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Writing: Beyond The Challenges

2012 is shaping up to be a busy year. In the last five months, I have taken an emergency trip to South Africa, run three races, and had my website revamped. I have also participated in two consecutive month-long blogging challenges, ending yesterday.

Today I am publishing a post for the 62nd day in a row. While I have thoroughly enjoyed these opportunities to indulge my passion for writing, I am ready to change the pace for a brief period of time. Blogging every day in addition to holding down a full-time job, parenting two young kids, and training for a half-marathon – well, it can be tiring.

I’m not planning on fading away into the sunset (particularly today, since it’s raining and there will be no sunset). Instead, I am going to work on other parts of my website that I have not had the time to get to yet.

I will be putting together a blogroll (if you would like your blog to be included, send me an email). I will be creating resources pages for the autism and running communities, and once I have made up my mind about the rest of the racing season, I will be updating my list of races.

My actual blogging will take a backseat for the next week or two, but I have lined up some guest writers to take care of that. I am truly excited to bring you some great stories from different walks of life, starting on Monday.

Before I quietly slip out through the side door to get more coffee, I will leave you with some highlights of the last two months of blogging. The posts mentioned below are the ones that have attracted the most views.

Highlights of the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge in April:

In Week 1, I described a conversation I had with my younger son about his understanding of his brother’s autism.

In Week 2, I wrote a letter to my 16-year-old self offering some words of hard-earned wisdom – not that she would listen to an old fogie like me.

Do you ever get stressed out about little things that really don’t matter? In Week 3, I gave myself a bit of advice, the gist of which was to just chill out.

I ran my second race of the season in Week 4, and wrote about how I found the zone.

Highlights of the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon in May:

I keep hearing people talk about how kids with autism are incapable of affection or empathy. In Week 1 of the Blogathon, I decided to try and bust that myth.

In Week 2, my younger son lost his first tooth, in more ways than one. We had to get the tooth fairy to come, even though we didn’t have the actual tooth.

May was Mental Health Awareness Month, and during Week 3 of the Blogathon, there was a Mental Health Blog Party. I wrote about postpartum depression, in hopes that sharing my experiences would help someone.

In Week 4 I wrote about the most precious of gems: those little moments with my family that make me feel like the richest person in the world.

I was feeling introspective for much of Week 5, and wrote about how I made peace with a decision that parents all over the world wrestle with.

The blogging challenges are done – at least for now. But the writing continues, because I will never run out of words.

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Sticks And Stones And Words That Hurt

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Special needs parents come with all kinds of super-powers, one of them being the ability to grow a thick skin. This is a necessary part of survival: without it, we would not be able to withstand the stares from strangers during public meltdowns, the judgmental comments that are designed to make us feel like bad parents, and the mothers who steer their children away from our kids in the park, as if autism were contagious.

These things never really stop hurting. They never fail to make our hearts ache for our beautiful children who through no fault of their own, are targets of ostracism and discrimination. As we grow into our roles as special needs parents, though, we learn coping skills. We come up with ways to shield our children from the hurt, and to let the strangers know that our kids have a place in this world, differences and all.

We learn how to accept that the blatant looks and rude comments are not a reflection on us as parents. They are a reflection of the ignorance and prejudice in other people.

But.

No matter where we are in our special needs parenting journey, nothing can prepare us for the first time someone maliciously refers to our children as “retarded”.

Although this word was originally used in a medical sense, it is now generally regarded as a derogatory term, especially when the intent is clearly to hurt either the child or the parents. As conventional wisdom states, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”

Today marks the fifth anniversary of my son George’s autism diagnosis. I guess it is a cause for celebration: not only have we survived for this long, we have seen great strides along the way.

It is also the first – and hopefully only – day on which someone referred to George as our “retarded son”. It happened in the early hours of the morning during a telephone argument between my husband and someone else. There is no doubt that the words were spoken with malicious intent.

George was asleep, so he was spared the pain of hearing himself referred to in this way. The hurt behind the words had to go somewhere, though, and it slammed into me, almost leaving me breathless, and then settled over my shoulders like a heavy cloak.

Several hours later, I am left with a knot in the pit of my stomach that won’t go away, and unshed tears that I am trying with all my might to contain.

As I try to prepare my son for life in the big wide world, I worry about what the big wide world is going to throw at him. Will it be a place of opportunity for him, or will it be a minefield of insults and discrimination?

Do I try to shield him from the hurt, or do I let some of it get through to him so he can learn how to protect himself?

How do I ensure that my son will be OK, that he will be happy and feel safe, in the days when I am no longer here?

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Emerging Into The World Of Books

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

My younger son James was just over a year old when his big brother George was diagnosed with autism. As we adjusted to our new reality and tried to figure out what we were supposed to do for George, we anxiously – almost obsessively – watched James for signs of a delay. We scoured developmental checklists and asked George’s speech therapist how James’ speech should be progressing.

Thanks to our family doctor’s initial refusal to give us a referral, George’s diagnosis came a full year after it should have. Every time I thought about the year of missed interventions, I felt sick. I did not want history to repeat itself: if James had autism or anything else, I wanted to know about it right away.

Fairly early on, it became apparent that we didn’t have anything to worry about, at least from an autism point of view. James’ speech development was slightly ahead of the curve. He hit the “terrible twos” right on target, and his interactive play skills showed up right when they should have.

When James started going to school, it felt kind of strange to just install him in a regular classroom instead of having to go to special ed review meetings and haggle over the wording in IEP’s (Individual Education Plans).

School was not without its challenges for James, though. In Ontario, the age cutoffs run on the calendar year. Children start Junior Kindergarten the year they turn four, whether they celebrate their birthdays in January or December.

James, being a Christmas Day baby, was very young when he started school. He was almost four months shy of his fourth birthday, by far the youngest and smallest kid in his class. He had not developed the coping skills that most of his classmates had, and for the first few weeks he cried almost every day.

The Kindergarten teacher was a kindly man who took James under his wing during that initial period of adjustment. He made sure the other kids weren’t too rough with him, and found imaginative ways to help James not only adapt to school, but to enjoy it. James adored the teacher, and by Halloween of that year, he looked forward to going to school every day.

Along with a number of his classmates, James suffered a setback when the teacher unexpectedly died just before Christmas of that year. He didn’t even really know what death meant, and he seemed to take it a bit personally that the teacher had “left” him.

But James is as resilient as the next kid, and he bounced back. By the time he reached the beginning of Grade 1 he was on track again.

Or was he?

Shortly after James started Grade 1, I noticed that his reading did not seem up to scratch. It’s not like I was expecting the kid to read War and Peace, but he was not mastering even the most basic of words. He was almost six and could do little beyond identifying the letters of the alphabet, whereas George had been reading fluently by the time he was four and probably would be able to read War and Peace.

James’ inability to read was not for lack of trying. The poor child tried gallantly to make sense of the strings of letters. I started wondering if he had dyslexia, like his dad. If this was the case, I wanted to know right away, knowing that early intervention would be the key to success.

I spoke to James’ teacher, who confirmed that he was reading below grade level.

“Let’s see where he’s at by the end of this school year,” she advised.

Immediately, I balked, remembering how George’s autism diagnosis had been delayed because of a doctor who said something very similar. I told the teacher why I was reluctant to procrastinate, and she was quick to reassure me.

“Trust me,” she said gently. “Many first-graders don’t really get reading until close to the end of the school year. And remember, if James had been born just a week later, he’d only be in Kindergarten right now.”

Where every fibre of my being had known that our family doctor was wrong about George, something told me to have faith in James’ teacher. And so I waited.

Within weeks of that conversation, James was starting to make progress – not in giant leaps, but in baby-steps. He was reading simple familiar words. It was highly encouraging, although he still got frustrated when he couldn’t figure out the longer words.

One day about two weeks ago, James’ teacher excitedly pulled my husband to one side when he picked James up from school.

“James flew through his spelling test today and he got them all right! I think something may have clicked!”

James himself was glowing from his accomplishment. All of a sudden, he had the confidence to really try to read. He started spelling words like Wednesday and vegetable. He developed a sudden interest in making words with George’s alphabetic fridge magnets (much to George’s chagrin).

James is still reading slightly below grade level, but it is increasingly likely that he will catch up by the time school lets out for the summer. His teacher was right on the money.

And I get to celebrate the accomplishments of not just one child, but two.

I feel like the luckiest, proudest mom on the planet.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bagelmouse/4700001481. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

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Making Peace With A Tough Choice

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

When I went for my six-week postpartum checkup after George was born, my OBGYN raised the question of whether my husband and I were going to have more children. We stared at each other in a perplexed kind of way, shrugged our shoulders and said, “I dunno.”

It was a question that we had honestly given no thought to. George had been an extremely welcome surprise, but he had been a surprise nonetheless. Family planning hadn’t exactly been a key feature in our lives.

When we did talk about it – this topic that we had simply never thought to discuss – we discovered that both of us had always envisaged life with three children. This was good. I thought it was a positive sign that I was with a man who wanted the same number of children as me.

When we decided to try for Baby Number Two, I got very serious about it. I downloaded those free online calendars that tell you what the best dates are to – well, you know. I was going to chart my cycles and keep track of my temperature to tell when I was ovulating.

As it happened, I didn’t need any of that stuff. Just six weeks after we decided we were officially trying to conceive, we got a big fat plus sign on the pregnancy test. Several months after that, James came barreling his way into the world like a cannonball.

Two down, one to go.

By the time we were ready to try for Baby Number Three, though, things had gotten complicated. James was almost two, and George, who was four, had been diagnosed with autism. We were recalibrating our lives after discovering that we were special needs parents, and I was still trying to find my way out of the terrible darkness of postpartum depression.

What if our third child had autism? Would it be fair for us, knowing that we weren’t going to be around forever, to leave James with the responsibility of having two siblings with special needs?

We were so conflicted about whether or not to have another child that we went to see a geneticist. The DNA testing did not confirm a genetic link to autism, but it did not rule it out either. The geneticist turned to the very detailed questionnaires that we had completed. Based on my own developmental history, which was almost identical to George’s, it seemed not only possible but likely that I was on the spectrum myself.

The geneticist advised that in spite of the inconclusive DNA test results, there was reason to believe that George’s autism might be genetically based. We were looking at a 12-15% probability that any other child we had would have autism.

This created a problem. My husband and I found ourselves on opposite sides of the fence. He was very concerned about the 15% probability. I, on the other hand, tried to focus on the other percentage: the 85% probability that the child we had would not have autism.

We flip-flopped back and forth for several months, torturing ourselves with possibilities and what-ifs. We were torn between doing what was right for the kids we already had, and doing what both of us had always wanted. We really could have done with a crystal ball at around that time.

In the end, it was more than George’s autism that made the decision for us. I was already at an age where there’s a higher risk of having a baby with Downs Syndrome. I was finally starting to see a pinprick of light at the end of the postpartum depression tunnel. We had just successfully potty-trained James, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to start a new two-year cycle of diapering.

Most importantly, I realized that I didn’t need more children. The two that I had were absolutely perfect. When I came home from work at the end of each day and hugged them, I felt complete. I did not feel that there was piece missing – a piece that would be filled by another child.

When I am sitting on the floor in my living room, with one kid on my lap and the other jumping on my back, I know that we made the right choice. I know that my family is whole.

Have you had to wrestle with the question of whether to have more children? What was the deciding factor for you?

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joehowell/2282930348/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

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Toronto Womens Half-Marathon: Getting By With A Little Help From A Friend

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Phaedra and I, sharing some post-race happiness

I am always a jittery mess leading up to races, and yesterday’s Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon was no exception. If anything, I was more nervous than usual. I had trained hard, coached by my friend Phaedra, and I wanted to realize the fruits of my efforts. As I wandered around the starting area eating my pre-race peanut butter sandwich, I thought back to my season of training. Instead of thinking about all of the great runs I had, my mind stubbornly focused on the not-so-good. Like missing my very first week of training due to a stomach bug, and having to take an emergency trip to the other side of the world during my second and third week. I thought obsessively about how my training went a little pear-shaped a month ago, due to circumstances beyond my control.

I knew that these nerves would vanish as soon as the starter’s siren went off. The slight stuffiness in my nose would disappear and the tightness in my right calf would magically loosen up. I would be lifted by the collective energy of the 1500 runners around me, and I would be spurred on by my natural tendency to compete with myself.

Seeing a couple of familiar friendly faces right before the race started helped immensely. My friend George from the Geneva Centre for Autism was there to cheer on his girlfriend. Phaedra was there too, already lined up at the start. I squeezed my way into the crowded corral and waited for the siren.

And then we were off! I was forced to start at a moderate pace: this invariably happens when 1500 runners are competing for space on a narrow park trail. It is at times frustrating to be trapped behind slower runners with no immediate opportunity to pass them, but it can be enormously beneficial to be forced to keep the brakes on, particularly early in a long race.

I was aiming for an average pace of 6:30 minutes per kilometre, and for the first few kilometres, I hovered between 6:34 and 6:40. I was OK with that. Usually I increase my pace over the course of the distance, so starting slower than my goal doesn’t worry me.

The course was a challenging one. The entire race took place on park trails that at times, were barely wide enough to allow for the two-way traffic on the out-and-back segments. The trails were mostly paved, which was nice, but in places they were uneven, so I had to watch my footing very carefully. While the course was not as hilly as, say, the 10K race at the Toronto Zoo, there were enough undulations to create a challenge – most notably, the hill leading up to the bridge going over the railway line.

At about the 5K mark, I was running the out portion of an out-and-back segment, and I saw Phaedra coming towards me, running the back portion. She was looking strong and moving fast, right near the front of the pack. We cheered each other, did a high-five, and went on our way.

The kilometres ticked by. I marked the little milestones as I passed them. 7km – a third of the way there. 10.5km – halfway there. The 12km milestone is always a big one for me, because it means I only have 9K to go, and I am counting down single digits.

14km – two thirds of the way there. At this point I was really starting to hurt. A twenty-year-old ankle injury was acting up, no doubt aggravated by the uneven path. There was no way I was letting myself stop, though – I had only 7km left. 7km is like a walk in the park to me.

At 16km I hadn’t quite managed to hit my target pace, and I found myself having to revise my “A” goal of beating 2:15. I mentally shifted to my “B” goal – a personal best time. I had to beat 2:19:46 and I thought that I was only just in for a shot at accomplishing that. All I had to do was ignore the burning in my legs for half an hour or so.

18km – there are the firefighters! Sadly, none of them had their shirts off, but they were absolutely gorgeous. They were a welcome sight at a point in the race when I always start to struggle. There was no way I was going to slow down. I had to show off for the handsome firemen. I wasn’t exactly looking my best, so I had to impress them in other ways!

At 19km I saw two things: the chocolate station and Phaedra, who had finished her race and run back to meet me. I guzzled down a chocolate bar, desperately in need of the sugar rush, and then set off for the last 2km, with my friend running beside me, not letting me give up, reminding me that the prize of the finish line was just minutes away.

I was hurting, really hurting. My legs were begging me to stop, or at least slow down. Just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, Phaedra said, “Come on! You have five minutes left! You can do anything for five minutes!”

All of a sudden, I rounded a final bend, and there it was – the finish line. I have a strong finishing kick, and it didn’t let me down. Phaedra hopped off to the side and I charged to the finish, crossing the line in a time of 2:20:11.

I missed my personal best time by 25 seconds, but considering that my personal best time was set on a much easier course, I was satisfied with my time. I was particularly pleased that my final kilometre was by far my fastest, at 5:56.

It is worth pointing out that before Phaedra helped carry me for the last 2km, she had finished the race fourth overall, and first in her age group.

I am already looking ahead to my next half-marathon, my autism run in October. It is perhaps a good sign that as I sipped my wine and soaked my aching legs in a bubble bath last night, I was reading my copy of The Art Of Running Faster.

(Photo credit: Phaedra Kennedy)

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The Queen Of The Stage

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

I sit in the darkened theatre, holding my breath with anticipation. I have been waiting for this night for weeks. My husband, who has seen this performance before, has promised me that it will be the theatrical experience of a lifetime. We are not in one of the big-name theatres in London or New York. We are not even in Toronto’s theatre district thirty minutes’ drive from where we live. We are at the Herongate Barn Theatre in the Pickering countryside, and right here, in this gem of comedy and culture, I am going to see a performance like none other. The audience’s collective heartbeat pauses, the curtain is raised… and I am instantly transported into another world.

The performance of Shirley Valentine that I saw that night defied imagination. When Margaret St. John-Francies took the stage in the role of a middle-aged housewife disgruntled with life, I did not feel as if I was sitting in a chair in a theatre. I felt as if I was sitting at Shirley Valentine’s kitchen table while she cooked chips and eggs and wondered aloud what had happened to her life.

It was so real that I wanted to cry. My heart twisted for this woman who felt trapped in an unsatisfying life, and I almost got up to give her a hug before reminding myself that this was just a play.

When the action of the play shifted from the Liverpool kitchen to a beach on a Greek island, I went right along to Greece as well. I could feel the sun on my back and the sand between my toes as the unhappy housewife was transformed into a fulfilled woman with romance in her life and hope for the future.

I wanted to stay on that beach, gossiping about the lover, asking Shirley what she was going to do next. I wanted to tell her not to return to her old life,because she so clearly deserved more. I wanted to be her friend, her confidante.

Instead, the play ended, and I went to the bar with my husband. A few minutes later, Margaret walked in – no longer in her role as Shirley Valentine, but as herself – and that was a different kind of magic.

Margaret graced many theatrical productions with her immense talent, usually alongside her husband Paul. The pair of them were perfectly matched not only on the stage, but in life. We shared many laughs with them in the bar after the shows we saw them perform in.

Margaret could fill a room with her presence. She was larger than life but down to earth. She touched everyone she met with her own special brand of magic.

On April 22nd, surrounded by the love of her family, Margaret passed away. To realize the impact of her death, you only had to look at the number of people at her memorial, which was held at the theatre. People were parking in the driveway because all of the spaces were taken, and extra chairs had to be brought into the room.

The Queen of the Stage has taken her final bow, but the memory of Shirley Valentine will forever remain.

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”     ~ Dr. Seuss ~

(All pictures are reproduced with the kind permission of Paul Francies)

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8 Things Runners Should Do The Day Before A Race

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

This time tomorrow, I will be about an hour and a quarter into the half-marathon I’ve been training for since February. If things go according to plan, I will have a little less than 10km to go. I will have been injected with the mental boost that comes from passing the halfway mark, and I will be mentally preparing strategies to overcome the energy crash that usually happens at around 18km. I will be visualizing myself crossing the finish line, hopefully with a personal best half-marathon time under my belt.

But that’s all tomorrow. Today I have to get through my final day of pre-race freak-out. I am a bag of nerves and my body is trying to play its usual tricks on my mind. And somehow, while these butterflies create havoc in my stomach, I have to get myself organized for tomorrow, and make sure my body has the nutrients and hydration in place to go the distance.

I have run my share of races, so I have been through this enough times to be in a position to share a few hard-earned points of wisdom with runners who suffer from pre-race jitters.

1. Your body is thirsty. As athletes, we all know that we’re supposed to drink x-number of glasses of water a day. But some of us aren’t as diligent about it as we should be. If I was better about my general hydration needs, maybe it would kick up my race performance a notch. It would certainly be better for my overall health. As lax about it as I am, I always make a special effort to hydrate properly the day before a race. It does mean more trips to the bathroom, but going into the race with at least a day’s worth of proper hydration behind me really does make a difference.

2. Watch what you eat. This one seems obvious. We want our bodies to be properly fueled for the big event. Don’t go nuts on the carbs: it’s actually better to do your carbo-loading two days before the race. The day before, you want to keep your diet simple and healthy. My pre-race day nutrition consists of lean protein, very little fat, and a small amount of carbs. That is what works for me, and it is important to note that something quite different could work for someone else.

3. Now is not the time for experimentation. If you just bought a new pair of six-inch heels, wait until after the race to break them in. Especially if you’re a dude. Keep that new jar of miracle wonder-vitamins in your medicine cabinet with the seal intact. If you’ve never had super-hot Thai curry, don’t eat it today. Everything you wear today should be something you’ve worn before, and everything you eat or drink should be something that you know from experience is tolerated well by your body.

4. Remember that your training is done. Going out for “one last speed training run” is going to serve absolutely no purpose, and may in fact do you harm. It is easy to worry, on the last day, about whether you have done enough training. You start to obsess about the week you had to take off due to a cold, or the fact that you had to cut short your last long run because you turned your ankle on an uneven paving stone. Remember that training is not an event, it’s a process, and you will have built your base long ago. The best thing you can do today is loosen up with an easy run around the block, and then rest for the remainder of the day.

5. Do stuff you like. You are tense and nervous, and you need to relax. Don’t worry about the things you should be doing. They can wait. Keep yourself busy with activities that will relax your mind and help you chill out a little. For me, it’s writing and messing around on my laptop. For someone else, it might be reading or watching TV. If you actually enjoy washing dishes and doing the laundry, knock yourself out. Come and do mine while you’re at it.

6. Prepare your running outfit. You don’t want to be fiddling around with safety pins and your race bib while you’re lined up at the start line ten minutes before the siren goes off. The day before the race, you actually want to put on the clothes you will be wearing, along with your heart rate monitor and whatever fuel belt you will be using. Then you can pin your number to your shirt, and experiment with ways to make the number work with everything else you are wearing. Men and flat-chested women have an easier time of this, simply because they have a larger available flat surface. For women like me who are more rounded on top, more coordination is sometimes required. Don’t wait until race day to figure it out.

7. Pack your bag. Most races have bag check facilities, and it’s well worth taking advantage of them. My bag typically contains several bottles of water for before and after the race, the pre-race snack that I eat right after I get to the start (about an hour before the run begins), a light jacket and track pants to put on after the race, and an alternative set of running clothes just in case I get to the start and find that I have miscalculated the weather. Your race bib usually comes with a bag check tear-off strip at the bottom. Remove this from the bib and attach it to your bag.

8. Get plugged in. Charge up your training watch, your iPod, and any other electronic gadgets that you are taking. Getting to the race and seeing the “battery low” message flashing on your watch can be very disorienting. Leave your goods plugged in for the day, and then unplug them and leave them with your race clothes before you go to bed.

Pre-race jitters are normal, and in some ways they are beneficial. They give your adrenaline a handy boost leading up to the race. Don’t fight the jitters, embrace them. Coexist with them as you go about your final race day, getting yourself ready.

And then, when it’s time to line up at the start, enjoy the run and visualize how great it will feel to cross the finish line.

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Autism, Emoticons, And Guilt

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Yesterday, an emoticon on a website made me feel guilty.

When I say “emoticon”, I mean those little faces that you put into emails to express how you feel about something. Like this: :-)

And when I say “guilty”, I am referring to that feeling of being a bad person.

Ridiculous, isn’t it? You’d think there was already enough guilt to go around without having to worry about little smiley or frowney faces.

It all began when I started getting a lot of spam comments on the new, improved version of my blog. For a day or so I lived with this, but then realized that the problem could be solved if I simply activated an anti-spam plugin that was already installed. Activating the plugin involved going to a website to get a numeric key that would then be entered into the plugin settings.

Off I went to the website, where I was presented with options. I could choose the “Premium” version, which naturally involved an annual fee, or I could choose the “Personal Use” version. Somewhat bafflingly, this was listed as costing “$0 – $200″. I selected this one on the grounds that “zero dollars” appeared to be an option, and on the following screen there was a message inviting me to make a voluntary donation to help cover the cost of keeping the software going. The message was accompanied with a little sliding scale thing. If you moved the bar all the way to the right, you were donating $200. If you moved it all the way to the left you were contributing nothing. Beside the sliding scale there was a nice cheerful-looking smiley face emoticon.

Well, I’m hardly going to voluntarily pay for something that I can get for free, right? I slid the bar all the way to the left-hand side of the sliding scale. As I did so, the emoticon’s sunshiney smile transformed into a forlorn-looking sad face.

When I saw that, I found that I was flooded with guilt, to the extent that I almost whipped out my credit card to make a donation. I just couldn’t bear the thought of that little face being so sad. It was almost as if it was an actual person.

I came to my senses, of course, but I was very surprised at how strong an emotion that little face invoked. I suppose the company banks on enough people experiencing that effect and being guilted into paying up.

It is interesting how the mere images of emotions can inspire us to feel those emotions ourselves. In fact, I am using emoticons as a tool to teach my son George how to identify emotions. This is something he has immense difficulty with, and I believe that it leads to his inability to regulate his emotions at times. Not being able to communicate how he feels must be immensely frustrating for him.

I show him emoticons, simply because they are uncomplicated. A round face with a facial expression, and nothing else. I will, of course, have to teach him how to recognize the context surrounding emotions, but that has to come later. He has to first learn how to identify the emotions themselves.

So far, he’s mastered Happy, Sad, and in a recent breakthrough, Mad.

His repertoire of emotions is not big enough yet, not by any means, but it’s more than it was a year ago, and that is progress. While he makes giant leaps in some areas, in other things – like this – he has to take baby-steps.

I’m right there beside him, trying to guide him whenever I can.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/somegeekintn/3810233454. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

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Homecomings

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

When my kids were little – well, littler than they are now – they went to a great daycare centre a few minutes’ walk away from our house. When the weather was nice, the kids would be allowed to play outside at the end of the day while they were waiting for their parents to pick them up. When I got off the bus from work, I would walk directly to the centre, and as I approached, I would hear the sound of children laughing and playing in the outdoor play area behind the building.

There is no sound in the world that is more magical than the laughter of children. I used to treasure that part of every day – those moments in which the sounds of childhood joy floated through the air and reached my ears.

When my boys reached the age-limit of the daycare and had to leave, I knew that I would miss those precious sounds.

Now that both boys are always home by the time I get off the bus, my homecoming is quite different to what it was back then, but it is no less magical.

My husband and children, alerted to my impending arrival by a text or phone call from me, stand together at the front door, peering out of the frosted glass panels on either side. When I appear at the end of the road, my husband opens the door and releases them into our quiet street. They charge down the road towards me, running in that completely natural, unrestrained way that only children are capable of, and they launch themselves at me, giggling helplessly as I pretend to fall over backwards.

By this time, my husband is usually ambling down the road to meet me. We go for a walk around the block, all four of us holding hands. Then we turn and head back towards the house. When we’re about half a block away, we line the kids up.

On your marks!

The kids look up at us with anticipation.

Get set!

George starts to giggle and looks all around him. James, who has acquired my love of running and actually takes this seriously, looks straight ahead as he braces himself for takeoff.

GO!

And they’re off, racing each other to the house. In that moment, we are not looking at a child with autism and a child without autism. We are looking at two typical boys, being brothers.

And this is what life is all about. Love. Togetherness. Family.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

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A New Look

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

When I first started this blog, I had no idea what I was doing. I had a vague notion that I wanted to write, but I didn’t know how to put a blog together. I had a bit of a dilemma: I wanted my blog to be visually appealing and inviting, but I have the design skills of a praying mantis – a dead praying mantis.

Fortunately, I had some templates to choose from. I experimented with a few of them, and settled on one that looked nice but was impossible to read. Small white text on a black background – what was I thinking?

People started emailing me telling me that I was ruining their eyes. I don’t want to be responsible for anyone’s failed eyesight, so I knew a change was necessary. I went back to the templates and picked out a new one. Black text, light background, bigger font – all-round easier to read. The new design looked a lot nicer too. It looked calmer somehow, less austere and cold.

When I launched the new design, everyone loved it. People thanked me for saving them from a trip to the optometrist. I myself was immensely proud of the new improved Running For Autism.

After about a year, though, something started to happen…

I started to realize that I was actually taking this blogging thing very seriously. I liked to write, and I wanted  to write. And I wanted a more professional, unique site on which to showcase my offerings.

Again, I have the design skills of a dead praying mantis. This might be a problem.

Just then, a fellow blogger launched her new site and I loved it. It looked clean and sleek, professional yet fun. I got in touch with the blogger and asked her who had designed her site.

That is how I got in touch with Courtney.

A few short months later, I have a new website that is so beautiful I could cry.

Courtney has been fantastic to work with. She has been fast and professional, receptive to my ideas and forthcoming with her own suggestions. When I had technical trouble with my domain name, she patiently put up with my frantic email harassment and helped me get sorted out. She has always been there to answer questions and calm my fraying nerves.

And look at the website she made me. I mean, look at it! I wouldn’t have been able to come up with this in a million years.

Now I begin the task of bullying harassing nagging sweetly asking my subscribers to move their subscriptions from my old site to my new one.

I am excited to launch this website, which heralds a new phase in my writing. I hope you will all stay with me for the ride!

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cecphotography/4747271873. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)