CANADA: What Kind Of Mother Am I?

CANADA: What Kind Of Mother Am I?

A few years ago, I went on a retreat for moms of kids with disabilities. I remember being a little skeptical when I signed up: the word “retreat” conjured up mental images of doing yoga, eating nothing but root vegetables, and spending great swathes of time alone in the great outdoors (which is not bad in itself, but it was winter and freezing cold, and the retreat was on the shores of a lake).

The reality turned out to be very different. About twenty of us spent the weekend doing journaling exercises and talking about our lives and the things that were making us feel overwhelmed.

Our stories were all very different, but a common theme ran through all of our narratives: all of us were fantastic at taking care of our families, but we were hopeless at taking care of ourselves.

We were all so caught up in our roles as special needs parents that we never had the time to just be.

A few days ago, while I was frantically scrabbling for the notes I needed to meet a deadline for a client, I came across my scribbled notes from that weekend. The notes included a journal exercise, in which we were asked to write as many sentences as we could that started with the phrase, “I am the kind of mother that…”

It was quite an insightful exercise, and it was quite cathartic. It helped me identify those little gold nuggets that make parenting truly special, as well as the more difficult aspects that needed to be acknowledged and, where possible, changed. Here are the sentences that I came up with, many of which are still true today.

I am the kind of mother that…

…feels guilty about all of the hours she spends working instead of being with her children.

…yells in frustration when things get overwhelming.

…does most of the chores around the house, just so they get done, even though it is exhausting.

…goes to sleep too late and wakes up too early.

…snaps at strangers who stare and say rude things.

…tries to see the positive in even the worst situations.

…takes care of everyone before herself, even though she has her own needs that go unmet.

…blames herself when things go wrong.

…hugs the kids anytime they want, day or night.

…never sends the kids to bed when there is anger or sadness.

…tries hard to be an advocate for her kids in the school system.

…worries about whether her kids are eating healthily enough.

…pretends she needs to pee, just to get a couple of minutes alone.

…sometimes longs for the kids’ bedtime.

…sometimes cleans up the kids’ messes because it’s easier than trying to make them do it themselves.

How would you finish that sentence? What are some of the things that shape your life as a mother?

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

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny). Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. She is now living her best life writing about mental health and addictions, and posting videos to two YouTube channels. When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum. Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Be sure to check out her YouTube channels at My Gen X Life and Word Salad With Coffee!

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CANADA: Ten Insights From An Autism Conference

CANADA: Ten Insights From An Autism Conference

gca-symposiumLast week, I had the honour of representing World Moms Network at the Geneva Centre for Autism 2016 Symposium, held in Toronto. Over the course of three days, I reconnected with friends in the autism community and made some new ones, I saw an act by an autistic stand-up comic who was absolutely hilarious, and I learned a lot of things that gave me insights into my own autistic son.

In due course, I will be sharing some of this information with the World Moms community. For now, I offer you ten insights from the presenters:

1. Mental health in people with autism is largely overlooked: autistic youth are almost four times more likely to experience emotional problems than their neurotypical peers, and many of these problems are undiagnosed and under-treated.

2. Our ability to make social connections depends in part on genetics and hormones. About two hundred chromosomes are related to our ability to make social connections.

3. Language is not about words. It is about seeking social connections. People with autism need to acquire language, but more importantly, they need to develop the social motivation to use it.

4. Kids with differences like autism tend to process social stimuli in non-social areas of the brain. As a result, interactions with autistic people can seem somewhat clinical.

5. People with autism should be allowed to make eye contact on their own terms. Being forced to make eye contact can create anxiety and distract them from their efforts to communicate.

6. Just because someone is unable to speak, that doesn’t mean they have nothing to say. When interacting with someone on the spectrum, we need to look for other ways they might be communicating.

7. Don’t just tolerate the differences of autistic brains, embrace them. People with autism have very distinct neurological wiring that make them think in ways that neurotypical people cannot relate to.

8. People with autism tend to process small changes similar to how typical people process major changes, like the loss of a job or a loved one. This can make a neurotypical person’s average day like a minefield of trauma for someone with autism.

9. People with autism learn best visually. Their brains are not wired for the kind of auditory learning that is found in most regular classrooms.

10. The hidden curriculum consists of unwritten rules that are not directly taught but everyone knows. Violation of these rules can make you a social outcast. People with autism do not pick up hidden curriculum items from their environment like everybody else. They have to be taught.

Are you the parent of a child with special needs? What little snippets have you learned on your parenting journey?

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

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny). Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. She is now living her best life writing about mental health and addictions, and posting videos to two YouTube channels. When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum. Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Be sure to check out her YouTube channels at My Gen X Life and Word Salad With Coffee!

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CANADA: Hope For The Future In Troubled Times

CANADA: Hope For The Future In Troubled Times

kindness1As parents, we tend to spend a lot of time worrying about the world are growing up in. There seem to be threats lurking everywhere, from seemingly innocuous neighbours who turn out to be child molesters to terrorist organizations and dangerous people being elected to powerful positions.

It is easy to be frightened for our children. It is easy to let the tragedies and the negative messages of the media overwhelm our lives.

From time to time, though, good things happen that give us hope for the futures of our children. That hope is multiplied when something good happens as result of a kid – a symbol of the future – going above and beyond what most people would do.

The story I want to tell you today started at a motel just down the road from me, which is used as a shelter for incoming refugees. Recent arrivals include several Nigerian families who have come to Canada to escape Boko Haram.

One of the Nigerian mothers, who had been in Canada for just two or three weeks, put her three young children onto a city bus so they could get to school. At the bus stop closest to the school, two of three children got off the bus. Their brother, who is in Grade Two, didn’t notice that they had left the bus, and they didn’t notice that he hadn’t followed. The two sisters went to school under the assumption that he was trailing behind, while he continued alone on a bus in a busy city that was new to him.

It didn’t take long for the school staff to notice that the child was missing. They put out a school-wide announcement for him and they searched the school yard.

Meanwhile, on the bus, a Grade Eleven student who was on his own way to school noticed that something was amiss. He had seen the three young children board the bus, and from the way they were chatting it was obvious that they were together. After the two sisters left the bus, he asked the little boy what his name was and what school he attended.

The boy was able to give his name, but being so new to the country, he did not know the name of his school. The high school student took out his phone and used Google Maps to find out the name of the school closest to where the two girls had gotten off the bus. He called the school, told them the boy’s name and asked if he was their student. When they said yes, he promised to get the boy safely to the school.

He got off the bus with the boy and crossed the road with him. The two of them got onto a bus going the other way, back toward the lost child’s school. The child, being under the age of thirteen, was not required to pay a fare. The high school student used his last bus pass, the one he had been intending to use to go home at the end of the day.

About ten minutes later, the child was returned safely to his school by the high school student. The little kid went to class while his principal drove the big kid to his own school. Lives that could have been changed forever by a tragedy instead went on as usual.

Sometimes, life turns on a dime. Most people are so wrapped up in the busy-ness of their own lives that they would not notice a seven-year-old traveling alone on a crowded bus. That child could end up lost, killed, hurt – the possibilities are horrifying. But because of one teenage kid who took the time to observe what was going on around him, and who cared enough to take action when he saw something that didn’t look quite right, this story had a happy ending.

In the comments below, tell us about something good you’ve seen or heard that gives you hope for the future.

This is an original post to World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle of Canada. Photo credit: BK. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny). Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. She is now living her best life writing about mental health and addictions, and posting videos to two YouTube channels. When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum. Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Be sure to check out her YouTube channels at My Gen X Life and Word Salad With Coffee!

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CANADA: Refugees Discovering The Joy Of Running

CANADA: Refugees Discovering The Joy Of Running

img_0014While half of the world is seemingly losing its mind over Syrian refugees, Canadians are scratching their heads wondering what the big deal is. A year ago, we elected a Prime Minister who promised not to control the influx of refugees, but to bring even more into the country. We rejoiced when he actually kept this promise.

For many people, refugees are a bit of an abstract concept. They’ve never met them, so they assume that they are somehow “different”. For residents of the neighbourhood I live in, there is nothing abstract about refugees. There is nothing scary about them either. They are not would-be terrorists who are trying to impose Shariah Law while they freeload off the government. They are real human beings who are trying to rebuild their lives after fleeing from war zones.

The corner of Toronto that I call home has a large transient population. Refugees come here to live while they are trying to find their feet in Canada. They are housed at one of the motels in the neighbourhood, and their children attend school with my son. When they have found a place to live and a job, they move out of my neighbourhood and into their new lives.

I have come to know a number of refugee families through my involvement with my son’s school. I don’t know all of their stories, but they have a look in their eyes that speaks volumes. It is a look unique to people who are trying to wrap their minds around the fact that for the first time ever, they don’t have to live their lives in fear. They can move beyond “survival mode” and actually start to find enjoyment in life. They can board a city bus without wondering if it will blow up. They have access to parks where they can go for walks and have picnics. Instead of running away from danger, they can just run.

Some of the refugee kids at my son’s school have discovered the joy of running through Kilometre Club, which happens every school morning during the spring, summer and fall. Kilometre Club is very simple in how it works: kids show up before school and run laps around the school yard. For every lap they complete, they receive a Popsicle stick. Five minutes before the morning bell is due to ring, we send out a kid for the last lap holding a fake scarecrow on a stick. When the scarecrow completes the lap, Kilometre Club is over for the day. The Popsicle sticks are collected and tallied, and the class that has the most Popsicle sticks at the end of the season wins a pizza lunch.

Kilometre Club has become a well-loved institution at the school because it is so inclusive. There is no sign-up and no expectation to go at a particular pace. Kids who want to run can run. Kids who want to walk can walk. For the refugee kids, it is a discovery that you can run without having to run away from something. You can run without being triggered by the “fight or flight” response. For these kids, it is a new world in which you can run just to feel free and alive.

I’m the one who hands out the Popsicle sticks and decides who will be the scarecrow for the day. In this role, I have gotten to know most of the kids at the school. I get to see the Canadian kids weaving the refugee kids into the fabric of their lives, welcoming and including them as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. I get to see the refugee kids slowly, slowly dropping their cloaks of fear as their lives mesh with the lives of those around them.

It is a beautiful thing, and one of the reasons I love being a Canadian.

Does your community welcome refugees? How do you encourage your kids to embrace diversity and acceptance?

This is an original post to World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle of Canada. Photo credit: Ani Bashar. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny). Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. She is now living her best life writing about mental health and addictions, and posting videos to two YouTube channels. When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum. Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Be sure to check out her YouTube channels at My Gen X Life and Word Salad With Coffee!

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CANADA: Autism – Overcoming Fear Of Water

CANADA: Autism – Overcoming Fear Of Water

Autism boy and his brother at the hotel pool

Autism boy and his brother at the hotel pool

When he was younger, my autism boy was terrified of water. Bath time was an ordeal that involved physically restraining this petrified, screaming child while we sponged him down as best we could. When we had to wash his hair, we would have to take him by surprise and wrap him up like a burrito before he would realize what was going on. These gruelling sessions usually ended with me in tears as I contemplated what I was putting my child through.

A trip to a splash pad one summer’s day a few years ago led to the discovery that although my autism boy hated being submerged in any body of water, he would consent to standing under a spray of water. From that day, our lives were a lot easier: bath time became shower time. My son was not exactly thrilled, but the screaming and terrified looks were replaced with crying and more manageable anxiety.

Although keeping my child clean is less traumatic than it once was, it is still challenging. My son only just manages to tolerate being in the shower for any length of time. Every minute that he is in there, he begs to be allowed out.

And so it was with a great deal of trepidation that I decided to enrol him in swimming lessons this summer. Fear of water or no fear of water, this kid has to learn how to swim. Individuals with autism are twice as likely as the general population to die prematurely from accidental causes. An extremely high percentage of those deaths are drownings.

And so I called the local aquatic centre and told them I wanted to put both of my boys into swimming lessons. I explained about the autism and the fear of water, and expressed my concern that my son would not even get into the pool.

The lady at the aquatic centre said something that I have told myself many times, something that I believe should be a constant mantra for autism parents everywhere.

“We won’t know what he’s capable of unless we give him the opportunity to try.”

These words told me everything I needed to know about the staff at the aquatic centre: that they were prepared to work with my special needs son in a positive and inclusive manner.

On the day of the introductory lesson, I deposited the boys with their instructor and made my way to the observation room, where I leaned forward in my chair and waited anxiously. I knew, at least, that my autism boy would be greatly reassured by the presence of his brother. As I watched, the boys were directed to sit on edge of the pool and dangle their legs in the water.

My younger son readily complied. The autism boy watched him for a few moments, and then followed suit. I held my breath, waiting for a disaster.

But instead of screaming and panicking, my son gingerly lowered himself into the water, to where his instructor was waiting.

I’m sure there was an audible thunk as my jaw hit the floor.

With his hands resting lightly on the instructor’s shoulders, my boy walked from one side of the pool to the other, and then back again. He waited patiently as the instructor went through the same paces with my younger son, and then he did it all over again.

Half an hour later, I met my kids at the entrance to the pool. Both of them were full of smiles, and my younger son could barely contain his excitement as he described how well his brother had done.

Several weeks have passed since then: during this time, we have had a family vacation that included many hours at hotel pools, and there have been two more swimming lessons. Almost overnight, my autism boy has become a water baby. He’s not exactly Michael Phelps, but he can float with support and put his face into the water.

This experience has been a valuable reminder for me to never assume that my kids will not be capable of something.

Have your kids ever surprised you with an accomplishment that you weren’t expecting? Have they ever come to love something they once feared?

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

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny). Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. She is now living her best life writing about mental health and addictions, and posting videos to two YouTube channels. When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum. Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Be sure to check out her YouTube channels at My Gen X Life and Word Salad With Coffee!

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