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Robin Williams And The Tragedy Of Depression

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Last night, for the first time ever, I cried over a celebrity’s death. My tears had nothing to do with the loss of such an immense talent – although I have been a Robin Williams fan for decades – and everything to do with the fact that another life has been lost to mental illness.

I suspect that I am not alone. I suspect that right now, people all over the globe are relating to the drowning feeling of depression that drove Robin Williams to seek such a desperate escape. Several times since this tragic news broke, I have seen variations of one overriding question on my social media feeds: if a man with the financial resources of a celebrity could not find the help that he needed, what hope is there for the rest of us?

The truth is that while money can buy therapy, it does not buy the understanding of those around us. I started seeing my therapist four years ago, and although it has undoubtedly helped me, the benefits I have gained have been severely restricted by the stigmas and misconceptions that surround mental illness to this day. A number of conditions have to be met in order for therapy to truly work. The right therapist is one. Adequate support and understanding in your daily life is another.

It’s not to say that people don’t care – it’s just that many of them don’t understand. If I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve been told that depression is not a “real” illness, I’d had enough for an entire team of therapists.

I’ve written about the misconceptions surrounding depression before, but they are worth repeating, especially now that Robin Williams has put such a focus on it by taking his own life.

* When I am in the grip of depression, I cannot “snap out of it”. Asking someone to snap out of depression is like asking them to snap out of a heart attack.

* Depression is not to be equated with sadness. It cannot even be regarded as a severe form of sadness. Depression and sadness are two completely different things, in the same way that asthma and the common cold are two completely different things.

* Suicide is not a selfish, cowardly act. It is the act of someone who is desperate to get away from a terrible, desolate, frightening situation, and who sees no other escape route.

* Contrary to a popular Facebook meme, people with depression are not “focused on the past”, and they will not magically cure themselves by living in the present.

* Sometimes, for some people, the right medication can lead to dramatic improvements in quality of life, but it’s not for everybody. Someone who refuses medication is not being stubborn. They might be afraid, or they might have learned from experience that it doesn’t work for them.

* A person with depression is capable of smiling, laughing at jokes and having a good time with friends. If you see a picture of someone smiling, don’t say that they “can’t be that depressed”. Robin Williams himself is a perfect illustration of that.

This list is a drop in the bucket, but if we can shift peoples’ understanding on these few points, that will be a good start. If you suffer from depression, don’t be afraid to talk about it and ask for help. It’s really nothing to be ashamed of. If you know someone with depression, be there for them. One of the scariest things for a person with depression is the feeling of being alone in the world.

The death of Robin Williams is a great tragedy. It will be an even greater tragedy if we don’t learn something from it. If his death leads to greater awareness and understanding, and saves just one person from suicide – well, I think he would like that.

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

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Autism Is No Excuse

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A few weeks ago, there was a story in our local community newspaper about a boy with autism who had been asked to leave a restaurant, along with his mother. When I first read the headline – Autistic boy booted from restaurant – I felt outrage on behalf of the mother and child. But when I read the story, I found my sympathies shifting to the restaurant manager.

What happened was that a mother and her son with autism were eating at a fast food restaurant, and the child started melting down over something. He was shrieking and banging on the table, and at one point he grabbed a fistful of fries and threw them. The mother made little effort to soothe the child, saying, “He has autism. There’s nothing I can do.” When the manager politely asked her to leave, she complied, but in the aftermath she made a big deal of the fact that her son had been discriminated against because of his autism. The manager made a big deal of the fact that the child had been acting in a manner that was disruptive to other diners.

Anyone who’s been reading this blog for any length of time will know that I’ve dealt with my share of autism meltdowns. I’ve been that mother whose child kicks and screams in public places. I’ve been on the receiving end of the stares and comments, and on two occasions, I have had to offer to pay grocery stores for goods that have been damaged as a result of my son’s outbursts.

But my son’s autism does not entitle him to create a situation that disrupts the activities or enjoyment of other people. When he acts out in public, it’s for one of two reasons: either he is having an autism meltdown, or he’s acting like typical bratty kid. If he’s having an autism meltdown, it’s up to me to try and soothe him, either by removing him from the situation or by finding a way to divert his attention to something else. If he’s acting like a typical bratty kid, it’s up to me to discipline him and make it clear to him that bad behaviour is not acceptable.

Either way, it’s never OK for me to use my child’s disability as an excuse to let him behave in a way that impacts other people. He may have autism, but he still has to be held to a certain standard of behaviour, just like the rest of us. That restaurant manager was not reacting to the fact that the boy had autism. He was reacting to the child’s disruptive actions and the mother’s failure to do anything.

There was a story in the news a few years back about a child with autism who was removed from a plane under similar circumstances. He was lying in the aisle having a meltdown while the flight attendants and other passengers were trying to step over and around him. All attempts to get him settled in his seat were failing, and eventually the boy and his father were taken off the plane. My Facebook feed erupted in outrage as people accused the airline of discriminating against the boy with autism.

But really, what was the airline supposed to do? Delay the flight until the meltdown was over, which could have taken hours? Take off with a boy kicking and screaming in the aisle? Allow the behaviour to continue without regard for the safety of the flight attendants or passengers? My view was very unpopular, but I believe that the airline took the only action they really could. They would have done what they did whether the child had autism or not. In fact, from what I could glean from the story, the airline actually delayed their decision to remove the child because they had been made aware of his autism.

This subject reminds me of a conversation I had many years ago, when I was still in South Africa. I was talking to a co-worker about a high-profile murder case in which the accused had been convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Evidence against this individual had been overwhelming, in terms of forensics and witness accounts. My co-worker, a black man, told me that this man had been sent to prison just because he was black. I disagreed.

“No,” I said. “He’s been sent to prison because he killed four people.”

My co-worker did not dispute the fact that the man was guilty, but he was stuck on this idea that the outcome of the trial was symptomatic of racial discrimination. But what was the alternative? Should the judge have let the criminal walk free just to prove that he – the judge – wasn’t a racist?

Should flight attendants, restaurant managers and other people endure a child screaming and throwing things in public just to prove that they don’t discriminate against people with autism?

Discrimination in any way, shape or form is wrong. I do not condone racism, gender discrimination, homophobia or any kind of bias against people with disabilities. I am big on human rights and equality. I believe that accommodations should be made for members of minorities and people with disabilities where possible – like wheelchair accessible buildings, government services in multiple languages and alternative screening processes for job applicants with autism. But I also believe that everyone has a responsibility to be considerate to those around them.

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

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6 Reasons To Run The Durham Quarter Marathon

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Every year, my race calendar is a combination of the old and the new. Although I like exploring new races and new challenges, there are a handful of events that I put into my calendar every year. One of these is the Durham Quarter Marathon, or DQM. This event has all of the right ingredients, like great organization, a scenic course and a great cause.

This year I was kind of bummed, because I came down with a nasty cold several days before the race. For most of the week, it looked doubtful that I would be able to run, and it and touch and go right up until the night before the race. Fortunately, though, my immune system did what it does best, and I woke up on the morning of the race feeling  just a tiny bit congested but otherwise fine.

I’ve missed races due to illness or injury before, and it’s never fun. This event in particular is one that I never want to miss (the only race that I hate missing even more is my annual autism fundraising run). Here are some reasons why I love this race so much, and why I believe all runners in the GTA need to try it out at least once.

1. DQM raises funds for a cause that I am absolutely in love with. The Refuge is a place in Oshawa that helps homeless youth. They provide meals, basic supplies, clean clothing and a place for homeless teens to go. DQM does not merely support this cause by putting logos everywhere. The organizers provide a very practical way for runners to make a real difference. Instead of getting one of those reusable shopping bags that runners already have too many of, you get the race kit in a small cardboard box, which you can then fill with supplies and return to The Refuge at a later date.

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2. DQM is one of the smaller events. It does not have the massive numbers of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, or the Yonge Street 10K. This means two things: you don’t have to fight ridiculous crowds in order to be squeezed into your corral, and the race has a wonderful community feel. When you run DQM, you feel like you’re running with friends. That community spirit travels with you along the entire course.

3. The course is absolutely marvelous. The run starts at the Oshawa City Hall (just a block away from free covered parking), and it runs along the Oshawa Creek and the Waterfront Trail. The last little bit offers a lovely unimpeded view of the lake. It’s a net downhill course, which means that the start is at a higher elevation than the finish. There’s something in it for runners of all levels – a nice combination of ease and challenge. There are a couple of decent uphill stretches in the second half, and a lovely little downhill right at the end, so that runners can build up good momentum for a sprint to the finish line.

4. The logistics of this race are so well organized that it’s impossible not to enjoy the experience. The 6K and 7K markers may have been slightly off, but apart from that, the course was well marked. There were four aid stations along the course, spaced fairly evenly. The organizers also provide bag check facilities, and for runners needing to get back to the start area, a free shuttle bus. Not one of those old school buses that make you feel like you’re being spanked whenever you go over a bump in the road, but a nice comfy city bus.

5. There’s a great finish line vibe. This year I loved the finish line announcer. He was announcing and encouraging runners as they sprinted down the final stretch, and he managed to make everyone feel like a champion. The atmosphere was one of support and celebration. I felt a tremendous sense of collective goodwill as I wandered around the finish line area picking up my bag and getting my post-race banana.

6. I appreciate a good coincidence as much as the next person, but how could you not love a race where you can take a picture of last year’s bib and this year’s bib that looks like this? Who knows – maybe if I run this race often enough, I’ll have a nice little collection of Lucky Number 7′s.

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This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Finish line shot is credited to the organizers of DQM. Shots of the bibs and the race kit box label are credited to the author.

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Courage Under Fire: Perspectives Of An Israeli Mother

Not long ago, on a really bad day, I told someone that parenting a child with autism was like living in a war zone. When I look at what’s going on in the world around me, I realize that that is a ridiculous and insensitive comparison. I mean, I have the privilege of living in Canada – one of the richest places in the world, a country teeming with opportunity, that truly believes in peace and human rights. There are people who are parenting their children in actual war zones, like my friend and fellow writer Susie Newday. She lives in Israel, and she has graciously agreed to share her perspectives here on my humble blog. Please read, and share, because this is a story that really needs to be told.

courageisfireSometimes I manage an unplanned escape from the reality around me. I manage to forget about the reality in which air raid sirens are going off and depending where you live in the country you have between 15-90 seconds to get to a safe room or a bomb shelter before a rocket might hit. Most of the time we’re lucky, the Iron Dome Missile Defense System blasts the rockets in mid-air and all that’s left to worry about is shrapnel. Not that shrapnel is safe, it was deadly enough to kill a Thai worker today.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m not an old person who can’t run to shelter. I’m not a parent of a special needs child who has a hard time coping with change. I don’t live in the south where there has been a massive barrage after barrage of rockets. There, a whole decade of children have grown up with unexpected yet consistent rocket attacks, even after Israel displaced 10,000 Israeli citizens in 2005 and withdrew from Gaza.

Like many people in Israel, we didn’t really understand what our fellow citizens from the south were living through, until the rockets starting raining down on Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Herzilia, Haifa and many more cities. Just imagine New York City, Paris, London or Ottawa being fired upon with even one rocket, let alone multiple non stop rockets. Would the governments of any of those countries go even one day without trying to wipe out the terrorists responsible? I think not. But for years Israel has not responded, because we don’t want to go to war.

In less than a month, there have been over 2000 rockets fired at Israel from Gaza by Hamas terrorists. Terrorists who hate us more than they love their children. They shoot the rockets from schools and hospitals while their children watch and are being unwittingly used as human shields. They build extensive tunnels originating under mosques, schools and residential buildings. Tunnels that cross underground into Israel with openings right near playgrounds and houses. Tunnels that have been used for terror attacks.

It’s odd how in just two weeks time, sirens and running for shelter or crouching on the ground with your hands over your head, have become routine for me, even when a rocket, not shrapnel lands less than a ten minute drive away. Because I have the luxury of 60-90 seconds to find shelter, when a siren goes off, I am not in a hurry or panic, the way the citizens of the south are.

“I was shaking from fear.” my 8 year old daughter told me about her first experience with a siren. They were rushed by their counselor in summer camp into a safe room and read psalms together.

She started refusing to go upstairs by herself because “what happens if there is a siren.”

And when we finally convinced her it was okay, while she was taking a bath one evening, the siren went off and my husband ran to yank her out of her bath and run with her to our safe room. As soon as we closed the door there were a few loud booms. You are supposed to stay in the safe room/shelter for 10 minutes. We waited impatiently, everyone checking their cell phones for news hoping that there were no casualties or damage. Then my husband remembered that he forgot to shut off the bathtub and he went upstairs to close the water.

And I wonder what kind of world we live in that I need to have a special concrete and metal fortified safe room.

Sometimes when the TV and radio are off and I’m not on Facebook, I can forget the collective unbearable pain of my country and its citizens. So far my heart has stopped 32 times, with the announcement of the death of each soldier.

My second son is in an elite urban warfare combat unit as is my nephew. My other nephew is in a tank in Gaza. But even if my son and nephews weren’t soldiers, the pain would be no less unbearable. I cry for the loss of tomorrow, for the future that will never be. I cry for the over 150 soldiers who have been injured and for the families who will never be the same. I cry for the innocent civilians on both sides who are being injured and killed because of extremist Islamic radicals who only know hate. They don’t care about their own people, all they care about is killing Jews and wiping the State of Israel off the map.

When the television and radio are turned off I can sometimes pretend that I’m not living in limbo and uncertainty. When the sirens don’t go off at work and I don’t have to round up my oncology patients hooked up to their IV chemotherapy and escort them to a safe room, I can sometimes forget the reality that I’m living in a tiny country hated so much by so many. The only democratic country being condemned over and over by people who claim they are pro human rights. As Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of UN Watch said on July 15, 2014:

“If in the past year you didn’t CRY OUT when thousands of protesters were killed and injured by Turkey, Egypt and Libya, when more victims than ever were hanged by Iran, women and children in Afghanistan were bombed, whole communities were massacred in South Sudan, 1800 Palestinians were starved and murdered by Assad in Syria, hundreds in Pakistan were killed by jihadist terror attacks, 10,000 Iraqis were killed by terrorists, villagers were slaughtered in Nigeria, but you ONLY cry out for GAZA, then you are not pro HUMAN RIGHTS, you are only ANTI-ISRAEL.”

And he is right. As Dennis Prager said: “As hard as it is for modern, rational and irreligious people to accept, Israel’s Jewishness is a primary reason for the hatred of it. ”

Yet even with all the pain and uncertainty and fear, I feel proud. Proud to be an Israeli, proud of my sons, daughters and countrymen. I am proud of the ethical and compassionate army we have, the only army in the world who puts their our own soldiers’ safety at risk in order to minimize civilian casualties. The only army that spends days warning civilians to evacuate, dropping leaflets in Arabic and making phone calls. They do all this at the expense of tactical surprise. Bombing strikes are called off when there are civilians in the vicinity, called off leaving the units on the ground with less support than they should have.

I want evil wiped out. I want peace, real peace, not one sided concessions. I want to be able to raise my children in security and without fear. And sadly it seems like a far fetched dream. If someone hates you for your religion or country, how will they ever see past that hate to get to know you as a person? How will they ever see that you are a mother or father like they are?

I pray in my heart that one person at a time can bring about change. I pray that one connection at a time with people different than myself will bring about an ever growing ripple that can and will change the tide of hate and war.

I pray for the day when no nation will want to go to war against another because we will all live in peace.

Susie Newday is a happily married mother of 5. Born in the USA, she moved to Israel at age 21 when she was pregnant with her second child. By profession she is an RN, and now works in outpatient oncology after 15 years as an ER nurse. For fun she loves to take photos, write, drive people crazy on Facebook and of course to write. You can find her musings in many places including on her blog New Day New Lesson as well as World Moms Blog.

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Motherhood And Careers: Stop the Judging

When I was growing up, stay-at-home moms were the norm. My own mother stopped working when my brother and I entered the picture, and apart from a brief part-time stint at a bank when I was a teenager, she never re-entered the workforce. In those days, most workplaces were strongly male-dominated, and my mother and her contemporaries were educated at a time when options for women were limited. In any case, my father’s salary was generous enough to allow my mother to stay home.

Today, the world is quite different. With a few rare exceptions, women have the same options as men where it comes to career choices. With a burgeoning child care industry to make things easier, many mothers are choosing to balance careers with parenting and family obligations. For some it’s not a choice: many families need two incomes in order to survive.

While the ability to choose has, I believe, been good for women, it has had the effect of dividing mothers into two camps: those who stay home and those who don’t. Most of the mothers I know are quite willing to live and let live, and recognize that the choices they make might not be right for other families. But both groups have members that level insults and judgments at one another.

Having been on both sides of the coin, I have been on the receiving end of insults from all directions. As a stay-at-home mom who didn’t have two nickels to rub together, I was accused of being lazy and unambitious, as if I was sitting on my couch doing nothing all day. I was told that I was taking advantage of the “luxury of staying home with the children” when I should have been working and earning a living to provide for my family.

In another blog post, I might discuss just how luxurious it is to spend all day, every day with a baby and a toddler. Spoiler alert: it’s not.

As a mom who worked outside the home, I was told that I was dumping my kids at daycare and letting strangers raise my sons. “No mother has to work,” the holier-than-thous suddenly started spouting. “All you have to do is cut back a little and you’ll be able to live on one income.”

I hate to break it to you, but watching kids for a few hours a day during the week does not equate to raising them. And if you want me to cut back, I can do that. It’ll just mean not feeding my kids or buying them new shoes when they outgrow their old ones, but you know, no biggie.

I am in a different group now, a relatively new group that is gaining traction: the work-at-home moms. These moms are the ones who run businesses from their homes. We tend to be on the receiving end not of insults, but of envy. Apparently, we are “lucky” to be able work and be with our children at the same time. People envisage us working peacefully while Junior sits quietly on the carpet beside us playing with his Lego.

The reality, of course, is very different. This is what I look like when I’m working:

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When there’s not a child jumping on my head, there are two children wrestling with each other or seeing who can scream the loudest. More often than not, the bulk of my work happens at night, after the kids are asleep. It works out all right. I mean, I don’t need to sleep myself, do I?

Here’s the thing: why do we even bother to make the distinction? Whether you stay home with the kids or go out to work, whether you work out of choice or economic necessity, does it really matter? Shouldn’t we be less concerned about judging the choices of other moms and more concerned about doing what’s right for our own families? Shouldn’t we embrace the differences in how we raise our kids instead of trying to shoehorn everybody into the same way of thinking?

What do you think? Is the difference between stay-at-home moms, work-outside-the-home moms and work-at-home moms important?

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

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8 Things I’d Like To Say To Those Who Hate Gay People

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A few days ago, one of my Facebook friends sent me a private message berating me for my pro-gay stance. The author of the message wanted to know how I, as a parent, could possibly condone “the unnatural, animalistic behaviour of those people”. Here’s an excerpt from my response:

While I respect that you may have differing opinions to me, I have to admit that I am confused by your message. How can any behaviour be both unnatural and animalistic? Do those two words not contradict each other? After all, when people want to learn about nature, they observe the behaviour of animals.

I added that anyone who was so deeply offended by my views was welcome to delete me as a contact, and that I would bear no ill feelings if this was the case. The person concerned did exactly that, and it didn’t bother me. It’s not the first time I’ve lost a friend over this particular issue.

About a decade ago, my husband and I were having lunch with a friend who let slip that he hates gay people. He told us that as a college student, he had participated in gay-bashing incidents, and that to this day, he was proud of that. The friendship pretty much ended then and there. As the sister of a gay man, I was deeply offended. I cannot possibly be friends with a person who would beat up my brother and then brag about it.

For some reason, those in the anti-gay camp keep challenging me on my opinions. Here are a few things I would like to say to people who insist on hating gay folks. Hopefully it will answer some of the questions that I get asked about this issue.

1. I don’t care what the Bible says. Not everyone follows the Bible, and even if you do, you should consider that persecuting gay people is not something that Jesus would do.

2. Being gay is not a choice. Gay people don’t decide to be gay any more than you decide to be straight. In fact, gay people often decide to be straight in order to make society happy, and more often than not, the consequences are tragic.

3. I don’t care what gay people get up to in the bedroom. I don’t care what you get up to in the bedroom, so why should I give a damn about what they do? It’s none of my business, and it’s none of yours either.

4. It won’t bother me if one of my kids turns out to be gay. If my boys are happy, and if their relationships are based on mutual respect, why should I care?

5. Gay people can parent children just as well as anyone else. The research bears this out. One study after another has shown that a child’s outcomes have nothing whatsoever to do with the sexual orientation of his or her parents.

6. The children of gay parents are not more likely to be gay themselves. And if they were, so what?

7. Gay marriage has been legal in Canada since 2005. The sanctity of traditional marriage is doing just fine, and so far, the “slippery slope” has not resulted in anyone wanting to have sex with their neighbour’s goat.

8. Gay people do not try to “convert” straight people. Just because a gay man is seen talking to a straight man, that doesn’t mean he’s chatting him up. It just means he’s having a conversation with another human being.

I respect that other people have opinions that differ from mine, but I have to admit to some bafflement in this area. Why do people care so much about the personal lives of others? I always say that if you’re opposed to gay marriage, don’t marry a gay person.

Live and let live. It really is that simple.

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

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Why Parents Of Newly Diagnosed Kids Should Stay Away From Google

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Seven years ago, after an assessment that had gone on for a month, a doctor told me that my son had autism. I went home from that appointment and did what many people would do: I sat at my computer, went onto Google and typed in autism. I started reading and didn’t stop until my husband dragged me to bed with red eyes and an aching back in the early hours of the morning. A pattern started: I would wake up early, read about autism, go to work, come home, read about autism, do mom stuff, put the kids to bed, and read about autism until I was stopped or until I fell asleep at my desk.

After almost a month of this, my doctor – a different one – handed me a prescription for antidepressants, talked me down from a frightening ledge, and gave me a thirty-day ban from looking up anything autism-related on my computer. Looking back, I wish I had seen my doctor sooner. That ban that he imposed on me probably saved me from complete insanity.

When a child is diagnosed with something, the parents instinctively want to find out as much as they can about the condition. They operate under the belief that knowledge is power, and that constant research will yield solutions and methods and answers. In reality, all the constant research yields is more questions and confusion, along with a good dollop of guilt.

Here’s the problem with online research. When you do a Google search of autism, this is what you get:

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If you are in that surreal, mind-altered state that comes immediately after your child’s diagnosis, you have no idea how to refine that search. You are so desperate for any information at all that you cannot tell the facts from the fiction, so you just assume that everything you read is true. As a result, you start believing all of those articles that say you caused your child’s autism by vaccinating, or by cooking the wrong foods, or by using bug spray while you were pregnant.

At the same time, you find conflicting information about what you’re supposed to do. How do you choose from a wide range of therapeutic approaches, all of which claim to be the be-all and end-all? Do you medicate or not? Do you start imposing special diets, or do you stick to what you know your child will eat? Do you impose a strict routine to make things easier for your child, or do you switch things up a little in an effort to replicate the “real” world? Do you believe the miracle-cure claims of people who promote hyperbaric oxygen therapy, massive doses of Vitamin D or – God help us – chelation therapy?

The thing is, all of that obsessive research is not necessary. When children are diagnosed with autism or some other condition, most doctors will give the parents a bundle of papers to read: print-outs of articles, information sheets, a diagnostic report containing information and recommendations. In the early days, while you are processing the shock of the diagnosis, that is enough. You have to give yourself time to settle your head before you start going nuts on the Internet. If you absolutely cannot resist the compulsion to do online research, don’t use Google. Ask your doctor for a list of recommended links, and restrict yourself to those.

After a bit of time has passed, you do get to a point where you can do a focused search for information. You get to know which of your child’s quirks are indicative of his or her autism, and you discover what sets off meltdowns and episodes of sensory overload. You are able to conduct your research based not on a distressed response to devastating news, but on a calm assessment of your child’s unique needs and challenges.

In the beginning, though, you don’t need that. What you need more than anything is to be kind to yourself.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Google search screenshot by the author. Header image attributed to Valeriy Osipov. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

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Training Roundup: Pictures Of A Waterfront Run

I am fortunate to live in a city that has beautiful scenery right on my doorstep, and this morning I decided to take advantage of it during my long run. I ran 22K, and while the run itself was kind of ugly, the views I got to feast my eyes on were most definitely not. This week’s training roundup is given over completely to the photographs I took during my run.

Wildflowers on the river bank

Wildflowers on the river bank

The bridge from Rouge Valley to the Waterfront Trail

The bridge from Rouge Valley to the Waterfront Trail

 

Juxtaposition of man and nature

Juxtaposition of man and nature

Waving at my friends in the United States

Waving at my friends in the United States

 

Canada Geese out for a Sunday swim

Canada Geese out for a Sunday swim

A bit early for the lifeguards

A bit early for the lifeguards

 

Shadows on a bridge

Shadows on a bridge

Lush greenery beside the lake

Lush greenery beside the lake

 

Enjoying the shade over the bridge

Enjoying the shade over the bridge

A view along the trail

A view along the trail

 

Motivational graffiti

Motivational graffiti

Looking up at the bluffs

Looking up at the bluffs

 

Standing out from the crowd

Standing out from the crowd

More colourful flowers

More colourful flowers

 

Playgrounds are for the birds

Playgrounds are for the birds

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Credit for all photographs to the author.

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Race Report: Toronto Runway Run

When I found out that a race was happening on an airport runway, there was no way I was going to miss it. It would be flat, it would be fun, and it would be super-cool. Hopefully, it would also be fast: I haven’t had a personal best for a while, and this seemed like a good opportunity to try for one. I asked my friend Phaedra, who won the women’s race last year, what I should expect from the run.

“There will be wind,” she said ominously.

Well, all right. So I had a good chance of running in the one weather condition that I actually hate, but never mind. A bad run on a runway would still be way cooler than most other runs. It was certainly cold and windy when I arrived at the airport, but there was plenty of shelter for everyone in the hangar that was used for the occasion. Some brave souls wandered outside and stood shivering as they drank their coffee. I was content to stay on the inside and look out.

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I did go out briefly, to take pictures of the firetrucks. I knew that if my eight-year-old son found out that there had been firetrucks that I hadn’t taken pictures of, I wouldn’t be allowed into the house ever again.

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Back inside the hangar, I wandered around looking at the tables and displays set up by the sponsors. I was impressed by how this event catered for families. There were games and activities for kids, and the event itself included a 2K and a 5K, both of which welcomed children and babies in strollers. Then there were the people dressed up as planes, who proved to be very popular among kids and adults.

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After the pre-race talks, runners were led out to the runway. An Air Canada plane was parked near the start/finish line. Someone near me wondered out loud if we were going to race the plane.

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By the time the race started, it had warmed up to a pleasant temperature and the wind had lessened. I was able to establish a good pace from the start, and I maintained it throughout. As expected, the course was absolutely level, which made it really easy on the legs. The surface was as perfect as a surface can possibly be – kudos go to whoever keeps the runways in such pristine condition.

As I ran, there were planes taking off and landing on a runway parallel to the race. I imagined the passengers looking out of the windows and seeing hundreds of runners right beside them. I wondered what they must have been thinking.

I probably started a little too fast, because I did start to tire near the end. Still, I managed a time of 29:25, missing my 5K personal best by just six seconds. I felt a little queasy the way I often do after going all-out for a 5K, but the feeling soon passed, and I was able to enjoy the awesome finish line atmosphere.

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This race is definitely one that I will want to repeat. If my younger son keeps up his interest in running, he will probably join me next year. He would love an opportunity to get one of the cool finisher’s medals.

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

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The Flea In The Bottle

George and his dad, enjoying the concert

George and his dad, enjoying the concert

A long time ago, I heard a story about a flea that was put into a bottle. Since fleas are capable of jumping something like 30 times their own body length, the lid had to be put onto the bottle in order to contain the flea. Whenever the flea jumped, it dinged itself on the bottom of the lid, and eventually it figured out how to jump to a level just below the lid. After a period of time, the lid was removed, and the flea was free to go. But by now, it could no longer jump high enough to escape from the bottle. The physical capability was there, but the flea had the expectation that if jumped any higher, it would get hurt.

The story is a metaphor, of course. It’s supposed to illustrate the idea that we perform not according to our abilities, but according to the expectations we have, that are put there by ourselves or by someone else.

When George was diagnosed with autism seven years ago, I promised myself that I would never put a lid on my expectations of him. I would ensure that he had whatever opportunities he needed to learn and grow, and to discover what he might be capable of.

This strategy has not always been easy to follow, but it appears to have been reasonably successful. Over the years, periods of rapid progress have alternated with disheartening plateaus. Lately we have been experiencing the latter, and my husband and I have been having some depressing conversations about George’s limitations.

In the midst of all of this, my other son James has been preparing for his school’s spring concert, which happened this evening. In the past, we have left George at home with his grandma on occasions like this. Sometimes crowds and excitement overwhelm him, and we don’t want to stress him out or wreck things for James. Tonight, however, Grandma was unable to watch George, so we had to bring him with us.

While we were standing outside the school waiting for the doors to open, George was already getting antsy. My husband and I spoke about which one of us would leave with him, and which one would stay behind to watch James. In the end, we decided to see how long George would last for, so we went in and took a seat.

The concert started with the 8th Grade band. As soon as the music started, a huge smile appeared on George’s face, and he started swaying in time to the beat. He briefly clapped his hands over his ears when the drumming started, but for the most part he stayed calm. He even started singing along when the band played We Will Rock You.

The folk-dancing act that James was participating in was quite late in the program, and throughout the whole concert, George was sitting calmly, listening to the music and clearly enjoying himself. From time to time he would bop up and down in time to the music.

When James and the rest of the folk dancers came out, I scooted to the other side of the auditorium to get a clear shot with my phone’s video camera. While the dancing was going on, I turned my head to see how George was doing. To my astonishment, he was standing beside his seat, trying to imitate the moves of the dancers. As his hat-bedecked head bopped and jived in time to the music, my husband caught my eye and gave me a thumbs-up. For a few moments, I swung the camera around to capture some of his dancing.

We left soon after James was done with his performance. George was brimming with happiness, but we could tell that he was ready to leave. We took the boys to McDonalds to reward both of them for a job well done.

Now, as they settle into bed for the night, I cannot help reflecting on the fact that if my mother-in-law hadn’t had a prior appointment, George would have stayed home and we would have missed the opportunity to see him having such a wonderful time. This has renewed my resolve to keep testing his limits and pushing him beyond his boundaries. I don’t want to put a lid on my expectations of him, or his expectations of himself. I don’t want him to be that flea that is conditioned into lowering its potential.

I want George to dream big, and to fly as high and as far as he dares to go.

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