd climb up to the highest hold...and then climb back down again. Now this isn't a problem, but it got me thinking. Perhaps he'd enjoy bouldering.
There are no ropes or harnesses, and the aim is essentially the same: climb to the top. Except when you get there, because there are no ropes, you climb back down again.
We've been bouldering for a while now. He's strong, brave, and most importantly, seems to love it. Whenever he reaches the top he comes down and gives me a high-ten. He still doesn't say much, but his parents tell me he's enjoying it - he gets very excited about "rock climbing"!
And then, yesterday, something amazing happened. Maybe not 'amazing' in the grand scheme of life, but enough to tug a heart-string in my cynical chest. After a good climb, we were walking over to a wall when he came up behind me and took my arm to be led over to the next route.
Physical contact can be tricky with autism, so this little gesture made me smile - here was a 7-year old kid excited about climbing his next challenge who thought nothing of taking the arm of someone he trusted - me.
He climbed a few more good routes and eventually we ran out of time. At this point I was used to him being led away by his parents who would thank me and tell me they'd see me next week. But this time was different.
"What do you say to Ben?" his mum asked. He looked up at me. "Thank you" he said. His mum leant in towards me. "He's just started saying it" she whispered with a smile. I'm fairly sure she noticed me welling up.
This 7-year old's mum once asked if I minded that they always ask for me when they book him in. Naturally I replied that I didn't mind in the slightest.
But what I should have said is that these weekly climbing sessions are the highlight of my week and, far from minding it, I regard the entire experience as a privilege, and one from which I get as much pleasure and education as their son does.

He is amazing.

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