Although I did a bit of bouldering as a student, I didn’t take up climbing again until 2010, and I wish I’d come back to it sooner – it has turned out to be so good for me and my inner aspie in so many ways:

I can sew (apparently unusual for an aspie), and I can parallel park in the tiniest space, but I’m incapable of negotiating a doorway without sustaining injury; I have bruises on every limb, and no idea where they came from. When I climb, I’m forever scuffing my knuckles and elbows on the wall – which, by its nature, is abrasive – and it’s rare for me to get home without having drawn blood; but the desire to improve my balance and technical skill is the perfect motivator for accurate movement, and I find it incredibly rewarding to climb well.

There are few situations where being obsessive is a useful and socially acceptable asset, but belaying (basically: holding the other end of the rope) is one of them. Safe belaying requires you to do the same things, the same way, over and over again (from taking in the rope, to locking the carabina). Ultimately, your climbing partner’s life depends on you getting these details right. Knowing that my autistic traits are, for once, working to everyone’s advantage is rewarding too.

There’s a lot of noise in my world: about 40% of it comes from outside, and can be drowned out with iPod + earphones; the remaining 60% comprises mostly random (sometimes obsessive) and frenetic thinking – inside my head, all the time – and is almost impossible to still (even when I’m asleep). At the club where I climb there is usually music to cover external noise, and the internal noise can be tamed by the need to pay close attention to what I am doing: it might sound trivial, but you need to know not just where all your hands and feet are at any given moment (sometimes to within millimeters), but where they need to be in two seconds’ time, and five seconds’ time… and so on – otherwise you’re off! I find it impossible to think about anything else when I’m climbing, and so the noise stops; regardless of how hard my muscles have to work, I can rest.

Hauling your body off the ground can take a lot of energy and, when you’re hanging by your fingers, a lot of strength too; so climbing provides a good workout for both the cardiovascular system, and almost every muscle in your body! And, unlike some other sports, it’s not boring.

I can be around people without needing to be sociable. Apart from sorting out practicalities with my belaying mate, I don’t have to interact with others if I don’t want to; I can just do my own thing (climb the wall), and no one else has to care. (Yeah, it hurts when everyone – except me – is invited back somewhere at the end, but I’m used to that.)

Team Work
I did a 24h climbathon last weekend (a great excuse to drink lots of coffee), and between us we scaled 43,320m (that’s 150,000′ or 27 vertical miles) – the equivalent of seven of the world’s biggest mountains (the highest from each continent) stacked on top of one another. For once, not being a team player did not get in the way of contributing to a team effort. I liked that.

Anyone Can Climb
My youngest (who could climb out of her cot before she could walk) started wall climbing at the age of three, and is still loving it two years later. There are easy climbs and hard climbs. There are clubs and courses, and one-off tasters. Find your nearest UK climbing wall here!


6 thoughts on “Climbing”

  1. Oh and I don’t socialise well either. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve turned down a day out – only the other day a neighbour invited me out, but I didn’t want to go. I’m happy to go out with my husband somewhere, but not keen on talking to other people or strangers much. And as for crowds – well I just don’t do it. I like my home and am quite happy to be indoors.

  2. Hi Leigh, you know me from FB, thanks for directing me to this blog.

    The more I read this, the more it seems you are describing me.

    I’m 49 and never even knew much about Aspergers – still don’t – until my sister-in-law said recently that she thought I had it.

    My family have always said I was ‘difficult’ they just thought it was me being, well difficult if that makes sense!

    The coordination thing made me laugh because I’m always covered in bruises – literally everyday. I am so bad at navigating doorways/sofas/tables the bed and anything else. I’m also very clumsy and drop things a lot.

    But I’m good at running and run daily on my treadmill. I can even do that with my iPod going – how is that possible when I can’t walk through a ten-foot wide doorway without bashing into it?

  3. Leigh, it’s so amazing to read your strengths, you are such an inspiration to me and my family. I have a daughter with aspergers syndrome and I can help but wonder what the future will have in store. I am always worrying, will she be provided with the help and attention she needs? As I keep bogging myself down with concerns, I have found on some good advice to ensure I can provide my daughter with all that she needs. Please Leigh, take a look and let me your thoughts!

  4. I love this :) It totally made me smile. :)

    “I can sew (apparently unusual for an aspie), and I can parallel park in the tiniest space, but I’m incapable of negotiating a doorway without sustaining injury; I have bruises on every limb, and no idea where they came from.” – SO true for me too – I think it’s because when I’m paying attention to the specific skill, I’m fine. But something as pedestrian as walking through a door, my brain is almost always elsewhere. I’ve torn ligaments in my ankle walking, broken bones while sitting down, yet I’m able to rock climb very well. (I have a background in gymnastics and aerial arts)

    • You’re right about not paying attention while walking through doors, but I reckon I do pay attention much of the rest of the time, and still manage to be the clumsiest person around!

      It gives me great hope that you are both clumsy and good at climbing; it seems an odd mix, but it works for me too!

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