Friday, July 25, 2008

Choose Joy, by Jennifer Lee

Robert Hajjar with Addie Daabous

This morning I spent two hours in traffic. My morning routine varies every day, depending on whether I want to have a quick breakfast, sleep an extra 10 minutes, or maybe even take an extra-long shower. Regardless of my nighttime pledge to leave the house earlier, I always end up leaving 20 minutes later than I had originally planned. Instead of a one-hour commute to work, the inevitable wall of traffic creates a time-consuming, stressful drive.

The instant I see the line of stationary cars snaking along the highway, I begin my second daily routine: I begin complaining to myself. Throughout the day, I seem to find a great number of things to complain about, whether it is a difficult customer at work, or even a cup of coffee that has gone cold. This will usually last until I fall asleep at night.

Yesterday I was speaking with a friend of mine, when she suddenly exclaimed, "You're always so cheerful and positive!" I was stunned, as I have lived my whole life with a habitual mental list of grievances. She made me realize that I speak and think positively about everyone around me, but reserve mostly negative thoughts in regard to my own life.

It is human nature to take life for granted, and it is easy to fall into a pattern of negative thinking. I have been given wonderful gifts in my life, which I am grateful for, and which should be reflected in my daily thoughts.

This brought to mind my friend, Rob Hajjar, who has Down syndrome, yet constantly exudes happiness and warmth. He doesn't waste time with negativity, but chooses, instead, to revel in life's gifts. It wouldn't occur to him to complain about any aspect of his life.

For the first time, I made an effort to remain in a constant state of joy, eliminating negative thoughts whenever they sprang to mind. The commute became a chance to spend some time with myself, rather than a source of frustration.

I know that my "inner saboteur" will wait patiently for me to show up so it can whisper self-defeating words in my ear. But a few small changes have already made me experience what Rob must feel every day: a sense of contentment and appreciation for life.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lonely World, by Patrice Slama

The following entry was written by Patrice Slama, a board member of

As a mother of an intellectually challenged child, my heart can't help but feel the loneliness felt by her. When it came to making really good friendships, it just didn't seem to happen for her. It took them, in my opinion, too long to admit she had a learning problem, and then from there she was shoved from one school to the next. Sure there were a few of the friends she met that were shoved around just like herself that she still has contact with today, but nobody she can call up when she's feeling down and lonely. When people catch on that she is different, they tend not to include her in a lot of things. I think people need to be educated on all that these individuals have to offer.

The contact I have had with special needs individuals has blown me away and given me a new heart to want to do all that I can for them. They are the most loving, nonjudgmental group of individuals you could ever hope to meet. I have truly found my passion in life and will continue to do whatever I am able to do to help them feel included and deserving in this world. More activities in our communities need to be set up that include these wonderful people, and complement their lives. Let's help them enjoy life and include them in all that we do.

You will be changed if you are ever lucky enough to spend time with these folks. They are more talented than you think and deserve the recognition for their efforts. Reach out your hand and give someone who doesn't have all that you have a chance to feel love and acceptance. The smile you put on their faces will be worth a million bucks.

Friday, July 11, 2008

What Is Autism?

Last night I had one of those deer-in-the-headlights moments that happen every now and again. Usually in the dead of night. I dig down deep, like probing a painful tooth with my tongue, and allow the full weight of the bad moment to descend on me. And then the blessed relief when I realize that it could never happen.

I flew out the door, loaded down with books, papers, water bottle, and car keys, congratulating myself on remembering to return books I had borrowed. It was a potluck dinner/writers' meeting, and I was leaving right on time. Minutes from the hostess's house, it hit me.

The bag containing a couscous salad, veggie tray, nacho chips, salsa, and a delectably warm-right-out-of-the-oven baguette - enough food to feed the entire neighbourhood - was slumbering in my mother's fridge. I had spent the day with her, and in my haste to arrive at the party at 6:00 p.m. on the dot, I had inadvertently forgotten to bring along my contribution.

Quelle horreur! It was too late now. I was already five minutes late, thanks to rush hour traffic. As it turned out, the other guests were gracious, and I even managed to laugh along when someone pointed out the distinct lack of food at our soiree.

It wasn't really the end of the world, of course. No one was offended (except for my wounded pride), no one felt marginalized, and I was able to leave the party still feeling like I was important to these people. As if I deserved to be there, a part of their little community.

This morning I read a newspaper account of a mom who took her family, including her autistic daughter, to a Smitty's Restaurant, and was asked to leave because her autistic child was making too much noise.

For a moment I could feel what every person in that family must have experienced. It was a mere flash, like a lightning bolt to the heart, but...well, that familiar 3:00 a.m. anxiety washed through me.

Those moments in life when you are made to feel smaller than everyone around you, that you don't count, and really it would be more convenient if you weren't there at all. Every child has felt it when they're the last one picked for a team, or the proverbial wallflower, standing at the edge of a dance, feeling ignored and unwanted.

Every member of that family was made to feel smaller than the other patrons in the restaurant.

As if they didn't really count.

In the end, Smitty's stepped up to the plate. An apology was given to the Seymour family on behalf of Smitty's Canada. An emergency staff meeting was scheduled for all Edmonton restaurants, and the restaurant has promised to give sensitivity training to staff members.

"Smitty's Canada also said it would like to work with the Autism Canada Foundation to spearhead a fundraiser for the cause," according to the newspaper account.

This whole sorry episode only serves to reinforce the need "to educate, and positively improve mainstream social attitudes."

"She has to live her life, too, it's a balancing act, it really is," her mom said. "You just get tired of the discrimination, you do. I think our world is ready for this. Racism, sexism is no longer acceptable. I think special needs people need to be accepted too."

Yes, indeed. After all, doesn't everyone want to feel Included, Deserving, Equal, Appreciated, and Loved?

To learn more about Sarah Seymour's organization, All Kids Have Special Needs, click here.

Thank you, Sarah, for creating a wonderful video, entitled "What is Autism?"

Saturday, July 5, 2008

What Kind of World Do I Want?

We recently moved to the country. Now, when we throw open our windows every morning, we're greeted by a symphony of birdsong.

Robins, bluejays, rose-breasted grosbeaks, orioles, and some I have yet to name, use our property as their personal playground. We weren't content to catch fleeting glimpses of birds as they soared past our windows and landed somewhere in a tangle of tree limbs, however. We wanted quality time with our friendly new neighbours, who after all seemed to be happy we were sharing their space.

Before you can say it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time, bird feeders of different shapes and sizes were dangling from our hastily constructed bird feeder swingset. They swayed gently in the breeze, weighed down with a bounty of sunflower seeds.

I couldn't wait to see who would pop in and sample our wares.

Over the next few days the odd bluejay visited our brand spanking new food bars, but no one else felt the need to swing by the new eatery.

I would love to say we're bird-watching neophytes, but that would be a bald-faced lie. In fact, over the last few years, we've invested a considerable amount of time researching everything there is to know about bird feeders.

In short, we knew better. Any bird watcher worth his salt knows you need to provide a wide array of tempting treats, based on the types of birds that visit your property. If we had slowed down and taken the time to look at the needs and wants of our friends, we would have laid out a smorgasbord of various seeds, such as millet, safflower, and niger, with just a pinch of nectar thrown in.

If you're new to your neighbourhood and want a deeper connection with those around you, try inviting them into your home. Create a warm welcoming atmosphere, and listen to their stories. Find out what makes them tick. Think along the lines of Robert Fulghum's All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten. You'd be surprised how easy it is to reach out and create a deeper connection with your neighbour. It just takes a little effort.

Speaking of reaching out to others, click here to view Five For Fighting's video, which stresses that "we are all connected to one another through our actions. Each person has the ability to make a difference."
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