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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

When I Grow Up: Six-Year-Old Musings

27 Mar

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be an air stewardess. I was a very well-traveled kid, and every time I boarded a plane I envied the slim, pretty ladies in their smart uniforms. They were always so elegant and friendly, and they were unfailingly kind to me and my brother. A career of jet-setting around the world meeting all kinds of people greatly appealed to me.

Of course, now that I am a well-traveled adult, I cannot think of a job I would like less. When I board planes, I want to be given my mini-bottle of wine and left alone. The last thing I want to do is walk up and down a narrow aisle handing out peanuts and smiling at strangers until my face hurts.

Anyway, when James was about three, he started having his first When-I-grow-up-I-want-to-be discussions. I clearly remember the day it started. Our walk to the daycare he attended at the time took us past a little restaurant that happens to be a popular breakfast spot for the local police. As usual, all of the parking spaces in front of the restaurant were occupied by police cruisers. James stopped to count them, and then said, “When I grow up, I want to ride in the back of a police car.”

Well! That wasn’t what I was expecting to hear! No parent wants to know that their three-year-old aspires to a life of crime.

Fortunately, he met a cool policeman a short while later and changed his goal to driving the police car.

Since then, James has changed his career aspirations several times. He has considered being a fireman, a race car driver and a builder. Sometimes his sole ambition is to be a dad – hopefully not too soon. Other times he wants to be a Transformer, but he doesn’t say exactly how he will become a thing that’s sometimes a car, sometimes a scary robot.

It doesn’t bother me unduly that James is so undecided about what he wants to do. I mean, the kid is six. He has time to decide.

This weekend, he suddenly came up with a new career idea. The conversation we had went something like this:

James: Mommy, we’re going to have a party.
Me: Oh?
James: Yeah! We’re going to bake a cake and put out some snacks and juice. But the cake will take longer to do so we have to get started on that right away. So I’ll find the juice and Daddy can go and buy snacks while you and George start looking for ingredients.
Me: Silence. Goldfish-impersonation. Thinking: cripes, this kid is bossy!

After a pause, the conversation continued.

James: Mommy, I know what I want to be when I grow up.
Me: Oh good! What’s that?
James: I’m going to be a caterer, and I’m going to tell everyone what to do.

So, he’ll be a caterer. Other than that, nothing much will change, since he tells everyone what to do now.

At the end of the day, I have the same hope for both of my boys: that they will find careers that will make them feel fulfilled and happy, and that they will not ever feel limited into doing something that they do not really want to do.

What career aspirations have your kids told you about? Did you end up doing anything remotely close to what you thought you would as a kid?

Blog Beginnings: A Funny Guy Made Me Do It

17 Mar

Tim "Red Barren" Carter, who gave me the idea for my blog

Two years ago today, my blog was born. When I wrote my first post, I didn’t really give much thought to where it would all lead me. I wouldn’t have even started the blog if I hadn’t been pushed into it.

Here’s what happened:

Over a decade ago, a super-cool dude by the name of Bruce started a super-cool ezine called Really Good Quotes, and I was one of the original subscribers. In the early days of the ezine, Bruce did everything himself: the research, the writing, the sourcing of quotes, and the compilation of the issues. Five days a week he did this.

After a while, Bruce realized that it would be nice to have a life, so he cut back from five days a week to three, and he started enlisting help. He recruited a couple of writers and asked me to be the editor. And so it became my responsibility to collect everyone’s submissions and format them into something resembling a respectable ezine. When I’d been doing this for about a year, Bruce offered me my own column. I handed off the editing responsibilities to a guy named Cliff, who does it far better than I did (and writes an awesome column to boot), and I started focusing my attention on writing.

Through this whole process, I became friends with the other writers on the ezine. We were a close-knit little group from the start and our friendships started to extend beyond the bounds of Really Good Quotes. One of my fellow writers – a guy who, sadly, is no longer with us – was called Tim. Tim had a heart the size of Texas and he was an amazingly funny guy. He was also a technogeek, so in addition to being a friend, he became my unofficial tech support person.

It was Tim who got me into writing outside of Really Good Quotes. My older son’s autism diagnosis came when I was in the midst of post-partum depression, and I felt myself buckling under the weight of everything. Tim contacted me during this dreadful time and told me that perhaps I needed an additional forum for my writing.  He offered me a space on his website where I could write whenever I wanted. There was no requirement to post, there was no pressure and no expectation. I simply had a place to go when I needed to vent.

One day more than a year later, Tim told me I needed to spread my wings. He wasn’t booting me off his site, and in fact he wanted me to stay and continue posting, but he felt that my writing was good enough to warrant a wider audience. He encouraged me to sign up with one of the well-known blogging platforms that came complete with a large community of bloggers. At first I was resistant to the idea. It sounded like more hard work than I was in the mood for.

Tim’s idea would turn out to be a bug that, once planted in my mind, kept nagging at me. After a couple of months, I thought, What the hell? I signed up, and here I am, celebrating my blog’s second birthday.

Many things have happened since then, both in my blog and in the broader context of my life. I have seen all kinds of growth in my kids, I have watched my son beat out all of the doctor’s predictions, and I have done some growing up myself. I have run all kinds of races and beat my own personal best times. I have voted for the first time as a Canadian citizen, I have tied the knot with my long-time partner and I have taken on extra responsibilities at work.

As far as my writing goes, I still write for Really Good Quotes. I am also a writer and scheduling editor for World Moms Blog and I participate regularly in the Indie Ink writing challenges. I have been invited to participate in the Health Activists Writers Month Challenge which runs in April. I have been voted as one of the Top 25 Canadian Mom Blogs. And very soon, my website will be going through an overhaul. I am excited at the prospect of launching a new look to showcase my writing.

I feel like I am entering a whole new phase and I cannot wait to see where it brings me.

Happy 2nd birthday, blog!

(Photo used with the kind permission of Kristen Carter)

Beautiful Disaster: A Love Story

8 Mar

When Kathy first met Howard, she didn’t like him very much. She had met him on the Internet, and they had always gotten along great during their online chats. But the second she met him in person, she knew that the chemistry was not right. In spite of herself, she said yes when he asked her to be his girlfriend the third time they went out.

The attraction isn’t always there in the beginning, she rationalized.

The truth was that she was lonely. She had moved into the city six months previously and she didn’t know anyone. She had yet to make any real friends and she was desperate for a human connection. She knew this relationship wouldn’t last, but she thought it would keep away the loneliness for a while.

Kathy’s quest to avoid loneliness would turn out to be very costly. Howard slowly sucked her into a web of manipulation and control. He alienated her from the small amount of social contact that she had, took her for weekends away and “forgot” to bring his credit card to pay the hotels, and forced her into sexual games that she did not feel comfortable with.

One day, Kathy arrived at Howard’s weirdly sterile apartment to find another woman there. When he introduced the woman as his wife, Kathy staggered back in shock. She’d had no idea he was married. He’d always claimed to be divorced.

By the time Kathy left that night, she had discovered that Howard shared everything with his wife. Everything. Including his girlfriends. She limped to her car, broken and humiliated, and wondered about going to the police station.

What would she tell them, though? Hello, officer. I’ve just been raped by the man I’ve been having consensual sex with for the last four months, and his wife. Kathy had not even known until this day that it was possible for a woman to be raped by another woman.

She decided not to go to the police. They wouldn’t believe her. They would laugh at her and she would feel even more ashamed than she already did. She pointed her car towards home and started to drive. What a disaster this had been. She would never use online dating again.

All of a sudden, Kathy was overcome by tears. Great big wrenching sobs that shook her entire body and blinded her vision. She pulled over to the side of the road, lurched out of her car, and stumbled into the park. She sat on a bench and hugged herself tight as she wept. Thank God it was late enough for the park to be empty. If there were people around she would have been making a real spectacle of herself.

She buried her head in her hands and tried to breathe deeply to calm down. She needed to get out of this park and into the safety of her apartment. She needed to lock herself away from the world and wash this nightmarish day from her body.

A shuffling sound made her look up in alarm. A man was standing a few feet away, keeping his distance and looking distinctly uncomfortable.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said, as if he could smell her fear. “It’s just that I heard you crying. I wanted to see if I could help. I’m Frank, by the way. My name is Frank.”

He stopped talking abruptly and moved a little closer, staring into her eyes. He peered at her intently, as if he had just had a revelation.

“I hope you don’t mind if I say this,” he said hesitantly. “But you are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

Kathy stared back at him. In that instant, through the layers of her pain, she saw her future in this shy, gentle man.

Yes, Howard had set her on a path of disaster. But it was a disaster that had led her to be in this place, at this time, having a chance encounter with the man who would become her destiny.

It was a beautiful disaster.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, k~ challenged me with “Beautiful disaster” and I challenged Jason Hughes with “Chasing rainbows”