Thursday, November 26, 2009

Olympic torch lights autistic boy's dream

Alex is not the only autistic Torchbearer in the 2010 Olympic Torch Relay. Thirteen year old
Mackenzie Allan will get his turn to carry the flame on Day 62 - December 31st at 1pm in Barrie Ontario.

Like Mackenzie's parents, Alex's parents also
"hope other families touched by autism can embrace kids' potential despite the numerous challenges".

When Alex wrote his winning essay to Coke, he asked that, as an autistic and a distance runner,
Coke pick him to "represent and celebrate active and diverse Canadians".
We'll be watching and celebrating Mackenzie's run too!

Olympic torch lights autistic boy's dream

Torchbearer's parents hope other families touched by autism can embrace kids' potential despite the numerous challenges


Mackenzie Allan could sing the lyrics to O Canada before he could even talk.

So it's only fitting that the 13-year-old autistic boy, who lives in south Barrie, will be one of 12,000 people to carry the Olympic torch in the coming weeks leading up to the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.

For his parents, Brad and Catharine, it's also a dream come true, seeing their son's progression effectively taking him to the world stage. He has overcome learning difficulties and frequent meltdowns -- even sitting still had been a challenge.

Mackenzie's father submitted Mackenzie's name for the Torch Relay and was selected in July when the family was camping at Algonquin Park. He will carry the torch for 300 metres on Dec. 29, beginning at 1 p. m., from Midland Town Hall to the local RBC branch. The special warm-up uniform arrived last week.

The torch will be in Simcoe County on Dec. 29 and Dec. 30.

Mackenzie said he feels "pretty good, happy and excited" about the opportunity.

"The reason we're doing this is for the parents," Catharine said.

"When you get the diagnosis, you feel like your life is over. To parents, I just want to say, 'Don't give up. Work with your child.'" "Sometimes autism is scary," she added. "The world is getting better with (how it responds to) autism. We have to get along and the Olympics is about everybody."

Mackenzie's parents don't expect he will become nervous during his leg of the relay.

"He likes the limelight," said his dad. "Don't give him a mic."

Mackenzie was diagnosed at about 30 months old, when the family lived in Sioux Lookout. His form of autism is considered high-functioning.

"It took a long time for him to speak, but everyday he would hear O Canada (at school)," said Catharine, a registered nurse in Royal Victoria Hospital's emergency department. "He started singing the words, but we hadn't really had him talking.

"We were almost in tears, so O Canadareally meant something to us," she added. "It was hope. He was saying the odd word, but it was very limited. And then it just took off."

The Grade 7 student at Algonquin Ridge Elementary School still has some difficulty speaking, "but he really is a miracle child," said his mom.

Mackenzie was like any other child until he was two years old, when his parents noticed changes in his social skills. They began wondering whether he was deaf.

"It's pretty hard, as a parent, to watch that," said Brad, a biologist with the Ministry of Natural Resources. "Your kid goes away and another one comes back."

The Allans put everything they had into Mackenzie's intensive behavioural intervention (IBI) treatment and it has worked for them.

"I can't dream big enough," said Brad. "He's come a long way. Now we're in a situation where we want him to learn."

Mackenzie's dream is to be a computer game programmer.

One of Mackenzie's strong points has always been his reading skills, his parents say. When he was in Grade 6, he used to read to kindergarten students.

"That was his way of being a champion," said his proud dad, adding his son also possesses strong math skills.

"He says he sees himself like an athlete," added Catharine, "because everything he does is a challenge. He sees himself as a hero, or an athlete."

Autism can be tough on families. The divorce rate for parents with autistic children is through the roof.

"We have a good foundation," Catharine said. "It's all about the family."

His father once worried that his youngest son would never play hockey. But Mackenzie, whose sports-loving family also includes two older brothers, signed up with the Barrie Christian Hockey League three years ago. The right-winger, who cheers for the Toronto Maple Leafs, scored his first goal last season. His parents say it has helped the boy with receiving instruction, learning about winning and losing, and team-building.

"You have to find the right way to motivate," Catharine said, adding Mackenzie also embraced scuba diving during a recent trip to Cuba.


One further comment.... "The divorce rate for parents with autistic children is through the roof" -- This is a media myth with no factual basis. In fact, research shows exactly the opposite -

"It is heartening to note that research has not shown that parenting a child with a disability always has an overall negative effect on the parents' relationship. Despite all the difficulties, couples with a child with an ASD have been shown to be no different from typical parents when it comes to reports of spousal support, respect for partner, or commitment.7 Another encouraging fact: we could find absolutely no support for the 80% divorce rate for families with a child with ASD commonly cited around the autism community.8,9 A study looking at divorce rates for families of children with assorted disabilities found an average increase (over the rate for couples with non-disabled children) of only 5.97%.10 An Easter Seals' survey of families with a child on the autism spectrum, moreover, found parents of a child with an ASD to be less likely to have ever been divorced than the parents of a typically developing child.11"

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