post

Book Review: Beyond Rain Man by Anne K. Ross

beyond rain man

When my son was first diagnosed with autism nine years ago, I went to my local bookstore in search of help. I was looking for books that would tell me how to deal with the sensory eating issues, the grocery store meltdowns, the head banging incidents that left dozens of holes in our drywall. I wanted to know how to get my son to talk, to make friends, to play with toys instead of spending hours staring at a piece of string.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that I didn’t need an instructional manual. I needed to know that I was not alone, that there were people out there who knew what I was going through as the parent of a child with autism, and above all, that my family and I would survive. We would figure out all of those things that I was so desperately looking for, and we would, in time, adjust to our new version of reality.

While I was enduring this phase of post-diagnostic angst, psychologist Anne K. Ross was going through experiences that she would later capture in the pages of a wonderful book. Beyond Rain Man tells the story of a woman who, having devoted her life to helping children with developmental disabilities, was thrown for a loop when her son was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome.

With compelling bravery, the author tells the story of her son’s childhood. She describes his struggles, the tears and the triumphs, and the ups and downs of the relationships within her family. As an autism parent, I can relate to so many of the stories Anne tells in her book: the impact of her son’s Aspergers on his younger brother, the challenges of keeping a marriage healthy when there’s so much going on, and the endless concerns about the future.

I do not feel as if I read a book. I feel as if I sat on a couch chatting with the author over a cup of coffee, learning about her experiences and how she and her family got through them.

If time travel was a thing, I would toss a copy of Beyond Rain Man to that earlier version of myself who was desperately searching bookstores for answers. I would make the book magically appear in front of her, and I would tell her that this is the book she needs to make her feel less alone and more hopeful.

Kirsten Doyle was given a copy of “Beyond Rain Man: What One Psychologist Learned Raising A Son On The Autism Spectrum” by Anne K. Ross, in exchange for an honest review.

post

Life: A Poem From A Younger Me

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

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

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

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

life is like a play

Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

post

10 Surprising Things I Have Learned Since Becoming A Mom

233071629_8d0c55d5dd_z

I was born in the last month of the 1960’s and went through little-girlhood in the 70’s, when gender stereotyping was so much the norm that the term “gender stereotyping” didn’t even exist. Little boys played with guns (yes, they were even allowed to take them to school without being branded as mini-terrorists), and little girls played with dolls.

I think my mother was quite concerned when I didn’t turn out to be a typical girl. More often than not, I abandoned my dolls to play “cops and robbers” with my brother and his friends, and when my parents enrolled me in ballet classes, I was without any doubt the scruffiest member of the class. When I was little, my mother bemoaned the fact that I didn’t play with dolls like other little girls. As I grew older, she was concerned that I wasn’t ladylike or feminine enough.

I didn’t want to be feminine. Being feminine seemed too much like hard work. I’d have to faff around with my hair, worry about my clothes and my nails, and spend hours trying to get my makeup just so. Don’t get me wrong – I liked to dress up from time to time, but I wanted to save it for special occasions, not everyday living.

All of this added up to the idea that I was probably not going to grow up to be marriage material. And if I couldn’t even keep a doll alive, what were my chances of being able to raise an actual human baby?

Fast forward to today… that tomboyish little girl from long ago is now a middle-aged woman who is Mom to two beautiful children. In my eleven years as a parent, I have learned that I possess some previously hidden talents and skills. Like these ones:

1. Contrary to prior beliefs, I actually do have a mother’s instinct. I used to think that if I ever had kids, I would not survive without the aid of a million parenting books. To my surprise, I have been able to muddle through based on my gut feel and a hefty dose of common sense.

2. Although I do occasionally lose it, I have far greater reserves of patience than I ever thought would be possible.

3. I can survive on very little sleep.

4. I have the ability to completely tune out the constant talking of another human being, while giving the talker the impression that I’m listening intently.

5. I can accomplish long lists of tasks in very little time.

6. I am good in emergencies. Like one kid hitting the other kid on the head with a gardening tool, or someone trying to flush Bob The Builder down the toilet.

7. I am capable of organizing and hosting successful kids’ birthday parties without going completely insane. I do tend to need a good shot of wine afterwards, though.

8. While I regularly do without sweet treats so that the rest of my family can have some, I am not above occasionally hiding chocolate so that I can have it myself.

9. I’m brilliant at multi-tasking. I can cook dinner, help a kid with homework and conduct a telephone meeting with a client all at the same time.

10. I am a lot more creative in the kitchen than I ever gave myself credit for. If I lack both ingredients and the will to go to the grocery store, I’ll still be able to get something resembling a full meal onto the table. I’ll never be Gordon Ramsay, but at least no-one will die of food poisoning.

What hidden talents have you discovered since you became a parent?

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

post

For James On His Birthday

DSC_0606

To my darling son James,

Nine years ago today, you finally decided to leave the comfort of the womb and join us in the world. You were a week overdue: either you were very comfortable where you were, or you figured that we would need an extra week of quiet before the adventure began.

The day of your birth was incredible, filled with little moments that I will never forget – like the little kid in the hospital coffee shop who was convinced that I was Santa Claus. You can’t blame him: it was Christmas morning and I had a massive belly and a Santa hat. The best moment of all, though, was when you came flying into the world like a cannonball, screaming in outrage. There was never any doubt that you had a very healthy pair of lungs and an abundance of energy.

Since that day, you have filled our lives with a very special kind of magic. You are never afraid to explore and discover not only what is in the world, but what is within yourself. Your massive imagination takes all of us on weird and wonderful journeys, and the front of my fridge is covered with your fabulous artwork. Your creativity combined with your love of animals has given us a zoo of animals that have been lovingly crafted by you. As I write this, you are transforming ordinary cardboard into a set of Wild Kratts creature power disks.

You have the biggest heart of anyone I know. You are one of life’s true givers who experiences absolute joy through the act of making other people happy. Every single day, I am on the receiving end of your spontaneous hugs and little handmade gifts and notes. I see the kindnesses you extend to your friends without even having to think about it. Being a caring person is so much a part of who you are that your school gave you an award for empathy.

The love that you have for your brother is genuine and complete. You do not take anything for yourself without first making sure George has something too. If George’s autism is making things difficult for him, you calmly and patiently do whatever you can to soothe and comfort him. You play with him, you share with him, you protect him. You take care of him so beautifully, and yet you think of him as your hero.

I know that sometimes I cannot keep up with your boundless energy and your constant chatter. But I absolutely love that those things are a part of your character, and I would not change a single thing about you.

I love you, and it is a joy and an honour to be your mom.

Happy birthday.

Lots of love,
Mommy

 

post

Parenting: Live And Let Live

3403913108_7ea152b419_z

Early this morning, while I was sipping my first coffee of the day and browsing through my Facebook feed, I came across a thread that made me feel incredibly sad. It was a post about co-sleeping, and one of the first comments was from a woman saying that she believed co-sleeping was fine as long as it was done safely, that she had co-slept with her first child and that she would co-sleep with any future children.

The thing that made me sad was how other moms lambasted this woman, told her that she was uneducated, and said that if she lost a baby, it would be her own fault.

I have no interest in starting another debate about co-sleeping. Quite frankly, I don’t have a strong position about the subject one way or the other. One of my babies slept in a crib, the other co-slept with me. I did what I felt was best for each child, and in both cases, I made safety the paramount concern.

What I do have a strong position about is the idea that the vast majority of parents do what they think is best for their children, most of them research their choices, and most of them do everything they can to keep their kids safe. Unless a mother is being deliberately and blatantly abusive or negligent, she should be allowed to make those choices for her children without worrying about what other people think.

It always fascinates me that a species as diverse as the human race tends to think in such absolute terms, and parents are no exception to this. Many of them tend to believe that there is only one right way of doing things, and it’s their way, and anyone who does things differently is a <insert insulting adjective> parent.

Frankly, I’m tired of it. When will parents just accept that what’s right for them is – well, right for them? The fact that some moms breastfeed their kids until Kindergarten does not give them the right to criticize moms who are unable to breastfeed or who simply choose not to do so. Parents who limit their kids’ screen time should not be accused of being unreasonable, and those who do not should not be branded as lazy. If you let your baby “cry it out”, you are not heartless and mean, and if you pick up your baby whenever he cries, you are not spoiling your child.

Your own personal experience – no matter how tragic – does not entitle you to judge other people. Your child’s autism diagnosis may have come shortly after a vaccination, but you don’t get to accuse pro-vaxers of being uninformed and ignorant. Maybe your formula-fed child developed life-threatening food allergies, but that doesn’t give you the right to tell other formula-feeding moms that breastfeeding would be possible if only they would try harder. If your baby died while co-sleeping, I am truly sorry for your loss, but please don’t go around telling parents who choose to co-sleep that they are potential child-killers.

I’m not suggesting that we all shut up about our beliefs and opinions, or that we stop sharing our experiences. On the contrary – parents who speak out about what they go through can be valuable resources to other parents who are struggling with their choices or looking for information about their options. It’s even OK to be passionate about something that you have a strong opinion about.

Just be respectful about it, that’s all. No blame, no finger-pointing, no judging.

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

post

A Birthday Message To My Son

Mother and son 2

To my darling George,

As you go through life, you will hear many people saying that they don’t know what the meaning of life is. What is the purpose behind it all? Why are we on this earth and what are we supposed to accomplish?

Eleven years ago today, I found out the answer, and it is not something that can be put into words. It is something that can only be understood from looking into the eyes of your newborn child as you contemplate the enormous responsibility of creating a life.

Your birth – all 21 hours of it – was an anxious time for me. I had never done this before, and I really didn’t know what to expect. It took me several hours to recognize my labour pains for what they were. I suppose my frantic nesting activities that day should have been a clue. I was almost manic with activity as I flitted from one task to the next, vacuuming, doing laundry, reorganizing the fridge, cleaning windows – all while each pain radiating from the centre of my being brought you one step closer to me.

And then, that magical moment arrived. I lay spent on a hospital bed as your first cries filled the room. You were placed into my arms, and as I felt the warmth of your tiny little body, the thought struck me: “This is it. I’m a mom.”

That day feels like it was five minutes ago and a lifetime ago. Sometimes I look at you and think about how far you’ve come, how tall you are, how you are starting to make the mysterious transition from boy to man. And other times, when you come to me in need of comfort or a hug, when you try to curl your lanky self onto my lap, I look at you and see my baby.

Life with you has been an adventure. You have not followed the same path as most kids. There have been many times when we have had to stray from the beaten track and take the scenic route. The scenic route may take longer and have more obstacles, but it allows us to look at life from a different angle, and when we arrive at our destination, the sense of victory is like nothing else on earth.

I keep hearing about how challenging it is to be the mother of a child who is different. And yes, the challenges are real and cannot be denied. But the truth is that above everything else, being your mother is an honour and a privilege. You, along with your brother, represent what life is all about. Every day, you teach me something new about the things that are really important – love, determination, perseverance, togetherness, family.

You are my heart and soul.

Happy birthday, my son. I look forward to another year of discovery and adventure as you start your next rotation around the sun.

I love you forever,

Mom

post

My Children Are Getting Tall, But…

When I was a child, my mother regularly marked my height and my brother’s on the door frame in the kitchen. Every Christmas morning, we would stand against the frame in our stockinged feet, and she would use a ball point pen to draw a line over the tops of our heads. An initial would be added – P for my brother, K for me – along with the date. By the time I was 15, there were over a dozen blue lines on the door frame, telling the story of how and when we had grown. For years, the kitchen door frame was the only part of the house that never got painted.

I started to follow the same tradition with my kids when they were little, but it became one of those non-essential things that I just didn’t have the energy for. Things were difficult for me back then. My dad had died, my older son had been diagnosed with autism, I was experiencing post-partum depression after the birth of my younger son, we were trying to recover from a financial crisis – drawing lines on a wall just didn’t feature anywhere on my list of priorities.

I may not have my boys’ growth recorded all in one place, but I do have photographic proof that they were once little. Like this picture, taken seven years ago:

10531388_10152374985227779_3820866616266191005_o

And now the kid who once needed a chair in order to reach the counter is big enough to ride a bike. With no training wheels.

DSC_0055

And the one who was barely peeking over the counter is almost as tall as the fridge. Taller, if you count the pineapple on his head.

DSC_0184

My firstborn son’s hands are bigger than mine now. I can comfortably slip my feet into his shoes, and he is less than three inches shorter than me. My younger son is catching up rapidly. He has outgrown his shoes four times in the last year, and when he falls asleep on the couch, I can no longer pick him up and carry him to his bed. He can sprint around a 300m track faster than I can.

And yet.

They are still my babies, and they always will be. When they come stumbling into the kitchen first thing in the morning, their faces puffy from sleep, I don’t see the teenagers they will one day be, I see the newborns they once were. When they are standing in front of me with tear-streaked faces or scraped knees, I still have the ability to comfort them with a gentle touch, with a kiss, with a Band-Aid sprinkled with magic dust. I can still make them laugh by acting like a goof.

When they greet me with a smile, throw their arms around me and hold on as if they are never going to let go, my heart still explodes with love.

And that is never going to change. Because even when they are taller than me, they will still be my babies.

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

 

post

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

DSC_0257

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live and let live. It really is that simple.

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

post

9 Rules Of Parenting That I Don’t Follow

DSC_0149

1. Don’t let your child have more than 30 minutes of TV or computer time a day

My kids probably get 30 minutes of screen time just before they leave for school in the mornings. Contrary to what we keep hearing, their brains are not turning to mush and they don’t live in a catatonic zombie-like state. They are bright and energetic, there is nothing wrong with their motor skills or my neurotypical child’s social skills, and the games that my autism boy plays have a noticeable positive impact on his speech.

2. Don’t feed your kids processed food

Whoever made this rule probably didn’t have picky eaters. Like most parents, I try to feed my kids a healthy balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables and all of the right nutrients. Some of the food they eat regularly is processed, and I am unapologetic. If I were to eliminate all processed foods, my younger son would start to look like a starving refugee. The kids will grow out of the processed food and into “real” food – I am already seeing this with my older son, who used to eat nothing but grilled cheese sandwiches with processed cheese.

3. Don’t ever yell at your kids

According to The Experts, yelling at your kids is ineffective and psychologically harmful. Apparently, talking to them softly will cause them to stop what they are doing and listen to you. That has got to be the biggest joke of the century. There are times when yelling is the only effective way of getting them to stop whatever chaos they’re causing. Do I constantly yell at them all day, every day? No, and if I did I would deserve a slap upside the head. But the occasional bout of yelling in frustration is not leading my kids to a lifetime of therapy. They know I love them, because I tell them all the time.

4. Don’t expose your kids to germs

I’m not stupid about germs. I’m not going to dump my kids into the middle of a crowd of tuberculosis patients. I make them wash their hands before meals and after using the washroom. They are expected to maintain acceptable standards of hygiene. But I believe that there is such a thing as too much cleanliness. If my kids touch an unsterilized surface like the handle of a shopping cart, I’m not going to go to war using a bottle of hand sanitizer. I don’t keep them away from places “just in case” someone has a cold. They are strong, healthy kids who rarely get sick.

5. Sit down at the table and have your dinner as a family

I’ve read the statistics: families that eat dinner together at a dining room table are less dysfunctional and more connected. The first problem with that is that we don’t actually have a dining room table. The second problem is that getting the autism boy to sit down for an entire meal is a bit of a challenge. Even in restaurants, he has to get up and wander around from time to time. Our family is admittedly a little bit dysfunctional (show me a family that isn’t), but we are highly connected with one another.

6. Send your kids to bed at the same time every night, even on weekends

I have nights when I’m absolutely exhausted, and I have other nights when I’m too wired up to even think of sleep. My kids are the same. They don’t get tired at the same time every night, so they don’t go to bed at the same time every night. Generally, I try to make sure they’re in bed by 8:30 during the week, but if it turns out to be 9:00 from time to time, it’s not end of the world. Not only that – they are allowed to stay up later on weekends.

7. Treat both of your children equally

I have one son, aged 10, who has autism. He doesn’t talk much and he struggles with social interactions. I have another son, aged 8, who is neurotypical. He is outgoing and talkative. The boys are very, very different from one another. They have different capabilities, different levels of cognitive functioning, and different needs. I love them both with all of my heart, but they have to be treated differently, because they are different people.

8. Always put your kids’ needs ahead of your own

If one of my kids is cold, I will give him my jacket. I make sure my boys are fed before I eat anything myself. If they are sick or scared in the middle of the night, I gladly sacrifice my own sleep so I can comfort them. My heart bursts with love for them, and I live to make them happy and take care of them. Sometimes, though, I have to think of myself first. I have to tune them out to do my own thing, or I have to go for a run before I take them to a park. Because sometimes, if I don’t take care of myself, I am too burned out to take care of anyone else.

9. Don’t let your kids do dangerous things

Look, I’m not going to buy my 8-year-old a Harley Davidson or encourage him to go bungee jumping. But if he’s doing something daring on the playground or riding his bike too fast around our cul-de-sac, I’m not going to stop him. If he falls, he falls. He might get a grazed knee or a bump on the head. If that happens, he’ll get First Aid and the appropriate amount of sympathy, and he will have learned something about what he is physically able to do. I’d rather let my boys test their limits while I’m around to watch, instead of restricting them and forcing them to experiment without proper supervision.

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

post

The Beating Of A Butterfly’s Wings

3000437906_db67061a94

Last week, while my husband and I were on the road, we saw a man walking dejectedly away from a car that was in the emergency lane. We pulled over and offered him a ride, which he gratefully accepted. It turned out that he had run out of gas, and we took him to his nearby home so that he could enlist the assistance of his wife.

As we were driving him home, he said something that made me feel sad. He said, “I didn’t expect anyone to stop.”

I think it is sad that we live in a world where we expect our fellow man to not help us. All too often, we see instances of people walking past other people who need help. Have we all become so busy and self-involved that we just don’t have time to look around us and lend a helping hand? Or is this a manifestation of the “crowd mentality” that makes us assume that if we don’t do something, someone else will?

What we did for that man was so small. It cost us about five minutes of time, but it probably made a huge difference in how that man’s day went.

The very next day, I went out for a long run. It was cold and windy, and it was snowing a little. Because of the extreme winter that we have had, several of the sidewalks are still packed with ice. About six kilometres in, I was running along a relatively clear stretch, so I was able to build up a decent pace. A man walking towards me indicated that I should slow down.

“There’s a big patch of ice up ahead,” he told me. “It’s hidden under the snow. Be careful.”

I thanked him and adjusted my pace accordingly. As I gingerly picked my way over the ice he had told me about, I pondered the fact that if he had not taken the time to tell me, I could have ended up with a serious injury. Those five seconds of kindness possibly changed the course not only of that day, but of the next few weeks.

It has been said that the beating of a butterfly’s wings can start a hurricane on the other side of the world. In the same way, just a few seconds of kindness can completely alter the course of the recipient’s day, week or month, and it can make the giver feel a whole lot better too. Several studies have shown that the single biggest predictor of happiness is the propensity to be kind.

My wish for all of you reading this is that you will take advantage of opportunities to be kind, and that you yourselves will be on the receiving end of kindness.

Tell me, what acts of kindness have you recently given or received?

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