Running Giant Steps For Autism

A Kindergarten class at Giant Steps school for children with autism

A Kindergarten class at Giant Steps school for children with autism

My son was diagnosed with autism when he was almost four years old. He had fewer than five functional words, and his favourite pastime was lying on the floor examining a piece of string. The diagnosing doctor did not give us a great prognosis: our boy, he said, had limited capacity for learning, and he was likely to fall further and further behind with each passing year.

Not to be deterred, we persevered with the speech therapy sessions that he was already enrolled in, and we put him on the waiting list for occupational therapy. These services, combined with intensive behavioural intervention (IBI) turned out to be life-changing interventions. Within weeks, we started to see an explosion of skills. My son did not have a limited capacity for learning. He simply needed to be taught in a non-conventional way, by people who understood the challenges faced by kids with autism.

Now thirteen, my son has blasted most of that doctor’s predictions out of the water. He has his challenges, and he may never be able to live completely independently, but the skills he learned all those years ago created enormous amounts of potential for him.

It is imperative that children with autism be given opportunities to learn as early on as possible, no matter how bleak their diagnosis looks. Without the services that my son received, he would not be the same child he is today. The world would not get to see how bright and funny and amazing he is.

Autism families find hope in all sorts of places. One such place is Giant Steps, a school and therapy centre that is dedicated to helping kids with autism develop skills that will last them a lifetime. Through an intensive program that includes various forms of therapy, the staff at Giant Steps facilitate the unlocking of potential that might otherwise be hidden away forever. In so doing, they are not only helping the kids, they are helping the entire community.

This weekend, I will running the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon in support of Giant Steps. All of the funds raised will go towards the following hands-on therapies that are so crucial for these kids:

Speech & language therapy: Children with autism are all over the place with regard to their communication abilities. Some can hold conversations but experience verbal “tics”. Others are completely non-verbal. The speech therapists at Giant Steps work with kids of all communication abilities, and they make use of tools like augmentative communication devices and PECS (picture exchange communication system).

Occupational therapy: Giant Steps has therapists who can help children who struggle with fine or gross motor skills, sensory challenges and proprioceptive difficulties. This in turn helps them develop independent living skills, like dressing themselves, being able to write and coping with sensory overload.

Behavioural therapy: Kids with autism often experience intense anxiety and sensory difficulty that comes from their neurological differences. For many, frustration at not being able to communicate is combined with an inability to regulate emotions. The result can be meltdowns that are traumatic for the child and his or her caregiver. Using ABA (applied behaviour analysis) techniques, therapists are able to teach children how to cope with their challenges.

Giant Steps does not receive funding from the government or from the school board for the therapy they provide. The provision of services is dependent on donations and fundraising endeavours. I am asking friends, family and supporters to sponsor my autism run, so that Giant Steps can continue the work they do.

If you would like to sponsor me, please visit my fundraising page. The difference you make will last a lifetime.

This is an original post to Running For Autism by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit for all pictures: Giant Steps Toronto.


New Year Roundup


Every time the calendar ticks over to a new year, I invite friends and family members to share moments from the year gone by, as well as their hopes for the year to come. 2014 was a year of ups and downs: some had the best year of their lives, others had the worst. Many of us were on a roller coaster with good bits and not-so-good bits.

My friend Kandita, who I met when I roomed with her at a blogging conference a couple of years ago (that was an insane weekend) started 2014 with one last name and ended it with another. She looked absolutely beautiful and radiant as she married the love of her life.

My former co-worker, carpool buddy and maid of honour Michelle moved to London, Ontario a couple of years ago. Since then, she has dealt with many personal challenges, but she has never lost her desire to help other people. This year was a big one for her. She gave up her liver disease awareness work and started focusing instead on helping homeless and underprivileged people in her city. She also got a job, ending a lengthy period of unemployment, and she saw her daughter through some challenging times.

Karyn, who lives in New Zealand, also went through some major life changes. She decided to leave a marriage that was making her unhappy, and in doing so, she has started to rediscover her inner sparkle. In one of my favourite Facebook statuses on her wall in 2014, she said that happiness has become her default state. She starts 2015 with a goal to build a happier life for herself and her three sons.

Caroline, who lives a short way outside of Toronto, went through the shock and heartbreak of unexpectedly losing a very close friend. This brought home to her that we are not indestructible. Therefore, in 2015, she wants to take time for the things that really matter in life.

Corinne lives on the other end of the city to me, and a few months ago I saw her for the first time in years. She took the leap of reopening her business this year, and she enjoyed reconnecting with a lot of people she had lost touch with. She is looking forward to a year of discovery and success in 2015.

Sara, who lives south of the border from me, has a condition called Chiari, that results in debilitating headaches. Two years ago she had surgery, and in 2014, she finally got a handle on the pain. She is hoping that in 2015 she will be well enough to move out on her own.

Bronwyn also lives in the United States, but I have known her forever, since she was a little girl in South Africa. Last year, she quit her full-time job and went to work at a summer camp. This year she intends to continue the work she has started on her self-development, by getting her weight under 200 pounds and by going back to school full-time.

Fellow Torontonian Tawnya had a mixed year. She lost her beloved grandmother, but she ran her first half-marathon. She had two bicycle accidents, but is alive thanks to the fact that she always wears a helmet. In 2015, she wants to do the Army Run again, simplify her life by getting rid of clutter, and embrace challenges and changes instead of running from them.

My cousin Gillian, who lives in the back-arse of nowhere Tasmania, has family that is scattered all over the globe. Last year, she got to be with her whole family as they celebrated her mother’s 80th birthday. Her wish for 2015 is for health and happiness for everyone.

Noella lives in Missouri and is one of the loveliest people I know. She had a bittersweet year – she had a painful disconnect with her stepchildren, and at times her bills exceeded her income. But somehow her bills got paid, she was able to put food on her table and she got a part-time job just in time for Christmas. Her year did have some high points, like a Mothers Day trip to Memphis and a fancy birthday dinner, both with her son. Her health stayed strong and she received wonderful support from family and friends. Her dream in 2015 is to go to Savannah.

Jennifer, also from the United States, worked with her husband on putting their marriage first instead of focusing solely on their children. In 2015, she wants to find full-time work, get her fitness journey back on track, and go on a couples getaway to recharge and reconnect with her husband.

Elle lives in Australia with her husband Ray. In 2014, they flew back to South Africa where Ray proudly walked his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. This year, Elle hopes to find a job that she will be happy in until retirement.

And what about me? Well, 2014 was a huge year for me. I reevaluated my running goals, and through a bittersweet process I decided to take the full marathon off my bucket list. I also made the leap into self-employment and formally registered my own business. I have high hopes for 2015: I am going to run a half-marathon in 2:15:00 or less, I am going to build on the early successes in my business, and I am going to declutter and organize my home.

What were your biggest moments of 2014? What are your hopes for 2015?

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle, with input from the above-mentioned individuals. Photo credit: Takashi .M. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.


Motherhood And Careers: Stop the Judging

When I was growing up, stay-at-home moms were the norm. My own mother stopped working when my brother and I entered the picture, and apart from a brief part-time stint at a bank when I was a teenager, she never re-entered the workforce. In those days, most workplaces were strongly male-dominated, and my mother and her contemporaries were educated at a time when options for women were limited. In any case, my father’s salary was generous enough to allow my mother to stay home.

Today, the world is quite different. With a few rare exceptions, women have the same options as men where it comes to career choices. With a burgeoning child care industry to make things easier, many mothers are choosing to balance careers with parenting and family obligations. For some it’s not a choice: many families need two incomes in order to survive.

While the ability to choose has, I believe, been good for women, it has had the effect of dividing mothers into two camps: those who stay home and those who don’t. Most of the mothers I know are quite willing to live and let live, and recognize that the choices they make might not be right for other families. But both groups have members that level insults and judgments at one another.

Having been on both sides of the coin, I have been on the receiving end of insults from all directions. As a stay-at-home mom who didn’t have two nickels to rub together, I was accused of being lazy and unambitious, as if I was sitting on my couch doing nothing all day. I was told that I was taking advantage of the “luxury of staying home with the children” when I should have been working and earning a living to provide for my family.

In another blog post, I might discuss just how luxurious it is to spend all day, every day with a baby and a toddler. Spoiler alert: it’s not.

As a mom who worked outside the home, I was told that I was dumping my kids at daycare and letting strangers raise my sons. “No mother has to work,” the holier-than-thous suddenly started spouting. “All you have to do is cut back a little and you’ll be able to live on one income.”

I hate to break it to you, but watching kids for a few hours a day during the week does not equate to raising them. And if you want me to cut back, I can do that. It’ll just mean not feeding my kids or buying them new shoes when they outgrow their old ones, but you know, no biggie.

I am in a different group now, a relatively new group that is gaining traction: the work-at-home moms. These moms are the ones who run businesses from their homes. We tend to be on the receiving end not of insults, but of envy. Apparently, we are “lucky” to be able work and be with our children at the same time. People envisage us working peacefully while Junior sits quietly on the carpet beside us playing with his Lego.

The reality, of course, is very different. This is what I look like when I’m working:


When there’s not a child jumping on my head, there are two children wrestling with each other or seeing who can scream the loudest. More often than not, the bulk of my work happens at night, after the kids are asleep. It works out all right. I mean, I don’t need to sleep myself, do I?

Here’s the thing: why do we even bother to make the distinction? Whether you stay home with the kids or go out to work, whether you work out of choice or economic necessity, does it really matter? Shouldn’t we be less concerned about judging the choices of other moms and more concerned about doing what’s right for our own families? Shouldn’t we embrace the differences in how we raise our kids instead of trying to shoehorn everybody into the same way of thinking?

What do you think? Is the difference between stay-at-home moms, work-outside-the-home moms and work-at-home moms important?

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


Training Roundup: On The Road Again


Lake Ontario in all of its springtime glory

One of my training run views

Last week my Achilles tendon was bothering me, and in an astonishing and rare display of responsibility, I decided to rest. By the time Sunday rolled around, I was feeling fine and I was armed with a brand spanking new training schedule that I had drawn up during my time of sitting out.

The schedule began with a 16K run, and I wasn’t really sure how that would go. My previous long run had been a half-marathon that had left me feeling utterly wiped out. The 16K run went well, though. It was a gorgeous day for running, and I enjoyed every second of it.

Monday was a rest day. There are people who embark on running streaks, which involves a commitment to run at least a mile every day. I am not one of those people. I need my day of rest after my long runs.

On Tuesday I did my first speed training run in this cycle. It wasn’t a long run but it was pretty quick: 5K in just under half an hour. I was stressed to the eyeballs on Tuesday, and a fast run was just what I needed. At the end of it, I felt a lot better, even though my arms were inexplicably sore.

Wednesday was something of a milestone day for me. For the first time in about a year I did a good solid strength training session. I started off with a ride on the stationary bike, which is not my favourite cardio activity, but I’m acting on the assumption that cycling is an acquired taste. After the bike ride, I went to the weights area and worked muscles that I’d forgotten I even have. I even did some dreaded planks.

Now, on Thursday of the first week of my training schedule, I am already having to make some adjustments. The reason is a good one,  though, so I don’t feel too bad. This coming Sunday, my morning will be taken up with race volunteer duties at the Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon. I am excited about the opportunity to give back to the running community.

It wouldn’t be fair to my family, though, to spend the morning volunteering at a race and then to spend the afternoon running myself. Presumably my children like me and would like to spend time with me. So today I’m going to rest. Tomorrow I will do the 5K easy run that I would have done today, and on Saturday I will do another weight training session. On Sunday I will cheer on the half-marathon participants, and on Monday I will do 18K. I will adjust next week’s schedule accordingly, and then I will be back on track.

I’m feeling good about my training. I know  that there will be rough weeks when I wonder how on earth I can go on, but for now, I feel strong and confident. If I stick with the program, I will be a better and stronger runner by the time I do my 30K in August. And I if I continue on track after that, the personal best I am aiming for in the Scotia half-marathon will be in the bag.

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


Creating Stories Out Of Life


Out of all the concerns I have about my son’s autism, the biggest is his communication impairment. He has the physical ability to talk, and he has a perfectly good vocabulary. He routinely states needs and desires using full sentences, and he even makes the occasional little joke, but the kid does not have conversations.

The reason this is such a big worry for me is that he cannot talk to me about things that happen to him during the day. If I ask him what he did at school today, he cannot tell me. If something was going on that shouldn’t be, such as bullying or inappropriate touching, he wouldn’t be able to express it. It’s not a problem now, while he’s young and under the supervision of trusted adults at all times, but he’s not always going to have that protection.

For a long time, I have been practicing the art of conversation with George. I ask him a series of questions and then reward him for giving appropriate answers. Perhaps more importantly, I expose him to conversations as much as possible so that he can learn by osmosis, the way he’s learned many of the life skills that he has acquired.

So far, I’ve had limited success with this, but I never lose hope that some day he will get it. This is a child who took nine months to learn how to point. The length of time it took was not nearly as significant as the new skill. So I don’t give up, ever.

A very recent development is that George is learning to communicate his experiences in his own way, by turning them into little stories. I first noticed this over the weekend, when we were driving home from a fun afternoon at the water park. George, who almost never utters a full sentence that is not a request, suddenly came out with a bunch of them, one after the other.

“Dad drove to the water park. George got wet. James got wet. The children got wet. Everyone got wet. Oh nooooo!”

While I thought this was absolutely phenomenal, the full significance of it went over my head at first. It was not until an incident yesterday that I realized what this could mean for George’s communication.

George has a fascination with water running out of taps, and he turns taps on as far as they will go, and then just lets them run. Usually we’re able to keep this in check, but occasionally he gets out of sight, the way kids do. He turned on a tap in the upstairs bathroom that just happened to be temporarily disconnected from the plumbing. A pile of water went into the space beneath the floor, which is also the space above the ceiling of the living room downstairs.

We didn’t know that George was turning taps on and off, but when water suddenly started gushing from the living room’s light fixture onto the carpet, we had a clue that something might be wrong.

A flurry of activity followed, like laying towels down on the living room carpet, and drilling holes in the ceiling to allow the water to drain out. While this was going on, George was hovering nearby, simultaneously nervous and excited. There was no doubt that he knew he was responsible for the chaos, and he seemed to be anxious yet oddly proud of his accomplishment.

All of a sudden, he produced another group of sentences.

“George turned on the tap. The carpet got wet. Dad stood on the ladder. Dad got cross.”

That is when it hit me that George was starting to use simple little stories to communicate events from his day, and that this could be the key to conversation that I have been searching for. I feel that I now have something to latch onto, something that I can encourage and expand on.

I am beyond excited about this. I have a feeling that we are on the cusp of some fantastic developments, and I will be listening out for more of George’s little stories.

(Photo credit: Bludgeoner86. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)


Ten Pieces of Stuff About Blissdom


The Pantry Girls with Top Chef Carl Heinrich

Ten days after The Bliss, I am finally sitting down to write about it, and I find myself not knowing where to start. It is impossible to capture everything about an event like Blissdom in a single blog post. Should I talk about the ten best things I learned? A chronological account of the whole weekend? Selected highlights? Profiles of some of the people I met?

Initially, I was going to cheat and collect tweets about Blissdom from fellow delegates. Having just come off a half-marathon, Blissdom, and a three-day autism symposium all in the space of two weeks, I was tired, and I was tempted to write my Blissdom post using the words of other people. With full accreditation, of course.

In the end, I decided to keep it simple – and in my own words –  and talk about Ten Pieces of Stuff About Blissdom, in no particular order. Because putting these into any kind of meaningful sequence could make my brain explode.

1. If you’re planning to leave your kids and husband at home in order to have a relaxing Blissdom weekend, it’s not going to happen. The relaxing part, that is. When you have a gathering of a couple of hundred moms who don’t get out much, the socializing and wine drinking gets a little intense. You will have an awesome time, but you will not be relaxing.

2. There were microsessions on the Saturday morning that I absolutely loved. The microsessions are round table discussions with a small group of people, facilitated by an expert, and it’s an opportunity to really focus on the specifics that apply to you. It was such an honour to meet and talk to renowned Canadian writer Ann Douglas, and I learned a lot from her.

3. I collected many business cards, each representing a new contact. Said business cards are currently sitting in my purse, and I need to spend a bit of time going through them and getting in touch with everyone, so that those contacts stay active. The people I met were awesome, and there is potential to do great things with them in the future.

4. On the Friday morning, some of us were in the studio audience of the Marilyn Denis show, which is a popular Canadian daytime TV talk show. It was fun to be there, and it was interesting to get a behind-the-scenes look at what happens during these shows. Also, my co-workers got a kick out seeing me on TV during my three seconds of fame.

5. At blogging and social media conferences, there is free stuff. A lot of it. I really needed to allow extra space in my bag to bring home the books, the coffee mugs, the pillow, the samples of food, and so on.

6.The costume and karaoke party was a blast. I got into the spirit of things and dressed up as The Flash, but no amount of money would make me take part in the karaoke. It was fun to see other people take the stage, though. It was also fun to see the creative costumes that people were wearing. There was a Christmas tree, Facebook, Cher, Mitt Romney’s binders full of women, and much more. I was one of a posse of superheroes, but on that particular night, we all took a much-needed break from fighting crime and saving the world.

7. As a slightly neurotic person with social anxiety issues, I was not wild about the idea of sharing a room with people I did not know. But my roomies – Nolie and Jenn – were fantastic to spend time with. They were an essential part of my Blissdom experience and I am immensely grateful to them for putting up with me.

8.Due to the aforementioned neurosis and social anxiety, I tend to feel a little out of place when I’m among other people. I envy the ability of others to converse with ease with complete strangers, and I feel awkward as I stand in a quiet corner with my wine, desperately scanning the room for someone I might know. At Blissdom, I did not feel this way. I was among other writers, many of whom are just as introverted and socially anxious as me. I felt as if I was hanging out with my own kind. Ironically, being with fellow introverts helped draw me out of myself a little.

9. On the Friday night, I went out to dinner as part of a group that christened itself the Pantry Girls. Our dinner was prepared by the winner of Top Chef Canada, and it was outstanding. The food was good, the wine was good, and the company was a lot of fun. We were in an alcove area that appeared to function at least partially as a pantry, hence the name of our little group.

10. The whole weekend was capped off with a wine-tasting excursion in the Niagara region on the Sunday. I almost bailed – I had gone to bed at about two in the morning and woke up with a hangover for the second consecutive day. Was more wine really what I needed? In the end, my inner wine affectionado prevailed and I had a great day.

Now I am left with memories, a ton of people to contact, Blissdom swag. I am also left with the goal of losing some weight before next year’s Blissdom with the intention of being a slicker looking Flash!

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)


Water Play As A Path To Independence


When my son George was a baby, washing his hair was no big deal, simply because there was hardly any hair to wash. In fact, he was born with so little hair that when my best friend asked what colour it was, I had to admit that I didn’t know. There wasn’t enough to be able to tell. Hairwashing was therefore a simple matter. There was none of the “lather, rinse, repeat” business – all I had to do was wipe my baby’s head with a washcloth and we were done.

It all changed overnight when George was about eleven months old. After spending almost all of the first year of his life as bald as a cue ball, he sprouted a full head of hair one night. It was really weird waking up to this almost-toddler who was suddenly blond-haired. It was even weirder having to figure out, after almost a year of parenting, how to properly wash a child’s hair.

George resisted the hair-washing from the start. Whenever I tried to tell people about his protesting, they brushed it off, saying, “Most boys hate having their hair washed.”

That may  have been true, but from my own observations, most boys did not go into a state of all-out panic. No matter how gentle and soothing I was, George went wide-eyed with fear and screamed the roof down.

When we got George’s autism diagnosis, it all made sense. Kids with autism can have some intense sensory issues. Knowing about the autism did not solve the problem – we still had to wash this child’s hair in spite of his aversion to it – but we could at least make accommodations. We looked up social stories and created visual schedules. We established hair-washing routines to enable George to know exactly what was going to happen in what sequence. We used rewards and reinforcements, and we tried to work within the framework of his sensory difficulties.

When George was in his IBI program, his therapy team introduced a hair desensitization program. Every day, he was encouraged to brush his own hair and spray in some leave-in conditioner. It took a while for him to actually do it, but with a bit of time and patience on the part of the therapists, it became a part of his routine. When he left the IBI program, the desensitization continued at school, and now, our respite worker is incorporating it at home during the summer break.

George is still resistant to having his hair washed, but the desensitization is getting him closer to a point of tolerance. The key, we are realizing, is control. He won’t voluntarily allow someone else to put shampoo or any other gunk in his hair, but under the right circumstances, he will do it himself.

This was highlighted to us recently when we took the kids to play in a water play park. George is not actually afraid of water, but he does tend to be hesitant around it when he’s in new surroundings. At the water play park, he spends the first ten minutes or so on the sidelines, watching the sprinklers intently. The sprinklers do different things, and they turn and off at different times. When George knows what the sequence is, he ventures into the play area and allows himself to get wet.

He’s always been very careful to avoid getting water onto his head.

Until now.

About a month ago, we noticed that George was running right through the sprinklers instead of around them. He was running too fast for his hair to get more than a few drops of water on it, but still. It was more than he had ever done.

Imagine our absolute astonishment when, ten minutes later, he walked straight up to a sprinkler and put his head directly into the stream of water, allowing his hair to get soaked.

This is an encouraging development indeed. It brings George one step closer to the independence we are trying, in small increments, to guide him towards. Maybe I will never be able to wash his hair without him protesting. But maybe he is moving closer to a point where he will do it himself. Maybe all he needs is the ability to predict what the water is going to do, and the best way for him to predict it is if he is in control of it.

This idea applies to just about every area of my child’s life. As parents, our instinct is to do everything for our kids because, you know, they’re our kids. This is especially true of our kids with special needs, who are are so much more vulnerable. But we can serve them far better by equipping them with the tools – be it encouragement, knowledge, or actual tools – to do things for themselves.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)


Running: Microlactin As A Race Recovery Aid

When I ran a personal best at last year’s Fall half-marathon, I could barely walk for about a week afterward, and I didn’t even attempt to run for about two weeks. I knew that I should get out and run as soon as possible, that the best cure for tight muscles was motion. But when you have trouble getting from your bedroom to the bathroom without looking like a 200-year-old, the idea of a 5K jog around the neighbourhood is akin to climbing Mount Everest.

Initially I blamed the bag pickup setup at the race. The bag pickup area had been placed at the end of the finish line chute, which meant that twenty thousand runners were forced into a corral the width of a three-lane city street. It was absolute chaos. I stood in that line for two hours waiting for my bag, with no place to stretch or cool down and dehydration making my mind go moggy.

While that experience undoubtedly hindered my race recovery, it could not have been the only factor. All I had to do was cast my mind back to my long training runs. I had been in pain for several days after each one, even when I had not pushed myself particularly hard. There had to be some other factor that was preventing my body from bouncing back in the way that I thought it should.

I was introduced to a supplement called Microlactin in early May, about three weeks prior to the Toronto Womens Half-Marathon. Among the things promised in the promotional material were decreased joint pain and enhanced recovery from strenuous exercise.

Microlactin is made by Swiss Natural, the same company that manufactures the only multivitamin that my body tolerates. The active ingredients are micronutrients found in cow’s milk, that slow the emigration of neutrophils from vascular spaces into the joint spaces.

What’s that? Oh never mind, I didn’t understand that sentence either.

Here’s a translation: the milk proteins in Microlactin help reduce the inflammation associated with joint pain, thereby enhancing mobility and recovery from strenuous exercise. All I had to do was take it for a minimum of two weeks to see these benefits.

Well, this would be interesting. My first thought wasn’t whether this supplement would actually benefit me, but how it would fit in with all of the other stuff I take. My daily regimen already included multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, and a vitamin B/C complex. Could I really add something else to the mix?

Before taking it, I Googled Microlactin. I didn’t see anything that indicated an adverse reaction to Microlactin, either taken alone or with other supplements. Best of all, it made no difference whether it was taken with or without food.

According to the instructions on the bottle, the recommended dosage is four capsules twice a day. That seemed like an awful lot, especially considering how big the capsules are. I soon found, however, that as long as I swallowed one capsule at a time and washed them down with plenty of water, it wasn’t a problem.

I took my first dose on a Wednesday, and I did a long run the following Sunday. It was an intense phase of my training cycle, so I pushed myself hard on the run. To my amazement, I woke up the following morning feeling nothing more than some residual aching in my hamstrings, which dissipated as the day went on.

Well, this couldn’t be right. No supplement could possibly yield such dramatic results in only four days. The manufacturers themselves made it clear that it could take two weeks to see a difference. I decided that it was a fluke.

The following weekend I ran further, faster and harder. By rights I shouldn’t have been able to get out of bed the next day. Not only did I get out of bed, I was nimble about it. There was none of my usual Monday morning post-long-run moaning and groaning as I got ready for work.

The real test, of course, was the half-marathon on May 27th. By then I had been taking Microlactin for almost three weeks. I was definitely benefiting from it, but now I was going all-out in an attempt to run a personal best.

I ran hard on a tough course, missing my personal best by 25 seconds – no mean feat, especially considering that my iffy ankle was acting up. After the race I was really hurting. My ankle was throbbing painfully and my legs just didn’t want to have anything to do with anything. I hobbled painfully to the designated pickup spot that my husband and I had agreed on prior to the race.

The following morning I woke up, fully expecting to be in a lot of pain. But no! I had some stiffness in my legs, but I was able to move around easily enough. My ankle was very sore, but even that seemed to be better than I would have expected. While I had been focusing on the race recovery aspect of the Microlactin, I had not paid much attention to the fact that it could help ease the  pain of a very old injury.

Two days post-race, I had an appointment with my sports massage therapist. When I walked into his office, he looked up in surprise and said, “What happened? Did you miss your race?”

“Ummmm, no, I was there,” I replied, going on to give him an account of my run.

“So why aren’t you hobbling in here on one leg like you always do after your races?”

During the massage itself, the massage therapist was amazed at how loose my muscles were. When I told him why this was, he joked that Swiss Natural Microlactin was going to put him out of work.

The following day I went out for a leisurely but very comfortable 6km run, and two weeks later, I am ready to start my training program for my autism run in October. This time, I will take Swiss Natural Microlactin throughout my training. Speedier recoveries might just help push me to a personal best time.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

(Disclaimer: this review, which is kindly sponsored by Swiss Natural, is based on my own personal experiences and observations. Any statements made here or elsewhere on Running for Autism are not intended to replace the advice of a certified medical professional.)


Guest Post: Animals And Autism

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

Guest post exchange day was yesterday, but really, with so many phenomenal bloggers in the same challenge, how could I pick just one? Today’s guest blogger, Sarah, focuses on an area very close to my heart: animals, their relationships with people, and how they can facilitate healing. She just finished her first year of the Doctorate of Physical Therapy program at LSU-New Orleans. She is  passionate about animals and children and plans on integrating animals into her physical therapy practice after she graduates.

As a lifelong animal lover myself, I am drawn to Sarah’s blog like a magnet, and am thrilled that she agreed to write for me. Today, she shares with us how animals and children with autism can have a very special bond.

When people envision their perfect life with 2.5 kids and a white picket fence they also usually include a pet in the picture. After parents hear their child given the diagnosis of “autism”, often the idea of having a pet is questioned. In general, animals definitely provide many benefits to their owners, but as Kirsten recently reminded me “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” So what works for one child or family may not work with another.

The cool thing is that there have been several groups that have seen a lot of positive effects in children with autism after interacting with animals.

Max is one of Austin Dog Alliance’s “special dogs” available for adoption.

Austin Dog Alliance has group social skill classes where they use dogs to teach children with autism and Asperger’s. Some of the topics touched on in these classes include verbal and motor skills, interacting with and empathy for others, and appropriate behaviors both in and out of the classroom. These same skills can be achieved with a pet at home. The child can practice speaking to the dog and learn to recognize and understand the animal’s non-verbal cues. In doing this they are maintaining eye contact, which some people with autism struggle with. They can also learn to care about and for another living creature. This lesson can then translate to their interactions with other people.

Horse Boy Foundation brings kids in contact with horses to help them through what they call a “simple 6 stage process”. They’ve found that allowing kids to lie down on a horse’s back cuts down on their stimming (a repetitive movement that self stimulates the senses). Interacting with the horse is good overall sensory work while the actual horseback riding can be soothing because of the rocking motion. Again, giving commands allows the child to work on verbalization. I know that for most people owning a horse is out of the question, but there are several places that have horseback riding lessons where your child could get some of the same benefits. (it’s a youtube video about the Horse Boy Method)

Lois Brady found that a potbellied pig named Buttercup works wonders with the children. She’s a speech language pathologist, so of course her focus is getting the children to talk. But she has found that her pig is great for sensory work because he has different textures in different places on his body. The best thing about him is that people don’t have preconceived fears about pigs, like they might with a dog or even a horse.

(Photo from:

Buttercup is a great example that really any kind of pet can be used to help with things like speaking, motor skills, empathy and self-confidence. Some people prefer to have an animal specifically trained as a service animal and that has its benefits as well. You can read my post about autism service dogs to learn more about them. The most important thing is to decide what animal (if any) will be a good fit for your family.

Check out more great posts from Sarah Allen on her blog, Animals Help Heal. You can follow her on Twitter @AnimalsHelpHeal.


beauty without limits

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 21 – Health madlib poem: Go to and fill in the parts of speech and the site will generate a poem for you. Feel free to post the Madlib or edit it to make it better.

When I read this prompt, I thought it would be easy. It turned out to be a lot more challenging than I had expected. The Madlib gave me a poem that was beautiful in some parts, nonsensical in others. I had to throw out the first couple of attempts, and I finally got something that I could edit into something I could like. As tough as this exercise was, it was a lot of fun. Everyone should give it a try!

quietly i have never run, softly beyond my heart
my son, your smile is full of love
in your most happy tears are things which surprise me,
on which i cannot speak because they are too deep

your beautiful look profoundly will move me
though i have tried to understand
you see things in ways that are beyond me
exploring your world thoughtfully, intensely

your potential reaches the stars and sun
i move my world for you so that you may fly
i cross the ocean for you to know no limits
your path is different and the road is challenging

nothing gets in the way of your growth
the strength of your shy wonder: my child
i smile at the beauty of your blond hair
your blue eyes bright and sparkling with life

i would run to the ends of the world for you
so the world can be yours
you are amazing: son, brother, friend
your heart is pure, your smile lights up the sky

By Kirsten Doyle with a little help from e.e. cummings