8 Ways $1000 Can Help Kids With Autism

2013-06-09 14.50.00

This year, I will be running for autism for the fifth time as I take part in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon. Although the race is advertised as “flat, fast and festive”, it is quite hard, and not only because it’s kind of far. It’s because there are long straight stretches with no left or right turns. In the last 5km or so, I keep imagining that the final turn to the finish line is right there, like a mirage in the desert.

This year, I expect the race to be even harder, because it will come just a month after I do the Ottawa Army Run, which is also a half-marathon.

The Scotiabank run is an important one, though, and I will never exclude it from my race calendar no matter what else I have going on. This race is my opportunity to give something to the autism community, to make the world a better and brighter place for my son and other people like him.

I am running for the Geneva Centre for Autism, and like last year, I have set myself a fundraising goal of $1000. If I achieve that goal, the Geneva Centre will be able to choose from some really cool uses of the money. Like these:

1. Art supplies for 40 individuals with autism. We could collectively unleash the talent of the next Stephen Wiltshire.

2. Sports equipment for 20 individuals with autism. Sporting activity has so many benefits for people with autism, apart from the obvious ones that apply to all of us. Athletics can help develop fine and gross motor skills, it can nurture problem-solving skills, and it give kids the “deep pressure” sensations that they often crave.

3. Instruments for 15 musicians with autism. I have had the pleasure of listening to the music of Michael Moon. Music enriches his own soul and those of his audiences. If he hadn’t had access to a guitar when he was younger, that potential within him might never have been unlocked.

4. Job training for 15 young adults. The biggest worry in the minds of most autism parents is whether their kids will be OK as adults. Will they have the life skills they need to live independently and have jobs? The job training programs provided by the Geneva Centre can make a real difference to the lives of young adults.

5. Field trips for 10 individuals with autism. For most kids, field trips are an opportunity to go somewhere fun and miss a few hours of school. For kids with autism, field trips are an opportunity to learn life skills in real-world settings, and to generalize existing skills to places other than the classroom.

6. Summer camp for 4 individuals with autism. People with autism are often unable to participate in activities that are designed for the neurotypical world. There is, however, an opportunity for them to attend camps for special needs people, or to attend the regular camps with extra support.

7. 2 iPads loaded with autism-friendly apps. It has been shown time and time again that kids with autism can benefit greatly from using iPads. They can learn life skills, social skills, academics like reading and math that can be hard to master in a classroom setting. There have been reports of kids with autism who have gone from non-verbal to fully conversational with the help of iPad apps.

8. One piece of state-of-the-art sensory equipment. A lot of kids with autism are sensory-seekers. They like deep pressure, textures, movement, sounds and patterns. One piece of equipment that meets sensory needs can go a long way in centres that accommodate groups of children.

Every cent that I can raise will make a lasting difference to the life of someone with autism. Whether we help kids discover a talent or a passion, prepare them for life, or simply make it easier for them to tolerate their environment, we have the power to change the world.

It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village of extraordinary people to raise a child with autism. If you are able to, please be a part of my village.

To sponsor my 2013 Run for Autism, please visit my fundraising page.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle. This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle.)


Why I Will Never Break Up With Facebook


When I first moved to Canada almost thirteen years ago, the world seemed like a very big place. I had a very hard time adjusting to life in a completely new territory where I did not know a single soul. If I felt lonely, I could no longer get into my car and visit my best friend for coffee. I couldn’t drop in on my parents for an impromptu dinner. I couldn’t call anyone to find out who was going to see which movie or have a drink in which bar. Now, if I felt lonely, I had to sit alone in my apartment in this strange land and just deal with it.

I kept telling myself that this had been my own choice. No-one had coerced me into packing my life into checked baggage and moving halfway across the world. But knowing that didn’t make the process any easier.

Desperate for human contact, I turned to my computer and instant-messaged with anyone I could find online. The most oft-sought-out victim of my off-the-boat neediness was my friend Kane in Michigan, who was endlessly patient and kind even though I must have been a complete pain in the you-know-where from time to time.

That was really the first time that my computer gave me much-needed access to a friend, but it certainly wasn’t the last. At some point over the years, Facebook became an everyday part of life for most people. Admittedly, the word “friend” can be a bit of a misnomer where Facebook is concerned, but I have met some fabulous people online who I count as true friends, even though I have never met them in person. These are folks who have helped me through a pregnancy loss, the death of my father, my son’s autism diagnosis, injuries, illnesses, my bouts of mental messed-up-ness, and a number of other things.

Not only has Facebook helped me forge new friendships, it has enabled me to keep in touch with family members, and with friends I have known for a long time.

It has also provided me with access to an entire autism community. On the days when I want to feel that I am not alone, all I have to do is turn on my laptop, and within a few clicks I am having virtual conversations with people who give me advice, information, encouragement, or whatever else I might be needing. If I’m having a really good day, I am able to use my social networks to help other people who might be feeling overwhelmed or discouraged.

Because I’m human, and humans are given to complaining, I do like to hate on Facebook from time to time. I gripe about having to constantly vet my privacy settings, I lament about unsubstantiated myths and rumours being perpetuated, I whine whenever my timeline’s appearance changes. But at the end of the day – as much as I hate to admit it – I have become reliant on Facebook. Because through Facebook, I can reach so many people who really and truly matter to me.

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


5 Things This Autism Parent Wants You To Know


1. When we tell you that our child has autism, don’t say you’re sorry. We know you mean well, but why should you be sorry? We’re not. Autism parenting can be as tough as hell, but we adore our kids, and like any parent, we do everything we can for them.

2. Autism is a neuro-processing disability. It is not an intellectual disability, although the symptoms may or may not include cognitive impairments. Don’t assume that a child with autism struggles intellectually, but at the same time, don’t assume that everyone with autism is like Rain Man.

3. If my child is in the room, any questions you have about him should be addressed to him, not to me. Don’t ask me how old he is or what grade he is in at school. Ask him. Afford him the same respect you would give to any child. He may not be able to answer all of your questions, but he has to have the opportunity to try. If he needs prompting, I will help him. But always operate under the assumption that he can, not that he can’t.

4. I don’t expect society to bend over backwards for my child. He is a child with autism living in a neurotypical world, and we are doing our best to give him the skills he will need in order to survive. He is always going to be different, though. He will never fit any mould of what people may think someone “should” be like. What I ask is that you embrace and accept those differences.

5. It is a very sad fact that the autism community is fragmented by different beliefs, and sometimes those fragments attack each other. Moms who choose to vaccinate their kids are accused of being bad parents. People actively campaign against autism organizations that do not promote a certain agenda. Insulting terms like “sheeple” are flung around. All of this really bothers me, because we should have a common goal – that goal being a better life for our kids. That should be what we are aiming for, over and above everything else.