Kicking off the new year has gone well. My birthday passed with the nicest of times for me and we just completed a nice project for everyone to make. I designed it specifically for a hallway shoe store to tidy the shoes we don’t wear every day, slippers and such too, but then scarves, hats and gloves and other stray bits that get misplaced when we come home. As far as the shoes I wear every day when I arrive home goes I doubt I’d put them away. I park mine on the doormat ready to put on and of course when they are wet that’s the best place for them anyway.

Hannah becomes an amazing woodworking teacher.

I have already begun the big clean up and the sharpening sessionfter a full-on couple of weeks back at the bench. I asked Jack to priorities his area for clean up around his bench too, and explained the importance of project completion culminating only when he’s completed a good cleanup by the actual reordering of creative space. I’d show a picture of his pencil box but he took it home before I could get my camera out. Next week he begins working full days instead of half days and he’s to begin his Craftsman-style rocking chair as a first large furniture piece. We’ll see how he does but I have no doubt as to his capability. I could see his excitement when I suggested this as a next piece. I’ll keep you updated.

I am starting a new charity and need to work through the Charities Commission to progress the legal status and protect my intended work. My goal is to provide training for autists much as `i have been but now looking to the future should anything happen to me down the road. This is for those autists who are high functioning and want to become woodworkers and furniture makers in their own right. The phasing I am developing is to introduce them to hand tool woodworking as per my foundation course, which Jack has just completed. By then they should be more able to think about their futures, whether they might know whether this woodworking is more a hobby or whether it is in fact a vocational calling for them. If it’s a hobby they can use the benches for another six months after the foundational course, to solidify their skills, and in that time set themselves up with a home workshop if that’s possible. After that they will share hot-bench space for as and when they need somewhere to be and so that they can interact with other autists and a support worker working for the charity. This is not so much intended as a permanent place/space but more interim support until they know more what they want to do. From using temporary space and shared space, as Jack has been using, they then go to a more intermediate space, semi-permanent if you will. In this coming year, having decided this is their vocational calling, they will develop three new projects comprising a coffee table, a tool chest and a rocking chair. At the end of nine months they will make another piece chosen and designed by them but with my and Hannah’s support.

Ideas for products they might make for their production and support

By this time they will be able to make just about anything they want to but we will develop a range of products through which they will earn their income. These projects will be sold online through the store we set up and covered by the charity. Briefly that’s it. I can take six full time apprentices this way. Nothing they make will be income for me but we will have one paid member of staff to help students with their life admin and such.

Jack’s next project

To do this will mean converting an area of our existing studio workshops and offices to create a unique training facility separate to the filming area, editorial suite and business office. We have a perfect environment for installing another mezzanine floor to increase space. Within this area I would like a quiet space, but still fairly open plan, kitchen and dining area, computer desk space to access online and then six additional workbench spaces for use by several visiting day students with autism and teachers of special educational needs working with autists who want to learn hand tool methods for the autists they work with.

33 Comments

  1. Pete on 19 January 2020 at 11:59 am

    Thank you. Being a parent of an autistic child this means the world Thank you so much.

  2. James Brown on 19 January 2020 at 1:41 pm

    Paul I have been learning from you for five years now. My youngest grandson is autistic and just getting to the age where he can start learning in the shop. This is a great thing you are doing for these young men and women! Thank you sir.

    • Paul Sellers on 19 January 2020 at 2:25 pm

      It is an amazing thing when anyone of any age suddenly discovers that they can indeed work with their hands and then do it skilfully. In many ways, as it was for me, it is a way out of isolation and rejection.

  3. Bob Easton on 19 January 2020 at 3:26 pm

    Most admirable!!!
    You, sir, are doing something absolutely wonderful. It will be life-changing for many people. It is a true sign of gratitude that you have the means, and the interest, to take on this new adventure.

    And, adventure it will be. I’m sure you’re up to it. Yet, I’ll warn of some of what you are in for. My experience is from spending over a decade as a computer “enginerd” working in the field of “accessibility.” I focused on devising computer techniques that make it easier for people with physical challenges to use a computer and the internet in particular. Those challenges cover everything from total blindness to mild visual problems, from physical paralysis to missing limbs, to people with motion limitations, and people with a variety of cognitive abilities. The field of accessibility was, and is, very broad. Yet, when approaching website owners and offering to help make their sites more useful, many would say something like, “Why spend more for blind people, there aren’t enough of them to bother.” My answer was to educate about the full range of challenges and to demonstrate that the numbers of affected people were over 25% of the population … and when we’re looking at income producing websites, it’s not a minor concern to turn away 25% of your potential customers.

    The short moral in that longish explanation is that I actually ended up spending as much, or more, time educating as I did lowering the technical hurdles and making things easier for those who needed the help.

    I imagine you will too. Satisfying the bureaucrats who will question your good intentions about the legal aspects of your new business will seem like “a piece of cake” when compared to other questions and challenges you’ll get from others along the way. You’ll need to be prepared to answer a good many more questions about autism itself than you do about woodworking and the programs you have prepared for these apprentices. You’ll need to be prepared to spend more time on these “about autism” activities than you might have imagined … or maybe, hopefully, you have.

    It is my belief that few of us know very much about autism. I know I don’t. I’ve read a bit, but not enough to know how one defines “high functioning autists,” or any of the other capability levels on the autism scale. Frankly, I think the scale is wide enough that a remarkably high percentage of people fit on it in some way. You’ll probably need to be answering questions like that soon … or developing an authoritative source you can point to. And, unfortunately, I hope you don’t have to cope with too many who have prejudicial opinions of those affected by autism; there are always insensitive cranks among us. Let’s hope they’re not disruptive.

    Congratulations on starting this new adventure. God speed!

  4. Rob on 19 January 2020 at 3:52 pm

    I’ve been enjoying your blog in silence for several years now. This post hit me as just in time. I help teach the woodturning classes at a college in San Diego, CA. This coming semester we will have an autistic student and his helper in our beginning class. The class is fairly fast paced and the student to instructor ratio is a bit high so we can’t dedicate a lot of time to one individual.

    Can you help me with any suggestions and where to get more information to make his experience the best possible?

    • Paul Sellers on 19 January 2020 at 4:58 pm

      I am not experienced in the wide spectrum of autism per se but have found that woodworking is a possible way through the barriers that may well have led to isolation. This is whole new world for you and the autist and it’s an adventure of discovery in a massive range of possibilities. No one can assume the same work you do with neuro-typical youngsters will be the same as atypicals as autists and that’s because the individual needs of autists can be like or nothing like the work you do with neuro-typicals and so the opening work will need for you and perhaps those already involved in support work to evaluate how the autism works in his or her life. Perhaps the first step for you is to spend some time together without to get acquainted first.

      You might consider spokeshave and rasps for shaping work early on. This has been very successful for me.

  5. Branko on 19 January 2020 at 4:31 pm

    As a father of an autistic child, I find that my daughter will come into my shop just to play with the shaving that I create. She loves the texture and throwing them up in the air saying she is making it snow. She rubs her hand along the board I just planed and says smooth. She seems interested in what I am doing and when I am in the shop she will stay with me for a very long time which is unusual for her. Thank you Paul for supporting special needs. Have you ever thought about giving classes in hand tool work to veterans suffering from PTSD? I know that this has helped me in so many ways. The peace I get from working the wood with hand tools is beyond measure. Thank you again for everything you do.

    • Paul Sellers on 19 January 2020 at 5:25 pm

      Sensory perception is so important and often autists are highly sensitive to textures and sounds that may well pass typical children and especially adults by. Clothing can be very irritating because of heightened sensitivity, things like seams, coarseness and such. It is therefore no surprise when an autist feels the ‘softness‘ of shavings differently and a more mature child might do what we perceive to bye more childish by passing their hands through long grasses as a sensory stimuli or indeed tossing shavings to catch the air and feel that it is snowing for them.

      • Branko on 19 January 2020 at 9:01 pm

        Yes you are exactly right. She is 9 now and we have been dealing with this since she was 18 months.

  6. Roberto on 19 January 2020 at 6:47 pm

    Hi, Paul. Looking at the cutting boards photo made me wonder which glue you used — I want to make one for myself but I’m not sure which kind of glue would be safe for food contact.
    Thank you!

    • Paul Sellers on 20 January 2020 at 7:35 am

      Just use a waterproof PVA. Encourage whoever you make for advise t to leave steeped in water but to simply wash clean and wipe with a dry cloth after washing.

      • Roberto on 22 January 2020 at 6:09 am

        Thank you, Paul.

  7. Dan Gloster on 19 January 2020 at 9:35 pm

    God bless you, Paul.

  8. Steve P on 20 January 2020 at 1:59 am

    Thats great Paul! My 26 year old nephew is not functioning enough to use tools himself. But he loves to watch me work. Though he is not good with loud sounds. Hand sawing and planing ok but NOT chopping mortises etc. I recently made him your serving tray on Woodworking Masterclasses and he loves it. I scaled it bigger, so he gets his sandwiches served to him on it every day. He loves the wood texture (solid walnut). I can certainly appreciate what you are doing for the high functioning folk.
    Cheers

    • Paul Sellers on 20 January 2020 at 7:49 am

      You might try ear defenders for him, to see if that helps. That’s as much to see if it’s the sharp noise alone or the combination of the swift movement and the repeated bang noise together. Also, he might consider this more aggressive and forceful than he can cope with as in processing what he sees. Invasive, perhaps.

      • Steve P on 20 January 2020 at 5:18 pm

        Its definitely some combination. For example he loves to use a gasoline powered backoack style leaf blower in the yard to blow leaves around. He uses hearing protection so its a “white noise”, he can do this for 30 minutes no problem. But if you hammer a nail, he hold his ears and winces at it each time. The same on the first nail as the 100th nail. Each one is a surprise whereas you or I would get used to the 2nd or 3rd strike and pay no attention to the remainder. Similarly if someone yells at a ball game and makes sudden movements, even cheering on their team, this can startle him so much that we have to walk him outside and deep breathe for 10 minutes or so until no longer worked up

  9. Michael on 20 January 2020 at 7:30 am

    Interesting comments on the sensory perception. I can totally relate, being diagnosed aspergers. The blog isn’t about golf, but when I play, the feel of the club through the grass, the sound of the club hitting the ball is important, at least to me. One of the things that helped me with woodworking was the emphasis on when using the handplane, listening to the wisp sound it makes as its planes and glides over the wood, the feel of the plane as it glides. The thickness of the shaving. If the shaving was thick and I set it to take thin shaving. Something wasn’t right and I needed to readjust. I could plane wood all day. Making the poor man’s router, a whole different story. I had trouble getting it to work. I still don’t understand why it’s so difficult. It’s just an angled hole and a chisel in the hole. Some simple aspects that people find easy are so difficult. Some of the difficult stuff is so so simple.

    • Paul Sellers on 20 January 2020 at 7:45 am

      Actually. what’s truly interesting too is that without sound I find don’t plane edges square straight off and have to regularly check for squareness with a square rather than do it intuitively. This happens if the dust extraction is on or the bandsaw. Take the sound out and you lose centring the hammer head on the nail head accurately and thereby lose the COP (centre of percussion) with successive hammer blows.

  10. Emily Keene on 20 January 2020 at 12:16 pm

    This is a truly wonderful thing you are doing (in addition to the other wonderful things you have done). Many women with autism learn to “mask” it, and I was diagnosed relatively late in life (I’m almost your age), but nowadays they’re able to diagnose us much sooner, and it’s so great that you are passing on your craftsmanship and outlook on life to give others the “leg up” in a society that rarely recognizes the strengths that an autistic person can possess. We’re all a little different (they say, “If you’ve met one autistic person-you’ve met one autistic person”), but we’ve been around all through history-and I’d bet a LOT of us were those rare folks who had the focus necessary to perfect a craft. In the online groups that I participate in, the vast majority of us would agree that we often miss seeing things that are glaringly obvious to neurotypical people, yet notice things that neurotypicals don’t. I won’t claim to be an expert on this (though I do have my own fields of expertise), but feel free to contact me as you run into questions.

    I should add that you’ve been very inspirational to me, both because of your knowledge and ability, but because as a life-long musician, I’ve always been terrified of using power tools. My father taught me to hammer and saw when I was small, and I’ve never been afraid to knock together a wooden contraption to fill a need, but your books and videos have enabled me to actually put some “polish” into the various projects that keep presenting themselves. Thanks again, and wishing you the very best, Emily in Seattle

    • Paul Sellers on 20 January 2020 at 1:28 pm

      So encouraging, Emily. I too realise that most women autists, and young girls too, until very recently, more readily passed under the radar, often being misdiagnosed, and then trying to fit into a world by making adjustments they really should not be forced into by societal norms. Too, the girls seemed more able to mask or hide their condition by copying what they saw it seems. It’s a shame too that often they may not feel they can let others know of their autism for different fears not the least of which is peer pressure, bullying and then too the fear of rejection. Thankfully there are many people wising up to the true reality that the condition affects both sexes and diagnosis could be the mechanism that opens up new freedoms if indeed we can see our responsibility to provide places as hand crafted to the autist needs as much as the mentoring apprenticeships in craft (and other areas too) and then too add in the entrepreneurial elements as a way of settling the financial support needed. My next big task is to raise the initial finances needed to develop the workspaces and then too the help needed too, but we have enough caring people involved in woodworking that can make a huge difference.

  11. Daniel Glenning on 20 January 2020 at 12:34 pm

    The world needs more programs like this one. Thanks for taking the lead and getting it started. My hope is this will be the start of a movement all over the world!

    • Paul Sellers on 20 January 2020 at 1:20 pm

      I am developing this to see how it works first and then to see how I can develop it further as a possible model to support adult autists but not just in woodworking, other crafts areas too. Something nereds to break the deadlock and then too to ensure no one is on a systemised production program.

      • John2v on 20 January 2020 at 4:34 pm

        Paul….I’ve said before that our daughter works for a charity in Brighton and simply loves her involvement with her “colleagues” some are Autistic and have been found useful employement locally, together with one to one support.
        I wish you and your team every success

  12. Charles Kyler on 20 January 2020 at 5:33 pm

    Paul, I may have something for you and your students. I adapted your bench design to one that folds down for storage/ space saving. Unless you crawl under it, it looks identical to yours. It folds down to the height of the skit boards. The legs are held firm by using streatches between them, and they can also be used a shelf support. I did this to use in a school where we would be required to remove/store our benches after class. I can move the folded bench with a hand truck. Glad to send you pictures and plans. Also, as the father of a high functioning Autistic child, thank you.

  13. Ben Tyreman on 20 January 2020 at 7:23 pm

    this is amazing thing you are doing Paul, I have always liked autists and often find they are brilliant people, we should never be too quick to judge them.

  14. Graham Ward on 20 January 2020 at 7:52 pm

    Well done! It takes a very patient person to take on a task like this. Wish you were in Canada so our autistic children could take part.

  15. Lou on 20 January 2020 at 9:31 pm

    You and the team are inspirational, the world needs more people like you! Well done.

  16. Stephen Bamford on 20 January 2020 at 9:49 pm

    Well done. Autistic folks run the gamut in terms of abilities. Proud of you stepping up bringing these ways to all folks to pursue in line with their abilities. Good on you.

  17. Mike Towndrow on 21 January 2020 at 5:31 pm

    Hi Paul,
    The charity, apprenticeships and store are a really exciting developments and I wish you all every success with the venture.

  18. Brian on 21 January 2020 at 6:41 pm

    You are an inspiration! What a wonderful expression of your love for woodworking and humanity. You are a great human, Paul!

  19. Nathan Jones on 21 January 2020 at 10:13 pm

    Paul it was indeed a young boy with autism who inspired me to get into woodwork. His enthusiasm for building things ignited my own creativity for building things. He was high octane from sunrise til the gloaming. This creating process of hand to tool is soothing for most.
    Best wishes to your new apprentices and too you and staff Paul.

  20. Jonathan Hayhurst on 22 January 2020 at 10:49 pm

    Just wanted to say thank for what you do and your new project. I am a father of an autistic toddler. Hand tools allow her to be in the shop and share in the experience with me. She loves playing with the shavings or “horns” as she calls them and as a sensory seeker enjoys some guided sawing. Thanks again.

    • Paul Sellers on 23 January 2020 at 7:34 am

      It’s so nice that she is communicating her feelings and insights. Enjoy her. The first tool I gave to my boys each aged around 3-5 was a flat-bottomed spokeshave and a four-in-hand rasp. They loved them.

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