Kiley Lyall just might make history as the first person with autism to grace the cover of “Women’s Running” magazine.

The 24-year-old runner and aspiring model has autism, mild cerebral palsy and epilepsy and lives with her family in Bourbonnais, Illinois. Recently, Lyall’s mother, Kathleen, entered her into a competition at “Women’s Running” magazine for women who’ve overcome obstacles. The winner’s photo will appear on the cover of the magazine.

She was chosen out of 3,000 people to be one of the 8 finalists.

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Lyall has been running since she won her first relay at Special Olympics when she was 8 years old. After running many 5k races with her mother, Lyall set her sights on the Chicago Half Marathon. She’s now completed that race twice, most recently on September 27.

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Lyall’s favorite thing about running is blending in with other runners and not standing out as having a special ability, her mother told The Mighty.

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When she’s not running, Lyall practices her second passion: modeling. Several years ago she was selected to be in some of the original photo shoots for Changing the Face of Beauty, a campaign advocating for greater inclusion of people with disabilities in advertisements.

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“It just totally changed everything for her,” Kathleen Lyall told The Mighty. “It changed her confidence, she started talking more and she even picked up the camera.”

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The mother-daughter pair now have a photography business together called CurlyGrace photography.

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For Lyall, being on the cover of “Women’s Running” would be a dream come true.

“Being on the cover of ‘Women’s Running’ magazine would mean that I’m just a runner,” she told The Mighty in an email. “I may have a disability, but I am conquering what a lot of women are conquering no matter what they look like and no matter their abilities.”

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When asked if she has advice to offer other athletes with special needs, Lyall had this to say:

“Always go for it, no matter what your disability [is]. You may be slower or more awkward, but if you love doing it and it makes you happy… follow your dreams and goals! You will eventually succeed.”

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Go here to vote for Lyall for the Women’s Running cover, or to see the other women nominated.

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Meet Aiden. A free-spirited young man with a charming smile and an ornery streak a mile long. Aiden loves Legos, blocks and way too much TV. He loves to help in the kitchen — cleaning and baking are his favorite pastimes. He is kind to those who are hurt or sad. He is opinionated and can be as stubborn as a mule sometimes.

His eyes are hazel and his hair is blonde. He loves noodles of every kind. He is a huge fan of eggs with cheese. As a matter of fact, he often raids the refrigerator for cheese and recently tried to pin it on Pinky Pie from “My Little Pony” by leaving her on the shelf of the refrigerator next to the opened bag of shredded cheese. He dislikes rice and mashed potatoes. (This still baffles me. Who doesn’t like mashed potatoes?) He prefers ground beef over steak and bananas over apples. He adores all things pumpkin.

Just like you and just like me, Aiden is a product of his DNA — the building blocks of his inheritance. All of the things that make him who he is, that shape his likes and dislikes, the way he looks, even the shape of his smile and the sparkle in his eyes are part of a beautiful genetic pattern that is uniquely his.

Twenty-two of Aiden’s 23 chromosomes are neatly and uniquely paired copies of two.

One of his chromosomes, the 21st to be precise, has three copies.

We call this Down syndrome. It’s a name attributed to this unique chromosomal difference. That’s all it is. Down syndrome doesn’t define or describe my son. It’s not a label to throw in front of his name. As a matter of fact, if you do the math, it’s a very small fraction of the entire “blueprint” that makes up who my son is.

It would be easy for me to sit and list some of the “issues” that are often part of a Down syndrome diagnosis. I could rattle off the common delays, potential medical issues and so forth. But really, is that how you would want to be defined?

As a mother of two sons who happen to have an extra chromosome, I ask you to look at my son for who he is, not what he lacks. I want you to define him by his amazing abilities, not by his perceived disabilities.

After all, who wants to be “labeled” by their challenges?

What color are your genes? What is it about you that makes you wonderfully unique? Is it your fiery red hair or your crazy obsession with math? Is it your athletic prowess or your joyful laugh? Maybe it’s the gift of creativity or the way you can whip up magic in the kitchen?

My son’s DNA was woven together in the most beautiful pattern that is his life.

So is yours.

Let’s just marvel at that for a minute.

Let’s marvel at our differences and celebrate them.

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Follow this journey on From the Heart.


Demi Lovato has been a mental health reform rock star this week.

The singer, known for both her chart-topping hits and speaking up about her experiences with mental illness, headed to Capitol Hill Tuesday to speak to legislators about pushing comprehensive mental health reform, representing Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health initiative. Her visit fell during the National Council for Behavioral Health’s Hill Day, when hundreds of behavioral health providers, administrators and other members of mental health organizations come to D.C. to advocate for mental health reform.

She’s also debunking connections between violence and mental illness. Last night, Lovato went on “Live With Tamron Hall” to talk about why she was visiting D.C. During her interview, she put some stereotypes about those with mental illness to rest.

When Hall asked about the media’s tendency to discuss mental illness exclusively after a mass shooting, the singer responded, “It’s important to remember people with mental illness are actually more likely to inflict harm on themselves and become the victim rather than be the perpetrators.”

She added the importance of being vocal about your mental health and fighting for comprehensive mental health reform.

You can watch the full interview below: 

 

Related: John Oliver Nails the Real Problem With Discussing Mental Health and Shootings


This is a personal letter for my daughter. It is her birthday, and every year on her birthday I think about the journey we have been on. When she was born eight years ago, her diagnosis of Down syndrome felt like a tragedy. I was ignorant about what Down syndrome was, ignorant about what really matters in life. It is because of her that I write, because of her that I am passionate about seeing the church embrace disability. She changed me, she changed my life. And today I want to honor her.

Dear Nichole,

Today you turn 8 years old.

In the middle of the night you came to our room and climbed into bed with your dad and me. We usually take you back to your room, but it’s your birthday, so we let you stay. As the sun began to make its appearance, I heard your daddy whisper to you, “Happy birthday.” The words were enough to shake the sleep off, you sat up and threw your arms around him. “Happy birthday, sweetheart,” I said, and you hugged me too. So tight. Then you kissed me and I kissed you back.

I wish I’d known how rich and full and abundant in love our life would be with you in it. I wish I’d known that Down syndrome was not scary, and that it would be something in you I would come to love. But you have taught me that it’s about the person, not the disability. And ultimately, it’s about love. It’s always been about love.

I believe God has used your life to change mine in many ways. I am so thankful that it was me, that I was the chosen one for you, and you for me. I am thankful that we get to do life together. Thankful that I get to watch you grow up, learn, develop and become the beautiful person that you are today. I love watching how you affect people around you, for the better.

Today at school your friends were waiting for you to wish you a happy birthday. They were so excited for you, waiting in anticipation for your smiles, for you to put on the birthday crown. And I saw your face, open and inviting, happy to have your friends celebrate you. Because you are a gift to celebrate.

And there is this great abundant love we live with because of you. A love so strong that it makes me move to action. To take a stand. To be bold. To be brave.

I love you. I am madly in love, completely in love.

I didn’t know it was possible to live life with this kind of love. So fierce, so strong, so deep.

The kind of love that makes me feel like the luckiest mom in the world.

The kind of love that I couldn’t live without.

It’s hard to explain what I feel so deep. You have altered my life for the better, made it richer, fuller, wider. My heart wants to burst with love, but instead tears flow freely with gratitude that you are mine, with joy that I get to watch you grow up, and with a measure of love that continues to grow.

I am convinced the extra chromosome means extra love. And I think we could all use extra love in life.

With love, Mom.

Follow this journey on Ellen Stumbo’s site.


Many people have asked me what the best part of our Make-A-Wish vacation was. I jokingly answer that it was when Belle complimented me on how I did my daughter Namine’s hair.

Putting all jokes and kidding aside, I want to tell you of the memory I treasure most. It wasn’t at Sea World, Disney World, Gatorland or Clearwater Marine Aquarium. It was at Give Kids The World. They were showing the movie “Home” in the small movie theater they had at the resort. Namine and I were the only ones who attended.

It wasn’t the first time we saw the movie. We’d seen it in the theater back home and later rented it from Redbox. There would have been nothing special about this, either, but for Namine holding my hand throughout the movie. While special, even that is not the best part.

After the movie ended, Namine and I clapped. It’s typical for Namine to want to sit through the credits, listening to the music. She tapped me on the arm. “Daddy, let’s dance!”

The first song was energetic; Namine and I bounced and danced, leaving us both exhausted by the song’s end. Then the next song came on. It was a slow and emotional song. It’s the kind that Namine would often ask me to skip, or in this case, leave the theater because it held nothing exciting for her. Not this time.

Namine reaffirmed her grip around my neck, hugging me tighter. We eased into a slow rhythm. Holding my wonderful daughter in my arms, we danced large circles around the empty room. Whatever troubles we’d left behind in difficult months and hard years and whatever trials still lay ahead, none of that mattered. The moment was ours. It was ours forever.

The song ended, as songs do. As I put Namine down in her wheelchair, she smiled up at me. “Thank you for the dance, Daddy.”

For me, the best part of vacation was not the resort. It was not the many theme parks, exotic animals or zip-lining. No, the best part was getting to hold my daughter in my arms — just the two of us, dancing slowly and singing softly. The best part was seeing the magic in Namine’s eyes. It was not the pretend magic of theme parks, of rides and people in costumes, but the real magic of a daughter’s love.

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Follow this journey on eichefam.net.


My son is going to be 12 at the end of this year. He’s bright, easily carries conversations with adults and I’m told he impresses his teachers. But he’s occasionally insensitive, and sometimes he can hurt feelings. I’m sure it’s normal, but because of this I was understandably nervous to talk to him about the mental health problems I face.

What I take for granted, I suppose, is that he overhears my conversations on the phone and sometimes reads things over my shoulder as I write them. I sometimes forget I’ve said things out loud while he’s been near, which is easy to do because he rarely looks like he’s paying attention to anything. He’s usually absorbed in his own activities, whatever they are, apparently lost in his own little world.

As far as I can recall, I haven’t directly spoken to him about depression or anxiety, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover what he had to say when we had a little chat the other night. Here’s how the conversation went:

What is depression?

“Thinking that nothing can get better, and thinking there’s no hope even if there is a bit.”

What is anxiety?

“Fear. Knowing what’ll happen next but hoping it doesn’t happen.”

What do you think about people with anxiety and depression?

“They’re trying hard. They’re getting through — just about.”

Do you know that I have anxiety and depression?

“Yeah.”

What do you think about that?

“I think you’re doing well, you’re working hard.”

What do you think people should know about anxiety and depression?

“They should try to understand and give some respect. For those who have it, their lives are harder.”

Then, he said the most clever thing of the whole conversation.

How would you describe depression and anxiety? 

“It’s like a jar inside you, full of the anxiety and depression, and the jar is really hard to open. If you could just get the lid off the jar the anxiety and depression would get out and you could be happy, but the lid is stuck. You try really hard to get it off, but can’t do it alone.”

I must add I’ve had a difficult week with my son. He’s about to transition into a new school and routines are currently inconsistent. It’s been a bit stressful for him, and in turn has been extra stressful for me. But just when I was beginning to doubt him, he comes out with this.

He does listen. He does care. And I should never discount that perhaps his knowledge of what I’m going through affects him, too. But all in all, I’m so proud his true understanding and compassion is greater than what I’ve seen in many adults. So instead of feeling guilty that I might be adversely affecting him, I think it’s safe to say his experiences have aided his understanding and compassion for others.

I don’t think you’ll find bigotry toward anxiety or depression coming from my son anytime soon.

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Follow this journey on Talking This and That.

 

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