Friday, June 3, 2011

Bike Riding for Dummies

Learning to ride a bike is one of the most common milestones in childhood, right?  From tricycle to pulling the training wheels off- it's a rite of passage all kids go through- my two oldest did- and with flying colors. Dad is the bike guy. I have left it up to him to teach them. He does a damn good job too (with the exception of sending my oldest on his first training wheel free ride. Down a hill. Into a bunch of bushes. )  Then along came Noah.  He never showed much interest in bike riding of any sort- from toddler bikes to tricycles- he just wasn't interested. 

Once we found out he had autism- I did some research into the subject and found out  that it is common in autism to have low muscle tone. The reason it occurs is that often, our children don’t do the typical day-to-day physical activities that we all take for granted: running, climbing, exploring, skipping, gathering, jumping, poking . . . that overall general busy-ness that we all expect in toddlerhood and beyond. The reason this doesn’t occur for our children is because that “natural drive” is hampered in some way, imitation skills are often impaired, and, therefore, motivation to do something that requires effort for no known benefit is just not there.  Even with Noah- who is a "sensory seeker" and likes to bump and crash into EVERYTHING- riding a bike was not something he wanted anything to do with. 

 Noah refused to ride even with on a bike with training wheels. He simply would not exert the effort. He said it made his legs tired (it most likely did) or he was scared of falling (understandable- all kids go through that).   I started looking into special bikes, modified for kids with special needs. And- not to get off on a rant- but how in the hell are families with special needs kids supposed to afford things like modified bikes that START at $1000?? Anyway- I decided to let it go for awhile. So from the age of 5 to 7 we didn't even really mention it and the bike sat in the garage- becoming a home for spiders and mocking me every time I saw it.
But every time I saw a kid Noah's age truckin down the street with his family on his training wheel-less bike I felt a pang of regret that Noah STILL couldn't ride- didn't want to ride and I moped about it and felt sorry for myself and then convinced myself we were working on much more important things. 

Then dad decided to pull the cobwebby bike out of it's sad little corner of the garage and get him going again. It was brutal. He cried- he refused- he put NO effort into it. Dad begged, bribed, yelled and bargained- nothing. I finally stepped in and told him to calm it down- you have to work at Noah's speed, at Noah's level to accomplish anything. He is not "normal" like the other kids- and the "normal" methods weren't going to work. Dad was irritated- understandable- his reasons for getting his boy to ride a bike are much different- his reasons for  lot of the things he wants his boy to do are much different than mine- but I understand. 
So after a couple more failed attempts- dad was ready to throw in the towel- the boy asked for a new bike...with new training wheels. The weather turned to crap (as it always does during spring in Michigan) and the bike was relegated to it's corner of the garage again.

So when the weather finally broke- the sun actually was shining and it was finally above 40 degrees- dad decided to try again. Noah cried, said he couldn't do it, he was scared and all of the usual stalling tactics. Then dad pulled out a Star Wars reference...compared Noah to Obi Wan and all- and it was on. And in the space of one afternoon- Noah was riding his bike- NO training wheels with little to no help from dad. It was amazing.  Even MORE amazing- he went back outside ON HIS OWN and attempted to do it all by himself!  Then- as if things weren't already Tweenzilla (as I so lovingly call her!) went out and helped him too!! It was an awesome day all around- and  my heart was happy.

We’re not at the stage where he’s going off doing any more than “practice rides” at this time, but as time continues, I feel confident he will go venturing on his new mobile ability. I think this bike riding thing is going to inspire him to try new things, from new foods to new activities and give him a new confidence.  I know it has inspired me.

Star Wars has saved the day- in the immortal words of Yoda "There is no try. Only do"