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Autism Diaries: On This Day…

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The Autism Boy

Thirteen years ago I was pregnant. The pregnancy was so new that nobody knew about it apart from me. I remember lying in bed hugging this secret close to me, this secret that I was sharing with no one but the baby growing inside me. I was terrified that my husband and I would experience a repeat of the loss we had been through just a few months previously. Stay with me, I silently begged the baby.

Twelve years ago I was a new mom. I spent time lying on a blanket with my months-old babe, holding his tiny hand in mine. I would look at his little fingers, at the curve of his cheek, and the fluttery eyelashes – and I would marvel at how something so small could be so perfect. I felt as if the future was a blank slate, just waiting to be written by this brand new human being.

Eleven years ago, I was a parent who had recently lost a parent. I held my one-year-old son, feeling immense gratitude that he had spent some time in his grandfather’s arms. I was afraid: when I lost my father, I lost a bit of my security. I somehow became more of an adult, and I wasn’t sure that I was ready for that.

Ten years ago, my little family had gained a new member. As I cared for my newborn baby, I worried about his older brother. I knew that something was not right, but the doctor said, “Wait. Give it some time.” When your instincts say one thing and your doctor says another, you have to decide which one to listen to. I listened to the wrong voice and waited.

Nine years ago, we had finally gotten the doctor to listen, and our firstborn son was on the waiting list for a developmental assessment. We didn’t need an assessment to know that something was wrong, but we were hopeful that whatever it was, it could be fixed. While we waited, we took our son to speech therapy and celebrated every single word that he uttered.

Eight years ago, my husband and I were trying to settle into our roles as autism parents. The initial shock of the diagnosis had worn off, and we were working our way through the labyrinth of government funding and services. At the same time, we were adjusting our dreams and goals to fit the new reality of autism.

Seven years ago, our autism boy was about to start his ABA therapy. It was a world that was completely unknown to us, a form of intervention that works for some kids but not others. Would it work for our boy? We had no way of knowing. A further assessment put him on the severe end of the autism spectrum, but we were urged not to lose hope.

Six years ago, we were one year into the ABA therapy, and we had seen our son make phenomenal progress. His vocabulary had exploded and we were starting to see the emergence of some amazing qualities. A follow-up assessment showed that he had made 23 months’ worth of gains in a 12-month period. Hope sprang eternal.

Five years ago, the boy was slowly, slowly being phased out of ABA therapy and into full-time school. We worried about whether the cessation of therapy would stall the progress we had seen him make. We were advised to expect a temporary plateau followed by slow but steady progress. Anything could happen, we were told. A full decade of school remained. A lot can happen in ten years. I held onto my rose-coloured glasses.

Four years ago, I suffered a devastating loss when my beloved aunt died in a freak accident. For the first time since the death of my father, I had to go away without my family. Leaving my husband and boys was excruciating, but I knew that I was needed on the other side of the world. The autism boy coped well with this big upheaval, helped enormously by his incredible little brother.

Three years ago, my stubborn optimism started to give way to realism. Yes, my son had many capabilities. He was doing well in his special ed program, and he was able to do things by himself, like get dressed and use the bathroom. He had come a long way since the days of his diagnosis. But there was still a lot that he couldn’t do. For the first time, I started to realize that in all probability, my boy would never attain complete independence.

Two years ago, we had to fight for our boy. The special ed programming at his school did not continue beyond Grade 6, and the placement he was slated for filled us with the horrors. The classroom – indeed, the entire school – was overcrowded and staffed with well-meaning but overwhelmed teachers. As I walked the hallways during my one and only visit, I detected an aura of barely contained hysteria. We were not going to risk the years of progress we had seen. And so, with my son’s principal by our side, we started a long series of meetings with the school board. And once again, we waited.

One year ago, the principal of my son’s school called with the news that the battle had been won. A special ed program for Grade 7 and 8 kids was being brought into his school – a school where the general student body forms a protective and loving wall around the special ed kids. I cried with joy, not only for my son, who was getting another two years in this amazing environment, but for all of the kids whose paths we had had a part in altering for the better.

Today, my son is in Grade 7, in his first year of the newly implemented program. He is doing well and continuing to make progress. I am happy with where he is, but I am afraid of where he is going. Because unlike the day of his diagnosis, when we had years of time ahead of us, we are now very close to the future we talked about then.

One year from now, the boy will be months away from finally leaving the security of the only school he has ever known. We do not know where he will be going for high school – that chapter of the story is starting to be written now. In the next few months – a full year ahead of when this would happen for typical kids – we will be starting to visit high schools, interview principals, look at special ed programs.

This year, next year, and for the rest of our lives, we will continue to do the best thing for our autism boy, to give him the opportunities he needs to reach his full potential – whatever that potential turns out to be.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the author.

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2016: Running To Mars

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I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. If I realize in September or October that something in my life needs to be fixed, I’m not going to wait until January to fix it. Very few of my major life changes have coincided with a new year: I quit smoking in June, I started running in April and I decided to start my own business in August.

That being said, the New Year is a handy time to start new things just from a mathematical point of view. If I want to compare something to prior years – like my weight (which keeps going up) or my bank balance (which keeps going down), January 1st is a good point of reference. Or if I want to try and do something quantitative, like run a thousand miles in a single year, it makes sense to start logging those miles on New Year’s Day.

So while I don’t actually have New Year’s resolutions, there are some things that I am going to start working towards when the clock has struck midnight.

Most of them are centred around my health and fitness. I had such grand plans for my running in 2015, but life kept throwing massive spanners into the works. There were weeks when I barely had time to sleep, let alone run. Circumstances forced me to be a no-show at several races that I had registered for, and I ran my October half-marathon on very little training.

Then I went away to South Africa for a month. I ran a few times and did a great deal of walking, but there were many meals out as I celebrated being with family and friends. When I came back, I flew straight into the Christmas season with its eggnog and turkey dinners and chocolatey treats.

So I am out of shape, and I need to fix that. While I was at my desk trying to decide on next year’s races, two things happened. First, I saw a Facebook post from my friend Frank, who has made great strides in his quest for a healthier lifestyle. He posted that in January he is repeating a thirty-day squat challenge that he did in November, and he wanted to know if anyone was going to join him.

Squats are my least favourite form of exercise. If I were to equate squats with food, they would be like cabbage, the very thought of which is enough to cause a gag reflex in me. But unlike cabbage, squats are not likely to make me physically ill – on the contrary, they will strengthen me and make me a better runner. So I responded to Frank’s post in the affirmative, committing to a month of squats in January.

The second thing that happened was that I received an email about something called the Moon Joggers. This is a group of runners from all over the world, who in 2016 are hoping to collectively log enough miles to get from here to Mars. It sounds like a fun thing to be a part of, so I signed up and set myself a goal of 1,000 miles, or 1,600 km.

I decided to take this one step further. Starting on January 1st, I am going to attempt a running streak. In spite of my husband’s initial reaction, this does not mean that I’m going to run naked. It means I’m going to run for as many days in a row as possible. On my “rest” days, I will run at least one kilometre.

My hope is that through all of this activity, the adjustments I need to make to my overall lifestyle will be easier. I will get more sleep, drink more water and eat more veggies.

I am looking forward to being fitter, healthier, less stressed and more energetic.

 

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Plane Travel: 13 Ways To Be A Considerate Passenger

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Two weeks ago, I returned to Toronto after a month-long vacation in South Africa. The trip involved five flights: four long-haul flights to get there and back, and one domestic flight within South Africa. I spent a total of about sixty hours either on planes or at airports, and my observations and experiences during these hours inspired me to create this list of things to do (or not do) when traveling by air.

1. Don’t argue with the airport security people. If they ask you to take off your shoes, just take off your damned shoes. Yes, it’s inconvenient and at times it can appear unfair, but if you resist, all you’re doing is delaying the people in line behind you.

2. Don’t board the plane until your row number is called. They board large flights by row number for a reason: so that passengers seated near the front of the aircraft don’t clutter up the aisles while those near the back are trying to get to their seats. You seriously don’t have to be the first one on the plane. Once you have checked in, the plane is not going to leave without you.

3. If you check in, and especially if you have checked bags, for the love of God please show up at the boarding gate. The plane won’t leave without you – until you have been paged eleventy million times, your luggage has been located and removed from the plane, and all the other passengers have endured a lengthy delay prior to takeoff.

4. Pee before you get onto the plane. Especially if it’s a long overnight flight and you’re not in an aisle seat. It’s hard enough to fall asleep on a plane without someone waking you up because they have to answer the call of nature. If you’re someone who needs to pee several times a night, ask for an aisle seat when you check in.

5. If you are seated apart from someone who is traveling with you, the person beside you is not obligated to switch seats so that you can sit together. Some of us check in online ahead of time specifically so we can choose where we’re going to sit. If we decline to move to a seat that we were making efforts to avoid (like one of the dreaded middle seats), we shouldn’t get attitude from you.

6. The aisle of the plane during boarding is not the time or place to be rummaging in your carry-on bag trying to rearrange its contents. When you get onto the plane, stow your bag and sit down so other people can get to their seats.

7. Be as clean as possible before you fly. You probably won’t be able to take a shower if you are taking a connecting flight, but you can at least brush your teeth and apply a bit of deodorant. Believe me, it is not pleasant to spend twelve hours sealed in a metal tube with someone who smells like dirty feet.

8. Mind your manners while you’re on the plane. The people beside you do not want to endure loud belching and farting, they don’t want to see you pick your nose, and they don’t want to hear every mouthful while you eat your dinner.

9. Don’t engage fellow passengers in a lengthy conversation unless they’re up for it. If the person next to you puts on headphones or opens a book, that’s a clue that they want to be left alone. It’s fine to say hello and exchange pleasantries, but don’t overdo it. If you are traveling with someone, hold your conversations with them at a reasonable volume.

10. The absolute worst place to sit during a flight is in one of the middle seats, with people on either side of you. If you’re fortunate enough to be in an aisle or window seat, be considerate and let the guy in the middle have an armrest.

11. Keep your seat upright during meals, and if you do incline it at any time, don’t put it all the way back. Have some pity for the person sitting behind you.

12. If you have to stand up during the flight, don’t use the back of the seat in front of you for leverage. It gives the person in the seat a nasty sensation of whiplash and if they’re sleeping, they get a very rude awakening.

13. When you arrive at your destination, don’t be the jerk who pushes and shoves in order to be the first off the plane. Everyone has spent several hours in cramped discomfort, and everyone is as anxious as you to escape.

Basically, if people show common sense and consideration toward their fellow passengers, everyone is safer, happier and more comfortable.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the author.

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Life: A Poem From A Younger Me

It has been far too long since I posted anything on my humble blog. For most of this year, life has moved at an overwhelming pace. I have barely had time to sleep, let alone do things like personal blogging and running. It is only now, while I’m on a desperately needed vacation in South Africa, that I have been able to catch my breath.

Having been silent on my blog for so long, I’ve been struggling to decide what to say. Then, last week, a very close family friend dropped in for a visit and told me that she had come across a poem that I had written years ago.

When I say “years ago”, I actually mean decades. The poem is dated October 5th, 1986. I was sixteen years old and approaching the end of Grade 11.

And so today’s post is proudly brought to you by a much younger me.

life is like a play

Life

Life is like a play which starts at birth and ends at death
The play is divided into acts –
Each act represents a part of your life
And each act is important however big or small it is
The acts are divided into scenes –
Each scene reveals an element of your inner self
And each scene is as important as every other scene

Just as scenes make up an act
Each element of your character makes up the whole you
And just as acts make up a whole play
You alone can make your life

There are no prompts to tell you what to do or say –
It all comes from you
You alone can decide how you want to play your part
And you alone can play that part

You are not the only actor on the stage –
For the play to be a success
The actors must consider each other
And give each other a chance to speak
And persevere to enjoy acting with each other –
For where there’s a stage there will always be actors

There will never be another you
And therefore the play would not be the same without you
You are a one in a million actor
This is the only chance you will ever have to act in this play
Therefore you should act your part to the full
And give whatever you can to improve the set
So that when the curtain comes down on you
Everyone, including you – a unique, valuable actor
Can smile at what you have given to this play

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: Tim Green. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

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Running For Autism: One Step At A Time

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Two days from now, I am running my annual half-marathon for kids with autism. You’d think that after doing ten half-marathons in the last six years, this would be old hat to me. I am familiar with the distance, and since this year is my seventh Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront race, I am familiar with the course. I know exactly where the hills are (not many, thank God, and none of them are exactly mountainous), I know where the halfway point is, and I know which sections of the course are more challenging for me.

The training, the period of Taper Madness and the race itself are supposed to get easier with each passing year, right?

Well…

This year, my family has faced some intense challenges. A series of unfortunate events culminated in my husband having just three weeks’ notice to vacate his business premises. This meant packing up and moving fifteen years’ worth of product, tools and heavy industrial-grade machinery. While this was going on, I landed a big contract for my own fledgling business that I couldn’t turn down. I was helping with the move during the day, working on my contract at night, and grabbing catnaps on the couch from time to time.

This left me no time for running. My half-marathon training called for intense speed work during the month of July. Instead, my training ground to a screeching halt, and I was only really able to get it going again halfway through August. By then, as much as I had tried to keep my work on an even keel, I had fallen so far behind that I was continuing to work late into the night. So although I was running again, I wasn’t running as much as I needed to.

Consequently, I am not as prepared for this race as I should be. I know I can complete the distance, but I do not expect it to be my finest hour. I don’t even have a goal time in mind. All I want to do is cross the finish line, get my finisher’s medal, and come home where I can sit on the couch and eat weird amounts of cheesecake. If I get a decent time – and I’m certainly not ruling that out – that will be a bonus.

My fundraising hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped either, for pretty much the same reasons. Asking people for donations makes me feel more than a little awkward at the best of times, and this year it has been particularly challenging. I haven’t had time or energy, and I have been operating in a fog of exhaustion and stress. I have fallen far short of the fundraising goal that I had set for myself.

But still – I have raised almost $300, and that money is going to make a huge difference to some kids with autism. It will provide art supplies, musical instruments, sports equipment or camp activities. It will give young people with autism opportunities and experience that might otherwise be out of reach for them. And I am more grateful than words can express to the people who have helped me reach that total.

I think, in spite of the circumstances, I have done all right. I feel excited about the upcoming race, and I feel proud to be doing my small part to make a difference to children and youth with autism.

It’s not too late to donate. If you would like to sponsor me, please click here. All funds go to the Geneva Centre for Autism, where they will be used to provide services for children and teens with autism.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the author.

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7 Misconceptions About Suicide That Have To Go

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By the time the clock strikes midnight tonight, between 200 and 250 Canadians will have attempted to take their own lives today. Eleven of them will have succeeded. Eleven families will have their hearts broken. They will go to bed and lie awake wondering if they could have done anything to prevent this tragedy. Eleven lives will be lost due to utter desperation, a bleakness and hopelessness that many people cannot understand.

It is all too easy to judge those who reach the point of taking their own lives. Judgment is wasted energy, though. It doesn’t help anybody: not the person doing the judging, not the loved ones of those who have committed suicide, and certainly not people who are inching closer and closer to the end of their rope.

Judgments and stigmas against suicide victims are based on misconceptions and misunderstanding. I want to clear up some misconceptions that really need to go the way of the dinosaur.

1. People who commit suicide are not selfish. Sure, it may seem that way. It may seem as if the victim has acted without thought or care for the people being left behind. People who have attempted suicide and survived will attest to the fact that they did agonize over what their passing would do to their loved ones. But in the end, they felt so trapped and hopeless that they could not see a way out. They truly believed that they were doing the right thing not only for themselves, but for the people around them.

2. People who commit suicide are not “taking the easy way out”. Let’s get something straight: suicide is not easy. It is not a snap decision that people make when they simply don’t feel like trying to live anymore. It is a point that is arrived at over weeks, months or years of desperation. Most suicide victims do try to keep going, but in the end, they just cannot see a way forward anymore.

3. Many people who commit suicide don’t actually want to die. This may seem counter-intuitive, but suicide is not driven by a wish to die. More often, it’s driven by a need to escape. A lot of people who commit suicide feel trapped in their own heads, and death is simply the only way they can get out.

4. People do not commit suicide in order to get attention. Some people self-harm because they really need help but don’t know how to ask for it. Or they have tried asking for help but they were not taken seriously. People who make serious suicide attempts are not doing it for the attention. They are doing it because life is excruciatingly painful for them.

5. Suicide is a result of mental illness. All too often, I hear people asking why someone with a great job and a beautiful family would kill themselves. That’s like asking why someone who exercises daily and eats healthily would die of cancer. Mental illness, like cancer, can happen to anyone. The difference is that when people get cancer, they are taken seriously.

6. People who are suicidal are capable of happiness. When an acquaintance of mine committed suicide several years ago, a lot of people were mystified. “She always seemed so happy,” they said. The thing is, at times, she was happy. Many people who feel that desperate need to escape from their lives have the capacity to experience periods of happiness. It is not sadness – the opposite of happiness – that drives people to suicide. It is depression. Depression and sadness are not the same thing.

7. People who are suicidal can be helped. I once heard someone say something along the lines of, “If someone really wants to kill themselves, they will find a way to do it.” I don’t remember the full context, but I do know that it was part of a conversation about suicide prevention. For most people, suicide is an absolute last resort when they believe that all other options have been exhausted. They want to be helped, and they can be helped – a fact that is borne out by the crisis helpline program that was implemented on all of Toronto’s subway platforms in 2011. In the first six weeks after the program was launched, the crisis helpline saved seven people who had gone to the subway station with the intention of jumping in front of a train.

Today, September 10th, is World Suicide Prevention Day. If we all do our part to stop judging and start understanding, how many lives can we save?

This is an original post for Running for Autism by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: Leticia Burtin. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

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8 Things That Large-Breasted Runners Will Understand

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Women with big breasts have some challenges that other people might not understand. We cannot wear strapless bras without needing to hitch them up every three minutes. We are faced with decisions about whether running for the bus would cause too much inconvenient bouncing. Button-down shirts gape, no matter what size we get. And of course, there’s Underboob Sweat. I’m not talking about little half-moons of perspiration on the bottom of each bra cup. I’m talking about litres of the stuff that you have to wipe off with a towel. Which you then have to wring out over the bathtub.

Large-breasted runners have their own unique set of problems. Like these:

1. Getting into sports bras is a sport in itself. We don’t just put on our sports bras like our more petite counterparts. We wrestle our boobs into submission. We have to shift things around and tuck bits in to make sure we don’t hit the pavement looking like a Picasso painting. And those of us in racer back bras have to turn into contortionists in order to strip down for our post-run shower.

2. We have to buy our sports bras online. Running stores love putting out social media posts saying that runners come in all shapes and sizes, but they don’t cater to runners of all shapes and sizes. It would be easier to find powdered unicorn horn mixed with the sweat of seven dragons than it would be to go to a store and find a decent sports bra with cups that are DD or bigger. We are left with two options: shell out a fortune at a specialist bra shop that charges specialist bra shop prices (and everyone knows that runners need at least three sports bras), or buy online and just hope the thing will fit.

3. Heart rate monitors are a challenge. Heart rate monitors usually come in the form of sensors on a strap that goes around the chest. For the most accurate reading, the strap should be secured right below the breast area directly against the skin. And let’s face it, there’s not enough room there for my plus-sized knockers, my giant-by-necessity sports bra, my litres of Underboob Sweat and a heart rate monitor strap.

4. There’s nowhere to attach race bibs. A race bib should be the easiest things in the world to attach, right? I mean, it’s just a rectangle of paper that you stick onto your shirt with safety pins. The trouble is, nothing screams “Stare at me!” louder than giant numbers attached to giant boobs. Apart from that, the bib kind of puckers and crumples when it’s attached to something resembling two misshapen melons (or if your sports bra has given you a uniboob, something resembling a giant misshapen pool noodle). We have to find creative ways to attach our bibs. I pin the top of mine to the bottom hem of my shirt, so that the bottom part of the bib kind of free-floats.

5. Fuel belts make our boobs look even bigger. The fuel belt is a staple for many half-marathoners and marathoners. It carries bottles of water and/or sports drink, gel packs and other items that might be needed during the run. It attaches around the waist, which is problematic for many of us. It cinches my waist in a way that makes my boobs look even bigger, and I end up looking like Betty Boop dressed up in a runner’s costume for Halloween.

6. We know how painful salt in the wound really is. Breasts – even small ones – move a lot during runs. The bigger the boobs, the larger the range of motion. Because it’s so hard to find sports bras that adequately restrict how much our breasts move, we end up chafing. Sometimes I end up with bleeding raw patches right in the Underboob Sweat area. When I take my post-run shower, the salt from the sweat runs into the raw patches, and it hurts. A lot.

7. Being top heavy is a thing. We big-breasted people carry a fair amount of weight on our chests. If you don’t believe me, tie a three-pound sack of potatoes to your chest and go for a 5K run. It affects our posture, changes the way we run – particularly up and down hills, and it gives us our very own set of aches and pains.

8. Race videos are the most unflattering thing ever. You’re running along, having a great race, feeling like a million dollars. You post your best ever finishing time, and you go home proudly wearing your finisher’s medal. A couple of days later, you open the email containing your race photos and your finish line video. You’re excited to see this record of you running gracefully, like a gazelle. You play the video, and – holy crap! Those gazungas are bouncing and swaying like there’s no tomorrow! You settle for ordering one or two of the least bad pictures and you forego the video entirely.

Fortunately, the pull of running is too strong to let any of these things stop me. This weekend, I will be out on the road with Boob One and Boob Two, and I will love every second of it.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: Justin Taylor. This picture has a creative commons attribution license. 

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Electrotherapy TENS Unit: Effective Pain Relief From Omron

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Electrotherapy TENS vs. old injury

Over twenty years ago, I sustained a serious injury to my left ankle, and it hasn’t been quite right since. My ankle problems have been such a constant factor in my life that I have christened the offending joint “Ankle of Doom”. It is because of Ankle of Doom that I have permanently abandoned my dream of running a full marathon. Half-marathon training is challenging enough: for at least a week after my long runs, Ankle of Doom puts me through so much pain that I want to weep.

When I was offered a review unit of an Electrotherapy TENS device from Omron, I thought I may as well give it a try. Between Ankle of Doom and the acute pain that has developed in my shoulders as a result of long hours working in front of a computer, I knew that I would be able to give this unit a thorough workout.

TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. It cannot cure the underlying cause of pain, but it provides temporary relief by preventing the pain message from reaching the brain. Many people who have used TENS therapy have found it to be effective and easy to use.

Compact and easy to use

When my Electrotherapy TENS unit from Omron arrived, I was pleasantly surprised by its size – or lack thereof. The unit is small enough to fit comfortably into my hand, and it is very lightweight. It comes with a belt clip that can be used to attach it to the waistband of almost any clothing, and it feels almost invisible when it’s being worn in this way. This makes it truly portable – there is no need to stay rooted to one spot during your fifteen minute treatments.

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The unit is very easy to set up and operate. It runs on two standard AAA batteries which are kept firmly in place by the backing which is removed and reattached with the twist of a coin. It comes with a pair of standard pads complete with a holder, a thin cable with the electrodes (about the thickness and length of the ear buds you use with your iPod), the belt clip, easy-to-follow instructions and a nifty little pouch to store it all in.

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There are nine preset modes on the unit. Six allow you to target specific parts of the body (shoulder, lower back, arm, foot, leg, joint), while the other three (tap, knead and rub) are massage modes.

To operate the unit, you simply apply the pads to the part of your body that is hurting, select one of the nine modes, which are clearly labelled on the display, and select the intensity. The intensity can be adjusted at any time during the fifteen minute cycle, and when the time is up, the unit shuts off.

The results

After using the Electrotherapy TENS unit for a couple of weeks, the results are promising. With at least one fifteen-minute treatment per day, the pain in my ankle has been a lot more manageable. I have not had the week-long agony that usually follows long runs. I doubt if I’ll be able to revive my plans to run a full marathon, but I do believe that training for my upcoming half-marathon will be a lot more bearable, and I think that my recovery from the race itself will go a lot more smoothly than usual.

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If anything, the unit is a little too effective. It blocks the pain signal so effectively that it is easy to forget that there is a problem, and you run the risk of not being duly cautious of using the affected part of your body. However, combined with rest and whatever other treatment your doctor might recommend, Electrotherapy TENS can make life with an injury a lot more bearable.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. All photos credited to the author.

Disclaimer: A review unit of the Omron Electrotherapy TENS device was provided to me in exchange for an honest review. This post is a true reflection of my experiences to date with this product. The experiences of others may differ. This review is not intended to replace or supplement the advice given by a registered medical professional.

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Ontario Education: Open Letter To The Teachers At My Sons’ Schools

3196112204_8903a3cdce_zDear teachers,

There are many people who think you have a cushy job, with seven-hour workdays and two months off every summer. They say that you are overpaid, underworked, lazy and uncaring. Any time there is a labour dispute in the Ontario education system, like there is now, you are accused of trying to suck the taxpayer dry in order to line your own pockets.

Let me tell you what I think, teachers.

I think you guys totally ROCK.

Since my firstborn son started school in 2007, I have gained an appreciation for just how hard you work. I have come to understand that your workdays extend far beyond classroom hours, that report cards and IEP’s involve a lot more than simply punching data into a computer, and that a great deal of thought and time goes into the lessons you teach and the projects you assign.

Being a teacher is HARD. You have to juggle the needs of your students, the demands of their parents and the rules of the Ontario education system. While you understand that other people sometimes have bad days, you are on your game all the time. You spend your days doing a job that most people wouldn’t want for all the money in the world – which is kind of ironic, considering that many think you should be paid less.

While people across Ontario have been hating on you for pursuing your right to do your jobs properly, you have kept going, helping my boys learn and grow, giving your work the same dedication and focus that you always have.  Here are just a few of the things you have been doing, over and above teaching my kids.

* You have taken my son and rest of the track and field team to their competition events. Even now that the competitions are over, you are still showing up at school early so that those kids who want to continue their morning runs can do so.

* You have taken your eighth grade classes on their graduation trips, and you have been hard at work planning extra-special graduation days for them.

* You came to school early one morning on a day that you were not assigned to teach, just so that you could fulfil your before-school yard duty and ensure the safety of my son and his friends.

* You hefted a cardboard box out of your car one Monday morning, and when I asked what it was, you said that it was projects you had graded over the weekend, as well as materials for an upcoming student assignment that you had prepared and photocopied on your own time.

* You dug around in your classroom searching for a book that you knew my son would enjoy reading during the summer.

* You organized a water play day for the younger kids, and you allowed my son and his classmates to help run it, so that they could develop their leadership skills.

* You have not gone to bed before midnight for the last week, because you’ve been putting together picture slideshows and videos for your Kindergarten class’s graduation celebration.

* You have been tirelessly working on ways to help my autism boy develop his speech and communication skills, and you have been helping him develop life skills that will take him far beyond the classroom.

Here’s a little something that I know about you, teachers. You don’t just do this for the money. You do it because you truly care about the kids you are teaching. This is more than “just a job” for you. When you go to work every day, you are not simply earning a paycheque. You are shaping futures and opening up worlds of opportunity for my boys.

I will miss getting report cards for my boys this year. I will miss reading your carefully thought out commentaries on what their last term of the school year has been like. It will be strange to not see their grades for each subject.

But I understand why you’re not doing them. I understand that you are taking on a government that wants to choke the Ontario education system and make it more difficult for you to teach my kids effectively. There are people who are trying to claim that this is all about money and benefits, but I know that is so far from the truth that it might as well be on another planet.

I know that right now, you are not fighting for yourselves. You are fighting for my children. You are fighting for the future of our society.

For that, I thank you. Stay with the fight, teachers. And when you hear or read about parents criticizing you for taking a stand, know that there are parents out there who completely support you.

Sincerely,

A grateful parent

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: woodleywonderworks. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

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Autism And Mental Health

I'm Blogging for Mental Health 2015.

My son George hops off the yellow school bus and bounds up the driveway with his fingers in his ears – a throwback to last summer, when the sound of the tree-feller’s chainsaw hurt his ears. He shucks off his backpack, removes the hoodie that he will not abandon even during the height of the summer, and kicks off his shoes. Then, and only then, am I permitted to talk to him.

“How was school?” I ask him, as I always do.

“School was fine,” he says, as he always does.

“What did you do today?”

He doesn’t reply. Instead he starts peering at the brim of his hat, or running a finger along the edge of the door frame.

“George?” I ask, needing to engage him before he gets too far into his own head. “What did you do at school today?”

“School was fine,” he mutters.

“Tell me one thing you did today.”

“Played outside,” he says, after a pause.

“And what did you do outside?” I ask, hoping I’m accomplishing the tone of gentle persistence that I’m going for. He cannot feel forced, but he needs to know that I’m not giving up on this conversation. It’s a delicate balance some days.

“Kicked the soccer ball,” he says.

“Wow, that sounds like fun!” I say effusively.

Sensing that he’s fulfilled his obligation to talk, he runs off to turn on his computer. I sit on the stairs for a moment, feeling both exhausted and elated by the fact that I actually had a conversation – albeit a brief one – with my son. For most kids, this kind of exchange would not be a big deal. For George, it is.

George, now eleven years old, was diagnosed with autism when he was three. We had him assessed because he wasn’t talking, and even though he has come a long way since then, his speech and communication skills are far below those of his typically developing peers. This comes with a number of challenges, but there is one challenge in particular that I have never really spoken about.

How do I know if he’s OK?

I’m not talking about “OK” in the physical sense. George is able to tell me when he feels sick, or when a part of his body is hurting. He has even started to identify emotions, telling me when he’s sad or angry.

What I’m talking about is whether he’s “OK” from a mental health perspective. With my younger son, who is typically developing, it’s fairly simple. I have conversations with him, I talk to him about how he’s feeling, and from his natural expressiveness I can get a sense of whether everything is all right or not. I am well aware that childhood depression is a very real problem, I know what signs to look out for, and I have a reasonable degree of certainty that I would recognize it in my younger son.

With George, it’s a little more complicated, and from a statistical standpoint, it’s more of a concern. Individuals with developmental disabilities are more likely than the general population to experience mental illness, but they are less likely to be diagnosed, because it’s less likely that the people around them will realize that something is wrong. George, with his speech delays, does not have the words or the cognitive functioning to describe depression in a way that would enable me to recognize it.

Even the behavioural cues present in typically developing children may be different for those with special needs. It is easy – far too easy – to blame everything on autism. When a child with autism has a meltdown, or starts to cry for no reason, or gets lost inside his or her own head, everyone assumes it’s because of the autism. That is not unreasonable: in many cases, it is because of the autism.

But what about those times when it isn’t? What about the times when a child is banging his head against the wall because his mind is in a dark, desolate place and he doesn’t know how to express it? What if the other-worldliness is not symptomatic of autism, but of withdrawal? What if no-one realizes that depression has become the child’s companion, because in their well-meaning attempts to manage the autism, they just haven’t thought to consider anything else?

These concerns are part of what drives me to try to have conversations with George. Every single thing he can tell me – no matter how small it might seem – is like a golden nugget that I treasure. I lavishly praise his attempts to communicate, and every day, I encourage him to tell me something – anything – that happened to him that day. It is my hope that if, at some point, anything is going on in his life or in his mind that he needs help with, that will be the thing he tells me about that day.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle, written for APA’s Mental Health Blog Day. Picture attributed to the American Psychological Association.