Politics And Autism: Deciding Who To Trust

Today I discovered that I have my very own YouTube channel, and by coincidence, I had a cause to use it. There is a provincial by-election coming up in the electoral region that I live in, and there is really only one issue that I will be basing my vote on. Although the federal government has some loosy-goosy policy on funding for special needs kids, this is largely the domain of the provincial government. This evening, my husband went to a meet-and-greet hosted by the major candidates in this by-election. He asked all of them to state their stance on autism funding for the camera, and the results were quite surprising…

Scarborough-Guildwood By-Election

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. The video is original, unedited footage shot by Gerard Doyle and Kirsten Doyle.


Autism And The Ontario Teacher Dispute

Going back to school after a two-week vacation is hard, especially for a child with autism whose routines have been completely turned upside-down by unaccustomed time at home, unaccustomed time in a hotel, and the whole Christmas ordeal.

This week has been rough for both of my kids, particularly my firstborn. George reacts to changes in his routine by not sleeping, which means I haven’t had anything remotely approaching a good night’s sleep since before Christmas. Now that the kids are back at school, and familiar rituals and schedules have resumed, the sleep issues are slowly but surely diminishing. Usually it takes a couple of weeks for the status quo to fully return.

This time round, though, there are a couple of wrinkles that are likely to hamper our return to our own odd version of normality. One of the wrinkles is actually a very positive one: for the next few Wednesdays, George will be attending a social skills program after school.

On the one hand, he gets to go to the therapy centre that was his home-away-from-home for three years. It’s a place he knows and loves, and the program is one that he desperately needs.

On the other hand, he has not set foot in the therapy centre since he was discharged 15 months ago. It is no longer a part of his daily life, and going there is a big change for him. As disruptive as that is for now, his participation in the program represents progress, and we are excited to see where this might take him.

The other wrinkle is a little more contentious in nature. For those not living in Ontario, here’s the short version of the story:

Last year the Premier of Ontario introduced legislation that would have the effect of screwing over the teachers. The teachers’ unions got involved and tried to negotiate a better deal. The inevitable happened – things went nowhere fast and the unions recommended a course of protest action for the teachers.

In December, there was a series of one-day walkouts staged by school boards across the province. By then, pre-Christmas stuff had already started to throw the routines off, so this didn’t really bother us. The biggest effect was that James’ Christmas concert had to be rescheduled to a date that was impossible for me (oh, the guilt!).

The one-day walkouts failed to have the desired effect, and now the teachers are not in a legal position to strike. They can, however, stage a one-day protest (although to be honest, I’m not clear about the difference between the two), and this is exactly what they are planning to do tomorrow.

Looking at the issues alone, my sympathies are with the teachers. They are entrusted with the task of shaping futures, and they deserve some respect. My opinion is kind of moot anyway: regardless of who’s right or wrong, the teachers have to do whatever the unions tell them to.

But speaking as a special needs parent, I have to say that I am kind of miffed at this latest development. At a time when I am trying to get George settled into the flow of a routine that’s already different, an unplanned three-day weekend really throws a monkey-wrench into the works.

That there are issues to be resolved is beyond question. I just wish this could be done in a way that does not impact the kids. I can handle the inconvenience of having adjust our family’s schedule to accommodate the kids not going to school for a day. I can live with them missing out on one day of instruction. In the grand scheme of their educations, a single day is not going to make much difference.

What I find hard to swallow, though, is the fact that special needs kids like George are going to endure an extra dose of stress and anxiety because of this.

I’m not sure what the solution is, but I cannot help thinking that there has to be a way to avoid making children bear the brunt of grown-up problems.

(Photo credit: Pylon757. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)


Open Letter to Ann Coulter

Dear Ann Coulter,

Before I get to the point of this letter, I want to get some preliminaries out of the way.

I don’t agree with your political views, and I don’t like the way you present them. I find you to be offensive and abrasive, and generally disrespectful to your fellow man – even those who check the same name you do in the ballot box.

This is not about politics, though. While I have been kind-of following the US presidential campaign, I don’t have a stake in it. I do not live in the United States, and the outcome of the election will not affect me in my day to life. I am just a Canadian mom muddling through life as best I can, striving for the happiness and wellbeing of the two children I have had the honour of bringing into this world.

I have many of the typical modern-day mom challenges. My boys keep me busy, I spend too much time commuting so that I can work full-time to provide for my family, and my husband and I can barely squeak in any time for ourselves.

In some ways, though, I am not really typical, because both of my children need some extra help. My younger son is struggling with reading and writing. My older son has autism. They are both highly intelligent, you understand, but they have their challenges.

Ann, my older son – the one with autism – does not have any friends. He has been invited to exactly one birthday party in his whole life. He does not know how to play with other children, and when he comes home from school, he is not able to tell me what his day was like. He is different from other kids, and it is obvious.

But do you know what? Not once has any child said a mean word to my son. I realize that as he approaches his teenage years things may become more difficult for him, but until now, he has never experienced anything but tolerance, acceptance and kindness from other children.

No, the nastiness – the looks, the snide comments, the sniggers – have come from adults. It has been the so-called grown-ups who have shepherded their children to the other side of the playground. It has been the grown-ups who have smirked in the face of my son’s public meltdowns and told me that my child “needs a good hiding”. The grown-ups have been the ones to stare rudely at my son’s stimming while their own children have acted as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening.

Ann, the one time I heard someone refer to my child as a retard, guess who it was?

Yep, you got it in one. It was an ADULT. Someone who really should have known better.

Someone who freely uses words like “retard” without any care for how it might hurt other people.

Someone like you.

Do you know what connotations that word has for a special needs mom like me? Do you realize that you are tossing out a term designed to hurt and ostracize children like my son? Do you have any idea that this word is exactly what is stopping my son and thousands of others like him from being accepted as a valuable part of society?

Do you even care?

I’d like you to take a moment to look at the picture at the top of this letter. Really look at it. Look into the eyes of that sweet, innocent child, and then tell me if you feel good about being so insulting to him and doing your part to damage his chances of acceptance and happiness.

If you must trash-talk the presidential candidates, please do so without using words that are offensive and divisive.

Thank you.
Just another mom


Dumb-Mockracy In Action

I got my first exposure to Canadian politics two days after I arrived here, when I saw a news report about an attack on the then Prime Minister, Jean Chretien. A man claiming to represent victimized people in Canadian society broke security ranks and hit Chretien in the face – with a pie. I wasn’t too clear on what message this action was supposed to convey. Did the pie represent something? Was this an example of the Canadian reputation for politeness (“Sorry, Mr. Prime Minister, but I really don’t agree with the way you are running the country, but I’m way too nice to actually hurt you, so here’s a pie instead.”)

Having grown up in South Africa during the last days and the ultimate fall of Apartheid, and having been present at such auspicious occasions as the release of Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s first democratic election, I was used to political volatility. But still, I found the whole pie thing distinctly… odd.

Since living here, I have always found Canadian politics to be somewhat tame and boring. I do not mean that in a negative way. Tame and boring is good. It means that you are dealing with issues like employment, the economy, healthcare – the kind of stuff that governments should worry about on a day-to-day basis. You are not having to spend all of your time thinking about international sanctions that are completely choking your country, a crime rate so high that a murder barely gets a mention in the middle pages of a community newspaper, a police force that is so badly paid that officers resort to taking financial bribes just to make ends meet (not that I’m justifying bribery and corruption, but c’mon, if you’re expecting someone to risk their life, at least pay them a living wage), and many other crisis points that governments should only have to think about once in a blue moon.

By the time I had been here for three years or so, I had developed a theory. It goes like this:
Theory: Politicians have to argue, even if they don’t have anything to argue about. 
Corollary: A great way to really add to the excitement is by bringing down the government and holding a federal election.

After Jean Chretien decided to call it quits ( can’t blame him – the dude was getting a bit long in the tooth, chronologically speaking), he passed the reins to Paul Martin. When election time rolled around the following year, Paul Martin held onto his post but only won a minority government. This meant that at any time, the opposition parties could band together and pass a motion of no-confidence, triggering an election. This is exactly what happened, which is how we wound up with Stephen Harper, the current Head Honcho.

Stephen Harper won a minority government as well. Two years later the opposition parties brought down his government, but he kept his Prime Minister seat in the resulting election (another minority government).

Two years after that, the opposition parties brought down his government again, but he kept his Prime Minister seat in the resulting election (and another minority government).

Now, about three years later, Stephen Harper’s government is on the verge of falling yet again. On this very afternoon, the opposition parties are almost certainly going to defeat the government on the basis of the federal budget, and an election will be held in the Spring.

The only difference (from my perspective anyway) between this occasion and the previous ones is that this time, I will get to vote and thereby earn the right to complain. I have a long-held belief that people do not have any place complaining about a government if they were not bothered to go out and put an “X” on a piece of cardboard. This time, however, I will be eligible to vote.

Which of course means that I will have to decide who to vote for.

For the benefit of those living outside of Canada, I should explain that Canadians do not actually vote directly for the Prime Minister. They vote for a local Member of Parliament (MP), who is usually affiliated with one of the major political parties. The head of the party that winds up with the most MP’s gets to be the Prime Minister.

In an ideal world, this would work fine. In an ideal world, you just know that the MP’s of a political party are united in what they stand for.

In the real world, however, this system of voting can pose quite a dilemma.

Here’s the scenario: You really, really like the guy who’s running locally for your preferred political party. You feel that he has a keen grasp of the issues that are important, and you believe that he will represent your best interests at federal level. However, you cannot stand the head of that political party. You would rather set your face on fire than have him as Prime Minister. You don’t trust him and you believe that the only thing he cares about is his own personal agenda.

On the other hand, the MP candidate for the other political party, the party you would not normally support, is not someone you would typically vote for. But the head of that political party would, you believe, make a better Prime Minister than his opponent. He may not represent all of your beliefs, and he may not have the same priorities you might like, but you think that he does at least have some integrity. You think that he has Canadian interests at heart, whereas the other guy absolutely doesn’t.

So how do you cast your ballot? Do you vote for the local guy you like, knowing that this would also represent a vote for someone you cannot stand? Or do you vote for the other guy in support of your preferred Prime Ministerial candidate, knowing that you are also voting for an MP who does not represent your priorities and beliefs?

Update: breaking news is that the Canadian government has indeed been defeated on a no-confidence motion. A federal election will be held in May.
Disclaimer: the hypothetical scenarios described above are not a statement of actual circumstances, nor are they a reflection of my political leanings. They are hypothetical questions only.

(Photo credit: