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Inspirational Stories

Starting Out Sideways

From a Parent of a Child with Special Needs and Reader of Starting out Sideways: "I wanted to let you know that the book arrived and I have been reading it with great pleasure. I am so pleased that you are writing about this post-Transition age of developmentally disabled adults. This is such a little-known area of the special needs population and the issues that they confront upon 'aging out' of the school system. I love reading about Milton and Eleanor, and the fact that 'the world should conform to them' and that it should not be the other way around. What a terrific concept! I am going to promote this book to all my 'special education' parent/friends. It really explores a very important, and often scary point in our children's lives. " - Mindy T.

How often does a novel make you laugh and think, while also touching on important issues in your own life? For anyone who has ever loved a brother, sister, student or child with special needs, Starting Out Sideways is a book that will inspire, full of characters you will recognize, full of hope and courage and, okay, maybe a teaspoon of wackiness, too.

Here's what New York Times bestselling author, Elizabeth Berg has to say about Starting Out Sideways, a novel about a vocational counselor and the special needs clients she learns from and loves: We live in hard times. That's one reason why a feel-good book like Mary E. Mitchell's delightful STARTING OUT SIDEWAYS is so valuable. But there are many more reasons to love this book: the characters, who, utterly endearing or deliciously fun to hate, are so fully fleshed out you'll feel you ought to offer them a chair. The full-of surprises story that keeps you rapidly turning pages. The humor that makes you laugh out loud--literally--balanced by a well-earned poignancy. The writing is fluid and natural and smart. The ideas explored here, about what's most important in people and in relationships, make you think in new ways about your own life. Most importantly, there is a humanity exhumed in this book that makes you feel proud and hopeful about being a human on planet Earth. These days, that's a rare and wonderful thing.

Here's what the Boston Globe has to say about the book and its author, New England PEN Discovery Award winner, Mary E. Mitchell, a former vocational counselor herself: "Starting Out Sideways" was released last month, and readers and fellow authors, as well as parents of the mentally challenged, are raving about the tale of an unlikely heroine -- the portly, recently dumped, witty Roseanna Plow, who struggles as hard to make sense of her life as the special-needs adults she trains to enter the workforce. [Mitchell] lets her wry humor loose, while still delivering her usual sharp observations about human character, life, families, and relationships. It's the vividness of her characters that also appeals, especially those of the mentally challenged young adults that Plow works with. It's material drawn from Mitchell's own experience working with special-needs people, but her clear-eyed glimpse into their lives is delivered via well-honed writer's craft." And here is how you can learn more about this novel, described as "extraordinary," and "delightful," and "heart breaking and redeeming."

Click on this link for more information (www.startingoutsideways.com)

Antonia McGuire, The Ottawa Citizen Published: Saturday, May 06, 2006

Imagine filling your belly with a plateful of food, only to feel just as famished as you were before eating. This will be the reality for Meagan Mitchie every day for the rest of her life. But there's much more to this young competitive swimmer than meets the eye. Meagan is the poster girl for Special Olympics Canada, and hoping to be a competitor at the ParaOlympic Games in 2012. She spoke at a celebrity function in Toronto to raise awareness and was interviewed by TSN on Special Olympics Day. The 16-year old isn't afraid to tell others about her neurological condition, Prader Willi Syndrome (PWS), a genetic disorder that affects one in 15,000, generally the result of a missing chromosome. Poor co-ordination, low muscle tone and small hands and feet are typical physical characteristics, but a major concern is morbid obesity caused by a compulsion to gorge oneself. But instead, Meagan has channelled her compulsion into learning the joys and challenges of competitive swimming. Meagan is an example of a child who is benefiting from a rigid daily structure and it's having a positive impact, doctors say. Dr. Glenn Berall, a pediatric specialist on PWS, says the fullness signal doesn't work in people with the ailment, resulting in "an unending, unsatisfied hunger." It's a developmental situation where it's difficult and dangerous to leave them unguarded, said Dr. Berall. "Supervision is both required and mandatory, 24-7." Meagan tells her classmates that if she dips into someone's lunch, it's because she can't stop herself. Coping with the life-threatening disorder is a huge challenge. "She just took another student's lunch bag at school (yesterday) and ate every last morsel," said Meagan's mother, Anne Merklinger, who enrolled her in swimming eight years ago. Doctors say special controls are necessary. "In order to actually manage the problem requires a very specific structure, without any gaps, so that food access is absolutely controlled," said Dr. Berall. "I don't have much time to spare. (After practice) I feel great, especially after a hard set," said Meagan, who is also on the provincial team. Her coach, Jason Allen, is impressed with how far she's progressed as an athlete, considering the daily obstacles that come with the disorder. "Meagan is a very unique case because (of her medical condition), she meets the (physical) requirements of the ParaOlympics and (the intellectual requirement of) Special Olympics," said Mr. Allen. The rigid 15 hours-a-week training schedule not only helps regulate her weight, it has developed her into an extremely focused athlete. Doctors say Meagan is the shining example of what someone like her can do. The GO Kingfish competitive swimmer trains with other "able-bodied" peers, four times a week at 4:30 a.m. and three times a week in the evening. Meagan says she's competed too many times to count, but really hopes to qualify this summer at the Canadian championships for the 2007 Special Olympics in China. Her mother is darned proud regardless. Ms. Merklinger, once a competitive swimmer herself, is a significance force in her daughter's life, from monitoring her food intake at home to giving her pep talks at the pool. Her coach says without such parental guidance and support, Meagan wouldn't be accomplishing what she is. Ms. Merklinger locks the kitchen cabinets and provides rewards after swimming meets. Doctors say a multi-disciplinary approach, including dietary, behavioural and therapy, is most effective and if prevention of morbid obesity is successful, it is possible for patients to enjoy a normal life expectancy. Meagan's "parents are a backbone in her life," said Mr. Allen. "She works hard for everything she has (accomplished). Swimming is a huge part of her life." Another significant aspect is Meagan's advocacy work to help raise awareness on behalf of Special Olympic athletes. "She has a story we wanted to share," said Nathalie Cook, director of sponsorship for Special Olympics Canada. She said a portion of Subway store sales on May 18 will go to Special Olympics Canada. "Special Olympic athletes are one of a kind. They have a level of sportsmanship and attitude. It's just wonderful. It's the greatest 'can do,'" said Jean Traynor of Special Olympics Ottawa. Ms. Traynor is also organizing the Ottawa group's first five-kilometre walk, the Step Out with Special Olympics Awareness Walk. "The funds raised will help facilitate our competitive athletes at the grassroots level in Ottawa," said Ms. Traynor. Special Olympics Walk The 5k Step Out with Special Olympics Awareness Walk starts at 9:30a.m. on May 14. Funds raised through registration fees will be given to the Special Olympics Ottawa community. All participants will receive a T-shirt, which was designed by a Special Olympics athlete. Registration is open until tomorrow. Everyone is welcome. For more information, contact Jean Traynor atstepout@ottawasp cialolympics.org. © The Ottawa Citizen 2006