Archives for January 2012


Better Running Starts With A Kitchen Makeover

My 2010 Run For Autism

Two days from now, my 2012 training season officially begins. Over the last couple of weeks, I have gone running a few times and learned how to do the strength training exercises that have been prescribed for me. I have been reading through the plethora of material provided in my Precision Nutrition kit. I have been trying to prepare myself for this season, mentally and physically.

This weekend sees the final push, the last preparations before I start my training program. It’s kind of like preparing for a trip. You spend weeks or months figuring out where you want to go and how you plan to get there. You sort out details like visas and passports, you make lists of what you want to take, you sort out someone to take care of the dog. And then, for two or three days prior to your departure, you rush around in a frenzy of activity, packing your bags and confirming all of the details.

To follow the analogy, I am now in the process of packing for the trip and doing all of that stuff that brings all of the prior planning together and ties it up in a neat bundle.

Here’s what my weekend has in store for me:

  • Today, my kitchen is getting a makeover. I am emptying out the cupboards and repacking them. I will finally throw away the baby bottles that have been lurking unused at the back of the top shelf for the last five years. Now that I have decent pots and pans, I can get rid of the old dented ones with chipped handles and thereby add valuable space to my tiny kitchen. The fridge will be organized in preparation for tomorrow’s grocery shopping trip.
  • Meals for the next two weeks will be planned.
  • I will make a list for said grocery shopping trip. I will buy what’s on the list, and only what’s on the list. The husband will not be permitted to add unauthorized items to the cart.
  • I will go through the training program that my friend and coach Phaedra has given me, and I will add all of my runs to my wall calendar. I will also schedule them on my Outlook calendar. Once they’re scheduled, they have to happen, right?
  • I will get my home workspace organized in a way that it will stay organized. This will make it easier for me to get things done in less time. When my space is cluttered, my mind is cluttered and that doesn’t help anyone.
  • I will finally put away the mountains of clean and folded laundry that I have everywhere. I spend ridiculous amounts of time digging around for clothing that I could find in five seconds if I was organized.

This is a lot to get through in one weekend, but I am excited about doing it. I even have an incentive: if I do all of these things, on Monday I will reward myself with a new pair of sports headphones I’ve had my eye on, and this will give me a wonderful musical experience when I’m running.

I am looking forward to making new starts in my life. I am looking to creating some desperately needed balance, and doing things for myself that will make me happier and healthier. I have been languishing for too long in this feeling of being overwhelmed by my life. It feels good to be taking action and making plans.

I intend to post weekly updates on my progress, every Saturday. Come with me as I embark on this journey. It may not always be easy, and I’ll need cheerleaders along the way!



The Man On The Train

By the time I got onto the train I was exhausted. I’d been up until almost midnight finishing my packing, and when I’d woken up I’d forgotten where I’d packed my passport. The cab had been late and there had been an accident on the highway. I had made it to the train station with seconds to spare.

I  was so tired it hurt. As the train started pulling out of the station I relaxed gratefully into my seat and closed my eyes. I was almost asleep when I became aware of movement near me. I opened my eyes to see an old man sitting down opposite me. He was tall and skinny with long white hair and the bluest eyes I had ever seen. As I said good morning to him, he stared at me in a disconcerting way. I closed my eyes again.

A couple of minutes later I opened my eyes to see the old man still staring at me.

“Can I help you?” I asked, feeling distinctly uncomfortable.

He kept staring at me in silence – the kind of silence that gets louder and louder with each passing second.

All of a sudden, he spoke in a deep Southern accent that I really had concentrate on to understand him. What he said took me completely by surprise.

“My maw was making gravy for the chicken when my paw died.”

“Oh,” I said hesitantly. Then, because I felt that I had to, I asked, “What happened?”

“Well,” he said, in his peculiar gravelly voice. “I was just a boy then. I just come in from the fields with Paw. The chicken and the potatoes and all was already done, and Maw had the gravy in this jug, beatin’ it with a wooden spoon like she was trying to punish it.

“All’s a sudden, the dog barks outside, right outside the window. Maw gets a fright and drops the jug. The jug bounces on the counter, and gravy goes everywhere. Some of it splatters on the cat that’s sittin’ on top of the ’fridgerator. The cat gets a fright and jumps right onto Paw’s back. And Paw is spinning round and around, tryin’ to get the cat off his back. He loses his footin’, topples over and hits his head on the corner of the stove – one of them old cast-iron stoves. By the time he hit the floor he was a goner.”

As he finished the story, the old man buried his face in his hands. I felt a stab of compassion for him. What a terrible thing for a young boy to witness. But then the old man looked up again and I realized he was laughing.

“It was the most ridic’lous sight,” he said, slapping his knee with mirth. “My old man, drunk as a lord, spinning around with a cat on his back. Butt-ugly cat it was too!”

The old man was laughing so hard that he was choking and wheezing, and tears were streaming from his bright blue eyes.

“Wow,” I said, genuinely taken with the story. And then, because I’d been watching Murder Mysteries while packing the previous night, I asked, “What did the police say when they came? Did they believe you and your Mom when you told them what happened?”

“Well now,” the old man whispered conspiratorially as he leaned forward. “We never actually called the ’thorities. We couldn’t, you see. Far as everyone in town was concerned, Paw had already been dead for years.

“You see, he had one of them fancy life insurance things. So when we was down on our luck one year, he burned out his tractor and Maw reported him missing. Last seen drivin’ off in the tractor, that’s what she told the sheriff. They didn’t have no fancy ways to prove nothin’ back then, so they just assumed he was dead. Maw got a pile of cash and Paw just stayed hidden. No-one ever came to see us, so as long as Paw was in the house or on his fields, we was OK.”

“So when he died, what did you do with – um – you know, him?” I asked. This story was unreal.

“Down past the apple trees, there was a big clump of dogwood trees, belonging to the neighbours. There was all kinds of bushes and plants growing under the trees. The bush was so thick under there, it was like a jungle. When I needed someplace to hide as a boy, I’d go there. No grown person could get in through all of those bushes and trees and stuff.

“We waited until nightfall, then Maw helped me put Paw on the wheelbarrow. He kept fallin’ off, but finally we got him to that clump of bushes and trees. We got Paw off that wheelbarrow, and I climbed in under them bushes.  Maw pushed, I pulled, and we got him in there. No-one would ever find him there.”

The old man paused. He seemed to be immensely proud of his story. Clearly, his conscience was not bothered by things like insurance fraud and the concealment of human remains.

“But what if your neighbours decided to cut down the trees?” I blurted out, suddenly worried on behalf of the small boy from long ago.

“Why would they do that?” asked the old man, incredulously. “If they cut down all the dogwood trees, where will the raptors live?”

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, pamela challenged me with "If they cut down all the dogwood trees, where will the raptors live?" and I challenged Seeking Elevation with "In the Canadian city of Toronto, it is illegal to drag a dead horse down the street before midnight. Tell a story – real or fictional – about how this law came to be."


In Defence Of Runners: Five Running Myths Dispelled

I have noticed a very strange phenomenon. When I tell people that I am a runner, many of them – all non-runners, of course – go to great lengths to tell me how bad running is for me. I’m never too sure why this is. The subject usually comes up in the course of natural conversation. It’s not like I walk into a room full of strangers and blurt out, “Hey, guess what, everyone? I run!!!” I make it a point not be all preachy about it, and I never criticize the lifestyle choices of other people. There’s no reason for anyone to get defensive about their choice not to run. So why do many non-runners feel the need to try and get me to give up my evil running ways?

There is a lot of misinformation out there where running is concerned. Today I want to dust off my soapbox and hop on, if not to convince more people to at least give running a try, then at least to set the record straight.

Myth #1: Running is bad for your heart.
This myth is undoubtedly fuelled by the tragic and widely publicized deaths of runners participating in marathons and half-marathons. In the last half-marathon I ran, a 26-year-old man in apparent good health collapsed and died on the home stretch to the finish line. It is beyond sad, and these incidents can be alarming. But one only has to take a look at the numbers to know that the risk is very low. Out of almost eleven million marathon and half-marathon participants in the United States from 2000 to 2010, there were 42 fatal heart attacks. This translates to one death for every 259,000 runners – about half of the death rate from heart attacks in the general population. In other words, from a purely statistical standpoint, people who run are less likely to suffer cardiac arrest than people who don’t.

Myth #2: Running is bad for your knees.
Arguments in favour of this myth seem solid. When you consider the fact that the knees take a force of about eight times a runners’ bodyweight with each strike of the foot, it seems reasonable to conclude that wear and tear would ultimately win out. However, a number of recent studies suggest that not only does running not harm the joints, it may in fact help them. A person’s chances of developing arthritis or some other problem with their joints does not appear to be connected with whether or not they have run. I know many people who are still running well beyond their 70th birthdays with no ill effects to their knees, and I know people who have never run who have had knee problems.

Myth #3: Running doesn’t actually help you lose weight.
This myth is driven by some scientific algorithm I don’t understand that dictates what intensity of exercise makes you burn fat and what doesn’t. Whenever I try to read the theories surrounding this, my eyes glaze over, so all I can really go by is my own experience. When I took up running again after a break of about seven years, I was tipping the scales at almost 200 pounds. I was heavier than I had ever been in my entire life – and that included either of my two pregnancies. From the time I started running again until the time I ran my first half-marathon for autism – a period of about six months – I managed to shed about fifty pounds. My diet did not change significantly during that time – it was all down to the running.

Myth #4: It’s not safe for a woman to run on her own.
This really depends on a number of factors, like location, time of day, time of year, and so on. It is true that runners – women and men – need to consider safety when they are running. This topic is broad enough to merit its own blog post, but there are things that runners can do to ensure their safety. Some basic precautions are: be aware of your surroundings, know the area you are running in, make sure someone knows what route you are taking, stick to the beaten track, and make sure you have a means of communication with you, whether it’s a cell phone or quarters for a phone booth.

Myth #5: Running is boring.
I suppose for some people it might be. For me – and I daresay for most dedicated runners – there is far too much going on for boredom to set in. There’s all the clichéd stuff about trees and birds and fresh air – and there is merit to that. Early morning running in particular can be spectacular from an at-one-with-nature point of view. I love the feeling of running before the rest of the world gets going, when it’s only me, the open road, and the sunrise to which I am invariably treated. The air is clean early in the morning, before the traffic comes along to muck it up, and the sounds of nature are pure and beautiful. And quite apart from all of that, when I run I can I focus on all that is going on with my body. My heart race, my pace, how my legs are feeling. I take stock, re-evaluate, re-strategize, decide whether to speed up or slow down or throw in a burst of sprinting. I can marvel at what the running is doing for my mental health – the endorphin rush that gives a natural high, the stress relief, the fact that unlike the times spent at home, when I’m running I can actually start a thought and see it through to completion.

Do you run? Do you have strong feelings about running, either for it or against it? Have you come across any other myths about running?


Remembering A Captain

A year ago today, a baby named David got his angel wings. After tirelessly staying by his side during his five-month-stay in hospital, his Mom – so brave, so beautiful inside and out, and with a heart bursting with love – held him in her arms as he winged his way into the next world.

During his time on earth, David – known to many of us as Captain Snuggles – changed many lives. He inspired people to appreciate what they had and to live their lives better. Through him, people started donating blood. Because David was here with us, because he fought so bravely, lives have been saved, continue to be saved because of the people who continue to donate blood in his honour.

What an amazing legacy for an eight-month-old baby.

To Captain Snuggles: rest in peace, smile on the people who live because of you, and touch your family with love.

To David’s mom Amy, who fought so hard for her son’s life: I send you vibes of love, strength, and peace. I wish I could be close enough to hug you, but through the bonds of friendship, I am with you tonight. May you and your family find strength in being together, and may all of you feel the loving presence of the brave Cap’n.




10 Useful Skills For Autism Parents

Autism parents frequently have to do things that other parents don’t. Our kids are so different, what with their limited communication skills, their sensory challenges, and at times, their superhuman physical strength. It is impossible to parent a child with autism in the same way you would parent a typical child (which means that when you have both an autie and a typical child you have to adopt two different parenting styles, but that’s another post for another day).

In the beginning, it’s hard, knowing what to do. And in a way, it never really gets any easier. But there are things I have learned from experience, that are now second nature. Here are ten of my favourites.

  1. Drywall repair. Many auties, my son included, are headbangers. They may bang their heads out of anger or frustration, or simply to get attention. And then they bang their heads, they don’t mess around. They give the wall a good solid WHUMP that’s enough to make the room shake. The drywall invariably takes some punishment. The inside of my house looks a bit like a pitted golf ball, and there are places where the impact of my son’s head has caused actual holes – big, gaping holes.
  2. Mixed Martial Arts. My husband likes to watch Ultimate Fighter on TV, and although I don’t watch it myself, I have absorbed some of it through osmosis. This has proved invaluable in times when my son has had a meltdown. When most kids have meltdowns, they simply lose their tempers. When auties have meltdowns, they thrash on the floor, bash their heads on the closest hard surface, and can risk hurting themselves quite badly. Even as they are kicking and screaming, they have to be kept safe. Hence the MMA skills. I have become quite the expert at using my bodyweight to restrain my son from hurting himself. The difference between me and the Ultimate Fighter guys, of course, is that I try to avoid causing pain, I don’t get paid big money for my efforts, and I have a mental age that’s higher than my shoe size.
  3. Dishwasher Racing. My son hates – and I mean hates – for the dishwasher to be open. Anytime I have to unload it and repack it, I have to deal with this kid repeatedly – and with increasing volume – telling me to close the dishwasher. He plants his bum on the kitchen floor, right in front of the sink, so I cannot get to the dishes. Sometimes I actually have to slide him out of the way. I have taken to setting the oven timer whenever I start doing dishwasher stuff, and the idea that he can visually see how long it will take does seem to soothe him. But God help me if the dishwasher is not packed, closed and switched on by the time the timer expires.
  4. Stealth Hair Cutting. My son, like many other kids, dislikes haircuts. But he doesn’t dislike haircuts in the same way most other kids dislike haircuts. He dislikes haircuts in the same way most people dislike having a kidney forcibly removed while fully conscious and able to feel pain. Rather than risk traumatizing my child, I give him haircuts while he is sleeping. This involves a lot of patience, as I have to wait until he is very asleep. If he’s not asleep enough, he will wake up as soon as I touch his hair and he will scream loudly enough to startle the llamas in Peru. I have to creep around in the dark like a burglar, and sometimes it takes several nights to get the job done.
  5. Mediation. OK, this is a skill that any parent with more than one child has to learn. But when one child has autism and the other doesn’t, you have to raise your mediation skills to a whole new level. It’s a bit like trying to sort out a dispute between one person who only speaks Zulu and another person who only speaks Icelandic, when you only speak Pig Latin.
  6. Jumping Through Hoops Of Fire That Are Constantly Moving. OK, that may be a slight exaggeration. But dealing with school boards can really feel that way when special needs concerns are brought into the mix. I am getting really good at making suggestions to teachers and therapists that are phrased in a way that makes it sound like it was their idea. If it gets what my son needs, I really don’t care who gets the credit for it.
  7. Improv. If I had a dollar for every time a random stranger made a stupid remark about my son needing “a good hiding” or “proper discipline”, I’d have enough for a five-star trip to New Zealand, including flights, hotels, meals, and a Lord Of The Rings tour. I have learned the art of the Quick Comeback. If someone is being rude and intrusive while my son is having a hard time, I am no longer shy about saying things like, “My child has autism – what’s your excuse?”
  8. Distraction. This is a concept that most autism parents are well aware of. Sometimes I can just tell that a meltdown is just around the corner, and I want to do everything in my power to head it off at the pass. I get favoured activities or treats within arms’ reach, try to stop or somehow control whatever is winding him up, talk to him, sing to him, throw out mental arithmetic problems at him (the kid’s like Baby Rain Man with numbers – what can I say?) I have about fifty-fifty success with my efforts – but I will take that over ninety-ten in favour of the meltdown.
  9. Planning for Change. If there’s one word that makes autism parents everywhere tremble with fear, it’s change. Our kids don’t do well with change. They like the same places, the same people, the same routines. When we go on vacations, we have to take most of our family’s belongings with us so that we can replicate our home environment as closely as possible. Every summer, we put together social stories in preparation for the new school year, that include pictures of the new teacher and classroom, and we take our son to the school so he can get used to – or stay used to – playing in the playground there. I contingency-planned my wedding like it was going out of style – and all of those efforts paid off.
  10. Appreciating the Little Things. Where an autism parent is concerned, there is no such thing as a small accomplishment. All achievements, ranging from new words added to the vocabulary to giant cognitive leaps, are causes for celebration. As the parent of a child with autism, I have really learned how to smell the roses. Life is full of challenges for me and my family. But every single day is a blessing, and every single night, when I kiss my children goodnight, I am grateful for the people they are. And no matter how hard the day has been, I feel like the richest person on the planet.

The Getaway

“Do you not like the salmon, dear?” The matronly old lady bustled around my table, refilling my water glass and clearing away the unused place setting opposite me.

“Oh no, it’s lovely,” I assured her. “I just had a long drive from the city. I’m a little tired.”

The old lady smiled in understanding and moved away. I picked up my fork and poked at the salmon. What had  they done to it? Parts of it were burnt, other parts were so undercooked that they were rubbery and transparent. I put down my fork and took a bite of my bread instead. It was stale, but I didn’t see any mouldy bits and I was feeling faint from hunger.

The old couple who ran this place were so kind, so eager to please. They had fallen over themselves to make me feel welcome. At one point, the old gent had quite literally fallen over himself.  I couldn’t bring myself to tell them their food was inedible. They would have been far too upset. Maybe the chef was just having an off-day.

After dinner I went out (“Just going exploring,” I chirped cheerfully to the old lady, who was now at the front desk.) I bought a sandwich from the local deli and ate it on a bench overlooking the sea. The man at the deli laughed heartily when I told him where I was staying. Apparently, most people who stayed at the small seaside inn ended up there, desperate for food.

Back at the inn, I took a shower and got ready for bed. It didn’t matter that much that the water was cold. It was invigorating, and I did get a blast of scalding heat whenever someone anywhere in the building flushed a toilet. Maybe I would talk to the old man tomorrow and ask if there was some knack to controlling the water temperature.

It took me a long time to go to sleep. The mattress was hard and lumpy, and every time the wind blew outside, the windows rattled alarmingly. Character, I told myself. This place has character.

At about five in the morning I gave up on sleep and decided on a seaside run. I quickly threw on running clothes, glancing around the room as I did so. At least there weren’t any bugs. I always seemed to hear stories of people staying in posh hotels with good food and hot water, and finding bugs.

Ready for my run, I left the room and started making my way down the stairs. There was an elevator here, but I thought that attempting to use it would be pushing my luck.

When I’d gone down half a flight of stairs, I heard two people whispering on the landing below me. That was odd, at this time of the morning. Something about the tone of the whispers made me hide myself behind an enormous frondy plant in a small alcove.

Snippets of the conversation reached me.

“…will find out…not even a real hotel…”

“…know we need the hotel…cover for…police”

My jaw dropped in surprise. From what I could hear, it seemed that the hotel was just a cover for some illegal activity. That would explain why this place was so bad, but what on earth were they doing here? And wasn’t it risky to be doing it in a place where some hotel guest could stumble upon it? It hadn’t taken me long to overhear something – but then again, the owners probably weren’t expecting their guests to be creeping down the stairs at five in the morning.

When the sounds of the whispering started drifting away, I crept out from behind my plant and followed the two people – it turned out to be the old couple! – as discreetly as I could. I just had to find out what was going on. I felt mildly ridiculous, like Nancy Drew, but my curiosity got the better of me.

The old couple went down several flights of stairs, all the way to a large basement. When they opened the door and flicked on the lights, I could not believe my eyes. There before me, was an enormous collection of machines, all seemingly printing vast quantities of money.

What would I do with this information? Would I shop this lovely old couple to the police? Or would I tell them what I had seen?

This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from Hannah Pratt, who gave me this prompt: You are on a weekend getaway at a secluded place. The food is terrible. The accommodations are awful. However, the staff is so endearing that you do not find it in yourself to complain.
I challenged Cheney with the prompt: You are trapped in an elevator, and realize that the only other person in it is someone who was recently reported missing in mysterious circumstances.


Twitter Tuesday: A Day Late (#thingsbetterthanSOPA)

The only reason I save blog posts about Twitter for Tuesdays is that the words Twitter and Tuesday happen to start with the same letter. If there’s nothing Tweetworthy happening on Tuesdays, I simply give Twitter Tuesday a miss until the following week.

If, on the other hand, the Tweetworthy stuff happens on Wednesdays, I write about it anyway, and then claim that Twitter Tuesday was a day late. Even if I’ve already posted to my blog on said Wednesday, about a topic that has nothing to do with Twitter. Or Wednesdays. Or, for that matter, Tuesdays.

Today, Twitter Tuesday is a day late. In keeping with the general theme of the day, the trending topic I’m following is… *drumroll please*… #thingsbetterthanSOPA.

For those who don’t know, SOPA is proposed anti-piracy legislation. There are fears that if the bill is passed, the Internet could be crippled by the American government taking sites offline. The seemingly overwhelming consensus is that SOPA – dubbed by many as Internet censorship – will not have the desired effect of protecting intellectual property. Instead, it will impede free speech and interfere with the flow of information. Although SOPA would be American legislation, it would have effects that stretch far beyond American borders.

The following tweets suggest that – well, anything is better than SOPA.

* Getting a prostate exam from Edward Scissorhands #thingsbetterthanSOPA (@browland1)

* #thingsbetterthanSOPA Bullying. Why doesn’t the government try to stop that, which affects a larger number of people and it’s more dangerous? (@thisKINGDarren)

* #thingsbetterthanSOPA river dancing bare foot in a bunch of lego blocks (@vivesmariano)

* #thingsbetterthanSOPA Bacon (@ERIC_CARTMAN)

* Masturbating with a cheese grater #thingsbetterthanSOPA (@thunt27)

* keeping up with the kardasians #thingsbetterthansopa (@ItsBennyBlanco)

*paper cuts between your fingers #thingsbetterthanSOPA (@AlwaysxTeen)

* #thingsbetterthanSOPA Status quo: One episode of MTV cribs is enough to show you that nobody is suffering from copyright infringement.

* #thingsbetterthanSOPA Harry bloody Potter (@JoRowlingNet)

* #thingsbetterthanSOPA Stabbing myself multiple times in the face with a fork (@lucky kpak)

* Standing on hot coal while reciting the alphabet #thingsbetterthanSOPA (@Mz_redhott88)

* #thingsbetterthanSOPA Slidingdown a banister of razorblades into a pool of rubbing alcohol (@WittleKayl)

* #ThingsbetterthanSOPA watching white paint dry (@Killin_Ninjas)

* being kicked in the nuts #thingsbetterthanSOPA (@SamEzraYoung)

* #thingsbetterthanSOPA being eaten by a duck. (@imquitegood)

What, in your opinion, is better than SOPA? What about things that are worse than SOPA?


Looking For My Mojo

Last year I had a dismal season of running, but in spite of that, I enjoyed just enough success in order to ask myself: If I can set these PB’s (personal bests) with such a patchy season, what will I be capable of if I actually train properly?

Unfortunately, my dismal season has been followed by an even more dismal off-season. Usually, I manage to keep going in the winter, even if it’s endless boring runs on the treadmill at the gym. This time round, I just haven’t seemed to have it in me.

I have run a mere handful of times since my half-marathon in October, and I have not run at all since participating in the Resolution Run on New Years Day. I tell myself that my dearth of running is due to a pinched nerve in my back followed almost immediately by a cold, but how much of that is true? And how much of it is merely an excuse?

In two weeks’ time, I will be starting my 2012 season of training. I have a coach – someone who knows what she’s doing, knows what I’m capable of and will not hesitate to hold me accountable if she sees me slacking off. Despite my recent form, I have motivation. I have goals and I fully intend to accomplish them.

And so I decided that today I was going to run, come hell or high water. I diligently laid out my running clothes and packed my gym bag. I set my alarm last night and went to bed.

Only to wake up a full half-hour after I was supposed to. What had happened to the alarm? Clearly I had not set it right. My run would have to wait another day.

Immediately, I put a stop to that line of thinking. Come hell or high water, remember? I accessed my work email, clicked onto my calendar, and saw that I had a nice clear block of time right around lunchtime. I scheduled it in as running time, repacked my gym bag, and took it to work with me.

During the course of the morning, I discovered that an independently run gym right beside my office had been taken over by the fitness club group that I’m a member of. Sweet! This meant I would not have to go schlepping around on the subway in order to get my run in.

At the gym, I got onto a treadmill and set it for 35 minutes. I had been out of it for a while – no need to push myself on the distance when my main goal was simply to get back into it.

I’m not too hung up on the distance I covered, mainly because I don’t actually know what it was. The distance that my training watch tells me is probably inaccurate. I have not recalibrated my foot pod since replacing its battery. And because the treadmill has a built-in TV screen with full cable access, I wasn’t paying attention to the stats on the display.

I was more concerned with how hard it was, how exhausted I felt. I gave serious thought to stopping after 24 minutes, but I knew that would leave me feeling dissatisfied. I took a thirty-second walking break, and then resumed running at a slightly slower pace. And somehow, I made it for the full 35 minutes. I wasn’t hurting, and I wasn’t out of breath – I was just tired.

As I reflect on the run, I have a choice. I can feel bad about how hard it was and how exhausted I felt. Or I can feel good about the fact that I did what I set out to do anyway. I do believe this short run gave me the kick-start I’ve been needing to get myself on the go again.

Have I rediscovered my running mojo? Perhaps not entirely – not yet – but it’s very close, lurking somewhere nearby.


Autism Diagnosis: Changing The Landscape

For the benefit of people who are not involved with autism, I will start today’s post with a brief primer on what an autism diagnosis actually means. People who are affected by autism and already know this stuff, bear with me.

Most medical conditions are stated in absolute terms, based on whether they are present or not. Think of pneumonia, Downs Syndrome, or meningitis, to name just a few. The severity of symptoms may vary from person to person, but that does not change the diagnosis.

Autism is a spectrum disorder, and where the individual falls on the spectrum can determine his or her diagnosis. One of the more common autism rating scales is called CARS, or Childhood Autism Rating Scale. For diagnostic purposes, anyone who scores over 15 on CARS is regarded to have an autism disorder. The lower numbers – from 15 to about 25 -  will result in a more specific diagnosis of Aspergers – what some call “high functioning autism” (the use of this term is highly contentious). At the other end of the scale, from about 40 to the upper limit of 65, there are people who receive a diagnosis of autism. And in the middle are the people who are diagnosed with something called PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified).

Although people in all three groups are deemed to have ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), the specific diagnosis – and therefore the services they receive – will depend on where they fall on the spectrum. It is worth noting that a child may, over the course of his or her life, be diagnosed with all of three things at one point or another. My own son, for instance, was initially diagnosed with autism. His current clinical diagnosis is PDD-NOS.

Primer over. Now I will get to the point of today’s post.

Now, the diagnostic criteria for autism disorders could be changing, and these changes could have some far-reaching effects on the services that are received by individuals who are on the spectrum. Whether the changes would be good or bad is a matter up for debate.

According to the proposed criteria laid out in DSM-V (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of mental disorders), there will no longer be individual diagnoses of Aspergers, PDD-NOS and autism. Instead, everyone on the spectrum will get a clinical diagnosis of ASD.

This can be good. In the current diagnostic world of DSM-IV, many people on the spectrum do not get the services they need because they are deemed to be “high-functioning”. With a common diagnosis for everyone, the world of services could be opened up to a host of people who have previously not benefited from it.


Let’s take a look at how the actual diagnostic criteria themselves may be changing.

In DSM-IV – the world as we know it today – a total of twelve symptoms are divided into three groups:

  1. Qualitative impairment in social interaction.
  2. Qualitative impairment in communication.
  3. Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests and activities.

The individual has to display at least six symptoms, with at least two from the first group, and one each from the second and third groups. If this condition is met, along with a couple of other factors, you have your diagnosis – whether it’s Aspergers, PDD-NOS or autism.

The proposed DSM-V has the following stipulations, all of which must be met:

  1. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across contexts. Individuals must display all of three symptoms that are worded in very specific terms.
  2. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities. Individuals must display two of four symptoms that again, are very specifically worded.
  3. Symptoms must be present in early childhood.
  4. Symptoms together limit and impair everyday functioning.

The groupings of symptoms, in conjunction with the way in which they are worded, means that it will be more difficult to get an ASD diagnosis, particularly for individuals on the “Aspergers” end of the spectrum. There is a segment of the ASD population who are regarded as “high-functioning” relative to people more severely affected by autism. These people may not meet all of the criteria laid out in DSM-V.

What this means is that although the actual incidence of autism will continue to climb, we may see a decline in actual diagnoses. The general public will be misled into believing that the autism epidemic is being brought under control.

And a host of people who need services could be denied them, simply because they don’t meet the right combination of conditions listed in a manual.

It is important to note that the DSM-V is, at this stage, a draft. It will in all likelihood pass through a host of revisions based on feedback and testing. The DSM-V that is ultimately released could look very different to what is discussed here.

It will be interesting to see if, and how, the autism diagnostic landscape will change.


Autism Diagnosis: Blessing, Curse, or Both?

Receiving my older son’s autism diagnosis four and a half years ago was both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, this diagnosis meant that there was something wrong with my son. I had known this for a long time, of course, but having it told to me officially meant that I could no longer hide behind the cloak of denial. I had to face the fact that my child had a developmental disability that would, in all likelihood, affect him for the rest of his life.

On the other hand, though, having the diagnosis meant that we could now get our son the help that he needed. Instead of having a vague sense that there was “something wrong”, we had a name for his condition. We had something to Google, we learned what services to seek, and we entered the labyrinthine world of special needs funding. Although we were devastated, having the diagnosis did make us feel a little more empowered.

About two years later, I stumbled upon an Internet support group for parents of children with autism. This group was not designed to diagnose, or debate, or judge. It’s primary purpose was – indeed, is – to give parents a safe place to talk about the daily challenges of autism, to vent about whatever was bugging them, and to freely utter the phrase, “Autism is bullshit” without having someone jump down their throat.

This group has turned out to be an invaluable resource for me. I have made friends there. I have been able to give and receive advice. I have come to appreciate that in the autism world, there are children both better off and worse off than my son. I have been allowed to express hope and despair, I have been able to laugh and cry.

And I have been able to learn. Through the experiences of other people, I have been able to develop some strategies to help myself, my son and my family. I have come to have a better understanding of what role my younger (neurotypical) son can play in his brother’s life. I have realized that even the strongest of marriages can be strained by the presence of special needs, and I have learned some ways to deal with that. I have learned about how different things are in the United States vs. Canada where autism services are concerned.

I have learned about the difficulties some parents experience, first when it comes to getting a diagnosis for their children, and secondly, when it comes to getting and retaining services. And just this week, I have learned that all of this may be about to change under the new DSM-V diagnostic criteria. Whether it changes for the better or for the worse is an opinion still up for grabs.

Tomorrow: how will the autism diagnosis change, and what does it mean?