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Running For Autism Has Moved!

23 May

I am thrilled to announce that my new website is now live!

If you are currently subscribed to this blog, I really want to continue to connect with you. Please visit Running For Autism at the new location and re-subscribe using the link in the right-hand sidebar.

I will be keeping this site live for a week or two, and then it will be decommissioned.

I hope to see you over at the new site!

Guest Post: Animals And Autism

15 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Guest post exchange day was yesterday, but really, with so many phenomenal bloggers in the same challenge, how could I pick just one? Today’s guest blogger, Sarah, focuses on an area very close to my heart: animals, their relationships with people, and how they can facilitate healing. She just finished her first year of the Doctorate of Physical Therapy program at LSU-New Orleans. She is  passionate about animals and children and plans on integrating animals into her physical therapy practice after she graduates.

As a lifelong animal lover myself, I am drawn to Sarah’s blog like a magnet, and am thrilled that she agreed to write for me. Today, she shares with us how animals and children with autism can have a very special bond.

When people envision their perfect life with 2.5 kids and a white picket fence they also usually include a pet in the picture. After parents hear their child given the diagnosis of “autism”, often the idea of having a pet is questioned. In general, animals definitely provide many benefits to their owners, but as Kirsten recently reminded me “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” So what works for one child or family may not work with another.

The cool thing is that there have been several groups that have seen a lot of positive effects in children with autism after interacting with animals.

Max is one of Austin Dog Alliance’s “special dogs” available for adoption.

Austin Dog Alliance has group social skill classes where they use dogs to teach children with autism and Asperger’s. Some of the topics touched on in these classes include verbal and motor skills, interacting with and empathy for others, and appropriate behaviors both in and out of the classroom. These same skills can be achieved with a pet at home. The child can practice speaking to the dog and learn to recognize and understand the animal’s non-verbal cues. In doing this they are maintaining eye contact, which some people with autism struggle with. They can also learn to care about and for another living creature. This lesson can then translate to their interactions with other people.

Horse Boy Foundation brings kids in contact with horses to help them through what they call a “simple 6 stage process”. They’ve found that allowing kids to lie down on a horse’s back cuts down on their stimming (a repetitive movement that self stimulates the senses). Interacting with the horse is good overall sensory work while the actual horseback riding can be soothing because of the rocking motion. Again, giving commands allows the child to work on verbalization. I know that for most people owning a horse is out of the question, but there are several places that have horseback riding lessons where your child could get some of the same benefits.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V11E-N2pK_o (it’s a youtube video about the Horse Boy Method)

Lois Brady found that a potbellied pig named Buttercup works wonders with the children. She’s a speech language pathologist, so of course her focus is getting the children to talk. But she has found that her pig is great for sensory work because he has different textures in different places on his body. The best thing about him is that people don’t have preconceived fears about pigs, like they might with a dog or even a horse.

(Photo from: http://www.prweb.com/releases/animal_assisted_therapy/continuing_education/prweb9261001.htm)

Buttercup is a great example that really any kind of pet can be used to help with things like speaking, motor skills, empathy and self-confidence. Some people prefer to have an animal specifically trained as a service animal and that has its benefits as well. You can read my post about autism service dogs to learn more about them. The most important thing is to decide what animal (if any) will be a good fit for your family.

Check out more great posts from Sarah Allen on her blog, Animals Help Heal. You can follow her on Twitter @AnimalsHelpHeal.

beauty without limits

21 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 21 – Health madlib poem: Go to http://www.languageisavirus.com/cgi-bin/madlibs.pl and fill in the parts of speech and the site will generate a poem for you. Feel free to post the Madlib or edit it to make it better.

When I read this prompt, I thought it would be easy. It turned out to be a lot more challenging than I had expected. The Madlib gave me a poem that was beautiful in some parts, nonsensical in others. I had to throw out the first couple of attempts, and I finally got something that I could edit into something I could like. As tough as this exercise was, it was a lot of fun. Everyone should give it a try!

quietly i have never run, softly beyond my heart
my son, your smile is full of love
in your most happy tears are things which surprise me,
on which i cannot speak because they are too deep

your beautiful look profoundly will move me
though i have tried to understand
you see things in ways that are beyond me
exploring your world thoughtfully, intensely

your potential reaches the stars and sun
i move my world for you so that you may fly
i cross the ocean for you to know no limits
your path is different and the road is challenging

nothing gets in the way of your growth
the strength of your shy wonder: my child
i smile at the beauty of your blond hair
your blue eyes bright and sparkling with life

i would run to the ends of the world for you
so the world can be yours
you are amazing: son, brother, friend
your heart is pure, your smile lights up the sky

By Kirsten Doyle with a little help from e.e. cummings

Getting It Write

15 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 15 – Writing with style: What’s your writing style? Do words just flow from your mind to your fingertips? Do you like handwriting first? Do you plan your posts? Title first or last? Where do you write best?

The fact that my older son’s childhood development is almost a carbon copy of my own leads me to believe that I am somewhere on the autism spectrum. I had the same speech delays, the same geekiness with numbers, and the same tendency to play by myself in spite of being in a room full of other kids.

To this day, I experience social anxiety, although I have learned how to mask it well enough for other people not to notice. I am not fond of social gatherings where I do not know at least one person very well. During times of stress or conflict I struggle to coherently express my thoughts verbally. Let’s not even get started on the telephone. I am downright terrified of the telephone.

My ineptitude and discomfort with the spoken word is what led me to the written word. Writing is marvelous. It gives me a voice. It provides an outlet for the creativity that I have, to my complete surprise, discovered within me, and it eliminates the problem I have with conversation, where my words frequently get lost between my brain and my mouth.

When I was in high school, I used to get somewhat disillusioned when my creative writing projects were marked down “for lack of structure”. We had it drummed into us that our stories had to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. We were supposed to rigidly plan our essays and then stick to the plan. If the ending did not clearly tie in to the beginning, that was the mark of a Bad Essay.

The problem was that this whole beginning-middle-ending thing didn’t work for me. I understood the theory, but I couldn’t make my mind work in such a linear pattern. As long as the stuff I wrote made an impact, and as long as my readers were engaged throughout, did it really matter? Whenever I tried to write in the prescribed way , the finished product came across as stilted and awkward, and just not me.

When I started this blog just over two years ago, I promised myself that I would remain true to my natural style. I try to make sure my writing flows, and that it’s easy on the eye. I have a goal to leave my audience with some kind of message, whether it’s an idea, a call to action, or an emotion. How I accomplish that depends on my subject matter and what my state of mind is like as I’m writing. Sometimes my posts do follow a traditional structure, and when that happens, it’s just because the topic lent itself to that.

Many times, I will change direction midway through a post. I will allow my train of thought to drive my writing. In that sense, my blog posts are often a true reflection of how I think. They are a glimpse into the part of my soul that’s open for public viewing. I may struggle from time to time to come up with the first sentence, but usually, once I achieve that, I’m off and running. I don’t always go to where I had intended. My destination can be a surprise even to me.

The journey is always a lot of fun too.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kharlamovaa/6016780468/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

My Favourite Things

13 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 13 – 10 things I couldn’t live without: Write a list of the ten things you need (or love) the most.

When people ask me what one item I would grab if my house was on fire, I never know what to say. I mean, who can pick just one? I’m a woman, for Pete’s sake. Women need stuff, just like they need chocolate. It’s a scientific fact.

So in my hypothetical fire, I’m allowed to grab ten things. How I will carry them from a burning building while I’m simultaneously ferrying my kids to safety is not a cause for concern. When my hypothetical fire breaks out, all of the items are easily at hand along with a large duffel bag, I have superhuman strength and an extra pair of arms, and my kids are being fully cooperative.

The ten things I would save from the fire (apart from my family, who technically are not things), are as follows, in no particular order.

1. My Garmin training watch and accessories. I love this gadget. It combines my love of running with my love of technogeeky things. It is the coolest device ever. I can go for a run anywhere in the world, and when I am within range of my computer, it downloads a nifty little map of where I’ve been. The desktop app also tells me stuff about my pace and heart rate, and that appeals to my inner math nerd.

2. My smart phone. This thing does almost everything a computer can do, only on a smaller display. It functions as a camera, a Skype interface, an e-reader, an email client, a music player, and many other things. To be completely honest, I hardly ever use it as an actual phone.

3. My laptop computer. I would be lost without my computer. Seriously. I do everything on there. I don’t know how people like my grandmother coped without technology. Sure, that generation may have been more resourceful and better able to cope in a crisis, but they didn’t have Facebook or the ability to connect online with fellow autism parents when things were getting too overwhelming.

4. My notebook computer. I know, I know. I have a large number of technology devices for one human being. But I love my notebook. It goes everywhere with me. It’s a great little device for writing and web-browsing when I don’t feel like lugging my full-sized laptop around with me.

5. My coffee machine, along with ground coffee and filters. Because, well, obviously. My house just burned down in a fire. I’m stressed. I think I’m entitled to some coffee, and if it’s late at night the coffee shops might not be open.

6. A selection of my older son’s Mr. Potato Heads. George would be at a complete loss without his Potato Head family. These little characters have been with him since he was first diagnosed with autism. They were the means by which he started to tentatively explore language, and they were the tool that my mom used to teach him his colours. As a child with autism, George does not play in the way other kids do, but when he’s got his Mr. Potato Heads, he’s in heaven.

7. A selection of my younger son’s Disney Cars cars. When James first saw Lightning McQueen, it was love at first sight. Thomas the Train and his friends instantly got relegated to the toy box. Now it’s all about Lightning McQueen, Mater, Finn McMissile and all the rest of them. James would be heartbroken if his Cars cars got burned up in a fire.

8. My favourite shoes. Those who know me well know that I hate shoes. They are uncomfortable and don’t look good on my ugly, non-dainty feet. Shopping for shoes to go with my wedding dress was probably the most stressful part of my wedding planning. The only shoes I actually like are my running shoes. My mantra is: There’s no such thing as “too many running shoes”. I would grab my favourite pair and rescue them from the fire.

9. My purse. You never know what will be in my purse from one day to the next. Delving into my purse is like going on a scavenger hunt. It has all of the staples, of course. A little bit of cash, drivers’ license, maxed-out credit card, and the most essential item of all – a tube of lipstick.

10. A clean pair of knickers. From the time I was a little girl, I was taught to always have clean underwear with me. If I was in an accident and I was wearing dirty underwear then, you know, what would the ambulance men say? I would hope that the ambulance men would have better things to do than inspect the state of my knickers, but the lesson stuck.  Besides, if my house has just burned down, I don’t want to be wasting time worrying about the state of my underwear.

What are your favourite things? Share in the comments!

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

Grandpa And The Floozie: Good Friday Ten-Miler

6 Apr

Running is the one area of my life where all of my health interests intersect. It is good for my general health, it does a lot to keep depression at bay, and it is the means by which I raise funds for autism services.

It is no wonder that I take my running so seriously, nor that I’ve been anxiously awaiting my first race of the season: the Good Friday Ten-Miler, which happened today. I had watched the weather forecast throughout the week, and I was excited about the prospect of running in shorts to herald the arrival of Spring.

When I arrived at the start, the bitterly cold wind caused me some anxiety. I could deal with the shorts but I didn’t know if I would be able to take off my jacket. It was sunny, though, and it was only cold when the wind blew. And so I decided to stop being a sissy and leave the jacket in the car.

I headed to the registration area to pick up my race kit, and the first thing I had to do was look up my bib number. When I saw what it was, I actually snorted with laughter.

666. The number of the beast.

Seriously? I was going to have to run ten miles with the number 666 on my shirt? Where people could see me? The man who gave me my bib had a good laugh and told me to “run like the devil”.

I got to the start line with about a minute to spare, and all of a sudden we were off. I was aiming to beat 1:45:00, and in my eagerness to have a good race, I flew out of the starting blocks. I ran my first kilometre in 6:05, and realized that if I was going to meet my target I would have to dial it back a little.

A big hill in the second kilometre took care of getting my pace back in line, and through the rest of the race my pace was more or less consistent. Somewhere between the third and fifth kilometres, I saw my friend and coach Phaedra, who was a couple of kilometres ahead of me in the race. We waved and exchanged a high-five and went on our respective ways.

About six kilometres in, I tucked in behind a tall elderly man who was running at just the right pace. After a while I picked up my pace and passed him. Two kilometres further, at about the halfway mark, I slowed down and the man caught me.

He ran with me for a little while, and then we got to the big hill again, and he turned out to be better at tackling it than me. Off he went into the distance. I saw Phaedra again, but by this point she was entering her final mile and I still had about six kilometres to go.

Throughout the race, me and the elderly man were passing each other but staying more or less within spitting distance of each other.

With about three kilometres to go, I caught up with the man again. Sensing that we were going to be running alongside each other for a while, he started chatting to me. Jovially, he said, “I’ll race you to the finish!”

In wonderment that I could talk at all, I said to him, “You’re on!”

“Well, I gotta tell you. You may be young and pretty, but there’s no way I’m allowing myself to get chicked in a race.”

God bless him. He had called me young and pretty! I’m 42 years old, and having run 13km pretty hard at that stage, I looked anything but pretty. Still, it was nice of him to say so.

There is a fine but steely thread of competitiveness that runs through my veins, and I decided then and there to take on the man’s challenge. I said to him, “Well, you may have a ton more running experience than me, and you certainly look like you’re in better shape, but I’m not letting myself get beaten by someone who’s clearly a lot older than me.”

With a twinkle in his eye, he said, “Let’s see who gets home first. The grandpa or the floozie!”

Like a shot, he was off. And I wasn’t having any of it. I picked up my pace and chased him. I caught him and stuck with him for the next kilometre and a bit. I have to say, he put up a hell of a fight. Every time I sped up, so did he. But that little bit of competitiveness in me refused to lie down and die, so I kept trying.

All of a sudden, I could smell the finish line around the corner. I dug deep and found the biggest finishing kick that I’ve ever had. With about 500 metres to go, I finally passed my elderly friend and sprinted to the finish line, clocking a time of 1:43:10.

Not only had I beaten my target time of 1:45:00, I had absolutely smashed my previous personal best time by almost ten minutes.

And the floozie had beaten the grandpa.

Poetic License

6 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 6 – Health Haiku: Write a haiku about your health focus. 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables. Write as many as you like.

About Autism

Mysterious boy
You always make me wonder
Beautiful strange mind

Touched by autism
You are locked in your own world
I reach into you

He doesn’t say much
His mind is always busy
Silent but present

The room rocks with screams
Communication fails him
I hold him with love

About Mental Health

My mind tortures me
I know I should be happy
Sadness fills my soul

Postnatal darkness
Drowning in new motherhood
Do not be ashamed

Memories flood me
The past seeps into the now
Accept who I am

Look in the mirror
See the beauty within you
Know that you are loved

About Running

Feet hit the sidewalk
Legs are aching, I am tired
No way I can stop

Start line at the race
Getting high on energy
My legs want to run

It’s more than the legs
The body must be healthy
Eat like an athlete

Running keeps me sane
Time to myself, time to think
The stress melts away