7 Misconceptions About Suicide That Have To Go


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.


8 Things That Large-Breasted Runners Will Understand


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. 


Electrotherapy TENS Unit: Effective Pain Relief From Omron


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


A grateful parent

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


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.





Sporting Life 10K: Lessons From A Tough Race

Sporting Life 10K - before the race

Sporting Life 10K Start Line

On Sunday, I ran my first race of 2015. It was the Sporting Life 10K, a massive event that takes over 25,000 runners down Toronto’s iconic Yonge Street. I was just a little bit apprehensive going into the race, because my training has been somewhat sporadic of late. I have been doing my weekly long runs, but the shorter mid-week runs have been on-again/off-again. I have done a little bit of speed training, but no hill training whatsoever. As for strength training – well, that hasn’t even been a gleam in my eye.

Still, I thought this race would be fairly easy. My weekly long runs have had me doing distances longer than 10K, and I figured that since the Sporting Life 10K is basically a downhill run, my lack of hill training wouldn’t matter. The race did in fact start very well, and the first 5K went quite quickly. As soon as I ran over the halfway timing mats, though, the wheels started to fall off, and I ran the second half about three minutes slower than the first. I finished with an official time of 1:07:02, which is nowhere close to my best time. In fact, it’s probably one of my worst.

My spirits were somewhat lifted yesterday morning when I checked my race stats and saw that I still managed to come in just a fraction ahead of the middle of the pack. I was comfortably in the top 50% of women, and in my category – women aged 45-49 – I was in the top third. I’m not under any illusion that I actually did well – I’ve run this same course almost seven minutes faster – but these stats do tell me that race conditions were difficult on Sunday.

For a start, it was a lot hotter than I thought it was going to be. I have a feeling many people were caught off-guard by this. Everyone has been training in mild temperatures: being hit with blazing sun on race day would affect the performance of most runners. Then there was the fact that there were so many people. Even allowing for the fact that runners were released in corrals 15 minutes apart, there were still thousands of runners in each corral. During the early stages of the race, and to extent later on, I was doing a great deal of ducking and weaving to get past people who were slower than me. It took a lot of energy and it made it very difficult for me to find any kind of rhythm.

So maybe I did OK in light of the conditions.

But still… I have come to expect more of myself. I am intending to run a 2:15:00 half-marathon in October, and I will not do it with the half-baked efforts that I have been putting into my training. I am a runner. It’s time for me to start acting like one.

Sunday’s race woke me up to some things that I have to change. Immediately.

1. I have to step up my training. I am not going to become a better runner if I’m not consistent about it. Yes, life is very stressful right now and yes, time is a big issue for me. But for several years now, I have been very low on my own priority list. It’s time for me to devote more time to my health. All it takes is a couple of hours on Sundays and an hour on four other days each week. If I cannot manage to carve out six hours a week for exercise, then I’m just making excuses.

2. I have to resume my oatmeal breakfasts. I need to fix my eating habits in general, but I’m not expecting myself to accomplish that overnight. What I can do overnight, though, is bring back one simple routine that was healthy not only for me, but for the rest of my family.

3. I have to get more sleep. I have reached the point where six hours counts as “a good night’s sleep”, and I am experiencing permanent bone-crushing exhaustion.

4. I have to get a sports bra that fits properly. The chafing that I go through after every run is excruciating. The longer or harder the run, the worse the chafing. On Sunday afternoon, the feeling of clothing against my skin was making me cry.

5. I need to make a proper display of my bib numbers and finisher’s medals. Seeing the distances that I have run and the bling that I have earned will keep me motivated and remind me of what I am capable of.

6. I have to regroup, reset and make a new plan. For the last few weeks, I have been scrambling to train for a half-marathon on May 24th. This is a hard thing to admit, but people, I’m not going to do it. I could do it. I know that I have the physical ability, at my current level of fitness, to complete the distance. But it will be with a lot of pain and anxiety, and I wouldn’t enjoy it. As soon as I feel dread rather than excitement about an upcoming race, it’s time for me to bow out. And so I have transferred my registration to another race in the series, and I am plotting out a new training plan that will take me to a fabulous half-marathon in October.

As I contemplate the races that I have coming up, and the new plans that I am making, I can already feel the excitement building in my gut. I can feel that once again, I am going to run for the love of running.

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



In Defense Of Ontario’s Sex Education Curriculum


I was educated at a girls-only Catholic school run by nuns. Our sex education was fairly basic and had a singular message: we weren’t to have sex, or engage in any physical contact with boys. When we did start having sex – only after marriage, of course – the only form of contraception we could use was the rhythm method. Every sperm was sacred, and all of them had to be given a chance. Sex was there for procreation only. If we could manage to avoid enjoying it, so much the better.

The concept of “safe sex” was never taught – why would it be, when abstinence was the word of the decade? Our sex education did not comprehensively cover the area of consent, and if anyone had even mentioned respect for gay rights, the nuns would have had a heart attack.

The simple truth is that we were not told enough, and we suffered for it. I mean, we knew about the mechanics of sex. Most of us had mothers who did a good job of preparing us for menstruation, and we knew that if the sperm hit the egg, pregnancy would result. We had a good grasp on the biology of it all. But sex is so much more than biology, isn’t it?

No-one thought to tell us about body image and self-esteem – if anything, we were all encouraged to be skinny so that we could appeal to the boys we were forbidden from having physical contact with. We were given no information about how to reduce our risk of sexually transmitted diseases, or where to access birth control. Any discussion about rape was centred around two themes: how we had to make sure we didn’t “ask for it” (the clear implication being that rape victims were responsible for the crimes committed against them – an attitude that is frighteningly prevalent even today), and how abortion was not acceptable even if the pregnancy was a result of rape.

When I look back at the quote-unquote “sex education” that I received at school, I cannot help being utterly befuddled by the current spate of protests against Ontario’s sex education curriculum. If me and my peers had had access to the information being taught today, many of us might have been better equipped than we were to navigate the world of sex and relationships.

Those protesting the Ontario sex education curriculum are tossing around some statements that are either untrue or unreasonable. Here are some of the prizewinners and my responses:

They are teaching young children how to consent to sex. No, they are NOT. They are teaching young children that nobody has the right to hug them, touch them or have any kind of physical contact with them without their consent. They are teaching them how to tell what kind of touching is never OK, and what they should do if they find themselves in a difficult situation. They are teaching them that they, and they alone, are in charge of their bodies.

They are giving graphic information about sex to grade schoolers. Sorry, but teaching a child the proper terms for their genitals does not count as “graphic information about sex”.

Sex education is the job of parents, not the schools. Some kids are fortunate enough to have parents they can have completely frank discussions with. Others have parents who tell them nothing. Most kids fall somewhere in the middle. Their parents have the best intentions, but they – the kids – need to be able to talk to another trusted adult about some delicate issues. Having an organized sex education curriculum ensures that all kids have access to information that is really important. Besides, what would you rather have? Kids learning from people who are trained to teach them, or kids learning from each other and from Google?

They are teaching kids about masturbation. Look, it’s not like they’re giving illustrated how-to manuals to Kindergartners. They are merely teaching young adolescents that exploring their bodies is a normal part of life and that it’s not something to be ashamed of. Quite frankly, what they’re teaching about masturbation now is less graphic than what they taught four or five decades ago.

The sex education curriculum needs to be respectful of our religious freedoms, and we believe that homosexuality is a sin. Actually, no, the curriculum does not need to be respectful of “religious freedoms”. It needs to be consistent with the laws of Canada, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

But it’s wrong to teach that homosexuality is normal. Our kids are growing up in a society that has many versions of “normal”. There are traditional households with a man, a woman, two-point-four children and a dog named Rover. There are single moms and single dads, blended families, gay parents. We live in one of the most diverse societies in the world, and our education system has to reflect that.

I don’t see why I have to subject my child to this sex education curriculum. Ah, but you don’t. You have the choice to opt your children out of the sex education curriculum. You have the choice to make your child sit alone in the library while his or her peers are learning about the realities of life.

What are your views about sex education? If you live in Ontario, what do you think of the curriculum?

This is an original post for Running For Autism by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: QuotesEverlasting. This pictures has a creative commons attribution license.


Autism Advocacy: 8 Survival Tips For Parents


Yesterday, I shared my family’s recent success at securing a good Grade 7/8 program for my son, who has autism. The short version of the story is that my husband and I knew immediately that the program George was slated for would be very bad, not only for him but for his classmates. And so we went to bat for the kids. Over a period of seven months, we had meetings and phone calls with all kinds of people in the school board. A couple of weeks ago, George’s principal called to tell us that a Grade 7/8 program was being introduced in his current school. The news could not have been better. We would have been OK with a good program at any school, but George’s current school, which is fantastic in so many ways, was definitely the prize we were hoping for.

George was diagnosed with autism seven years ago. In that time, I have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to fighting in his corner. Here are some of the big ones.

1. Know what your child’s rights are. Don’t go into any meeting with your child’s teacher, principal or any school board representative without having a clear idea of what you are entitled to ask for on behalf of your child. A few pointers: in Ontario, you cannot be forced to homeschool, you cannot be forced to relocate and you cannot be forced to accept a shortened school day. Your child is entitled to an education in a public school in his or her neighbourhood, with the same number of instructional hours as any other student, regardless of what his or her abilities or disabilities are.

2. Have a clear idea of your desired outcome. This is not always as easy as it sounds. Sometimes we simply want things to be different, or better. You have to ask yourself what that looks like. Perhaps you love the teacher but feel that extra assistance is needed. Maybe you simply want clearer IEP goals or better support during transitions. Or maybe you need a completely new direction for your child. Whatever it is, you have to know what you are aiming for. Ask yourself what the outcome would be if you got to be in charge of all the decisions.

3. But be prepared for compromise. This means knowing what you are prepared to settle for. In my case, first prize was a new program for George in his current school. There was always a chance that that wouldn’t happen, so we were prepared to settle for a good program at a different school. Aim for what you are really, really hoping for, but have some acceptable alternative scenarios kicking around in your mind as well.

4. And know what you will not accept. Sometimes, you may be offered a “solution” that just doesn’t work. You are not compelled to accept anything just because you’re told it’s the only option. What we were not prepared to accept was the program George was originally supposed to go to. We made that crystal clear early on in the discussions, and we did not budge. Negotiation is always key in discussions like this, but you have to be clear on the points that you will absolutely not move on.

5. Don’t go in looking for a fight. If you walk into the room assuming that the people you are meeting with are on the same side as you, the entire tone of the meeting can swing in your favour. The thing is, most of the time they will be on the same side as you. Advocating for your child does not always have to be a battle. Principals and teachers are caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they genuinely care (or they should) about the best interests of your child. On the other hand, they have to operate within rules and procedures that they cannot control. Show understanding towards them, and more often than not, they will show understanding towards you.

6. But don’t let anyone intimidate you. Look, from time to time you will encounter ass-hats. That’s just life. Smile serenely, know that if someone is being an ass-hat to you, they’re probably an ass-hat to everyone, and identify who your allies are. If there’s no ally in the room, politely tell them you need to reschedule the meeting, and go out and find an ally. You can bring anyone you like. You can even hire an advocacy consultant to accompany you. We were fortunate in that George’s principal was firmly on our side right from the start.

7. Remember that the special education community is small. No matter how frustrating the process is, no matter how badly you want to scream and swear, try your best to take the high road. People in the special education field tend to crop up again and again in different capacities. The person sitting opposite you today, whose head you badly want to rip off, could be in a position to help you three years from now. Don’t let anyone walk all over you, but keep your cool and stay polite.

8. Be persistent. If a meeting doesn’t yield acceptable results, call another one. If you agree on a course of action but something isn’t working, go back and see if something can be adjusted or tweaked. You are never obligated to just accept something for your child that is not working.

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


Autism, Advocacy And Hope

George writing wordsMy son George started Kindergarten just four short months after being diagnosed with autism. It was a bit of a terrifying time for me: I felt as if I had been thrown into this mysterious world full of mazes and obstacles with no map, no compass, and no fixed destination. I didn’t know where I was supposed to be going or how I was going to get there. I had no idea how to navigate the terrain of special education.

Over the seven years between then and now, we have had to do our bits of advocacy, but for the most part, George’s time at school has been very positive. He has had a series of compassionate, competent teachers and every year, we have seen progress. We have kind of breezed through the K-to-6 years feeling good about George’s education.

In recent months, this sense of security almost came to a screeching halt. George, currently in Grade 6, is in a K-8 school that we love. The teachers are fabulous, the principal encourages open dialogue with parents, and the kids in special needs classes are treated with kindness and respect by their typically developing peers.

The only problem with the school is that it does not have a special education program for Grade 7 and 8, so we were facing the prospect of sending George to a program in a neighbouring school. When we went to visit the program last year, when George was finishing off Grade 5, we were not happy with what we saw. We just knew, with that instinct that parents have, that if George went into that program, we would start to see a regression within days.

And so we started the process of advocating for a better Grade 7/8 placement, not only for George, but for all of his classmates. Starting with the principal at his school, we escalated the issue, insisting on meetings with trustees, superintendents, and anyone else who might have any kind of influence in deciding my son’s future.

About seven months after our first meeting with the principal, we got word of the school board’s decision: George will not be going to the overcrowded, under-resourced program that we saw and hated. Instead, a special education Grade 7/8 program is being introduced in his current school. George and his classmates will stay in the environment that they know and love. They will continue to be a part of a student community that is caring and supportive, with a principal who has been firmly on our side all the way.

Advocacy can be difficult and frustrating. It can be time-consuming and, at times, heart-breaking. But when it results in a better future for many children who need other people to fight for them, it can be the most rewarding thing in the world.

Come back tomorrow for some tips on advocating for your children.

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


The Pitfalls Of Competitive Parenting


When an article entitled “5 Things You Should Never Say To A Stay-At-Home Mom” appeared in my Facebook feed a couple of days ago, I knew there was going to be trouble. The article itself was innocuous – a little unintentionally judgy, perhaps – but the comments section was a virtual bloodbath. Work-outside-the-home moms were claiming to be busier than stay-at-home moms. Stay-at-home-moms were claiming to be there for their kids more than work-outside-the-home moms. Each side was claiming, without actually saying it directly, to be better than the other side.

As I was reading this, I was thinking about what a shame it is that there even are sides. What happened to the days when parents were just parents? At what point did moms and dads become so insecure that they started resorting to competitive parenting? There seems to be a constant game of one-upmanship in which people talk about the sacrifices they have made and the difficulties they have endured in order to be the Perfect Parents.

Here are some of the problems I see with today’s trend of competitive parenting:

It smacks of judgment, and that’s just not right. Unless you are beating, starving, neglecting or otherwise abusing your kids, you’re doing fine. Stay-at-home moms are not better than work-outside-the-home moms. Work-outside-the-home moms are not better than stay at home moms. You’re not a better or worse parent just because you give your kids boxed mac-and-cheese, or limit their screen time, or give up on arguing with them over a chore and just do it yourself. We are all parents, and we all do the best we can with the circumstances we find ourselves in.

It ignores the fact that everyone’s situation is unique. We humans love to categorize and compare things. Stay-at-home moms vs. work-outside-the-home moms. Breastfeeding moms vs. formula feeding moms. Free-range parents vs. helicopter parents. The trouble with classifying everything is that it leads to division, and it assumes that everyone in the same “group” is the same. Some stay-at-home moms love spending all of their time with their kids, and others yearn for the workplace. Some formula feeding moms would really love to breastfeed, and some breastfeeding moms really don’t enjoy it. Even within the same family, things can be different. I can free-range parent my younger son, but my older son, who has autism, requires a much more hands-on approach.

It places too much emphasis on the distinction between doing things out of choice and doing things out of necessity. Many work-outside-the-home moms really don’t have a choice. They need the income just to pay the mortgage and put food on the table. But some work-outside-the-home moms choose to work outside the home. And guess what? That’s OK. I don’t know why so many people have this notion that parents are not allowed to make a single decision in their own self-interest. I mean, sure, if you’re leaving your three-year-old at home alone for eight hours a day just so you can pursue a career, that’s a problem. But if you are taking care of your kids, protecting them from harm, and doing what you can to help them become mature, well-rounded individuals, nothing else really matters.

It takes the focus away from what we really need to be doing. When it comes down to it, these attempts at competitive parenting don’t accomplish a single thing. They are merely distractions that give parents something to argue about when there are so many other things for us to be devoting our energy to.

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