Friday, June 13, 2014

On Two Wheels (Part Two)

If you haven’t read my last blog post, you’ll want to scroll down and catch up, or just click here:  

This week was bike camp. I have only recently learned about this program and was very excited to find it. If you have a special needs kid in your life who cannot yet ride a bike, I encourage you to find a bike camp. 

The program was hosted by a couple of great teachers from our local school district through an organization called I Can Shine. You can find them at if you are interested. They have many bike camps going on simultaneously throughout the summer. If there is not one nearby, ask them how to host a program in your town. There is a reason they have an eighty percent success rate. This program was fantastic.

An amazing group of people volunteered this week. The volunteers during Tate’s session were college students majoring in Occupational Therapy. The sessions were an hour and fifteen minutes and each camper received individual attention from two or three volunteers. Tate’s session was very well run. The volunteers were as valuable as the modified bikes provided. I think I heard there were 37 campers total, eight in Tate’s session. The helpers outnumbered the riders. 

Day one, the campers were on bikes that had a large roller for a back wheel. There was almost no way a kid could tip a bike like that. The bike experts from I Can Shine adjusted the bikes to fit individual riders. They rode on a smooth gymnasium floor in the air conditioning. The kids in Tate’s session became very confident and by the end of class were pedaling like champs. I was pleasantly surprised by Tate’s speed at the end of class. It was definitely fast enough to keep a bike balanced, but I was still skeptical that he would be able to balance without the security of the roller.

Day two was called Tandem Tuesday. They used the roller bikes for a while at the beginning of the hour and then the campers all got turns on a two-seater bike with an I Can Shine staff member behind them. Tate told me the guy who rode with him was a scientist. I couldn’t figure that out but later I heard that he is a science major and he must have told Tate. HA. The “scientist” wore a cape like a super hero and I’m sure the campers got quite a kick out of that. I know I did.

Day three was called Launch Day. They went outside to the school parking lot and used a bike with a long handle on the back. An adult could hold onto the handle if the camper needed help balancing. The volunteers ran alongside the bikes, steadying the riders as needed for as long as it took. But here’s the amazing part: It didn’t take long until the campers were riding with no help. Tate was amazing. I never would have believed it but I saw it with my own eyes. Tate was on two wheels, unassisted, making turns and looking like he’d been riding for years. This was only day three. Most of the other campers were also riding. Tate fell once and skinned his knee. No big deal. He was back up and riding in a few minutes. I cried happy tears. I was so proud. On the way home I asked Tate if he was glad I had insisted he go to bike camp even though he did not want to go. He said, “Yes.”

Day four was more of the same. Tate rode and rode and rode. No skinned knees this day. He needed someone to steady the bike when he took off each time but once he was pedaling, he was the master. Watching him struggle to take off brought back a long forgotten memory for me. I remember being able to ride long before I could just jump on and go. I used to pull my bike up to the bottom step of our sidewalk where the driveway sloped, make sure the pedals were positioned just right, and hope that I could get a good start before I crashed. Wow, that was a long time ago.

As we left bike camp on Thursday, Tate told a volunteer. “I can ride a bike now so I’m going to bike across America.” The day before bike camp he told two friends that he was going to learn how to ride a bike and bike across the country like a hippie. Then there was that trip to the mall that I mentioned in my last post (Part One). We are going to have to convince Tate that there are a lot of rules and responsibilities that go along with owning a bike.

He calls his bike "a rocket on wheels."
Day Five (Graduation Day) was today. Tate was transitioned to his own bike. If you read part one of this story then you may understand how great that was for Tate. He had fallen in love with that bike. He has been anxious to get on it and ride. On this day of camp, lots of time was spent on the take off. He struggled with it but at the end of the session he had three good starts in a row. As Tate was wheeling that bike back into the gymnasium for a small graduation ceremony I noticed how comfortable he was with the bike. Was it only one week ago that he so awkwardly wheeled it out to the van from the back of Walmart? During the ceremony I noticed (once again) that Tate towered over the other children and even the adults who were teaching him. He was the tallest one present. Being so tall makes his handicap even harder for everyone. Tate looks older than he is. He acts younger than he is. His older siblings take him places and it appears they are treating an adult as if he is seven years old. But there again, THAT is a whole ‘nother blog post.

Today, I overhead Tate casually mention to one of the volunteers that The Lego Movie is coming out next Tuesday so he would bike to Walmart on Tuesday to pick it up. This afternoon I had a talk with Tate about his limitations and rules concerning the bike. He seems to understand that riding on the roads is not going to happen for a while. Although Tate is unable to determine what is dangerous and what is not, he usually does adhere to the rules and boundaries he is given. We do have some silver linings in our world.  Ha

I know I’ve said it before in other blog posts, but if you do not have a child with special needs (or maybe teach children with special needs) then you probably will not be able to grasp the gravity of Tate’s achievement. I can hear people thinking, “So, he can ride a bike now. Big deal. Who cannot ride a bike by the time they are 12?” People with autism battle so many sensory issues and have such a hard time with motor skills and concentration that things like this do not come easy. Tate can barely hop on one foot or stand on one foot without falling. Balancing is hard for him. I cannot say it loud enough: “This is a BIG deal.”

I saw two quotes this week that really hit home for me. “My disability does not exceed my abilities” was in my Facebook feed. I have thought a lot about that. I limit Tate all the time because of his autism. Of all the people in this world, I should be the one who does not see the word “autism” written across his forehead. He is more than autism, and autism does not have to define everything about him. This next one is a Chinese proverb: “The person who says it can't be done, should not interrupt the person who is doing it.” When that doctor told me to find a bike camp for Tate, I was so skeptical.  There was really someone who could teach Tate to ride a bike? In one week? Oh, give me a break! After all, I had tried and failed. I need to stop doubting and interrupting the people in Tate’s world who believe in the “impossible”, because the things I believe are impossible sometimes are very doable. Sure, I found a camp, signed him up, paid the fee, talked it up to Tate, bought him a bike, forced him to go and participate. But I did not BELIEVE he would succeed. I just faked it. I’ve done that a lot. I provide Tate with the opportunities to achieve great things often and cheer him on while negative thoughts dance around in my head. Perhaps if I remember Tate’s rendition of Proverbs 3:5: “Trust in Jesus and lean forward” (see link below) I will be able to replace those negative thoughts with positive ones. 

1 comment:

  1. Tate just rode over a quarter of a mile on gravel with his brother and sister. He did great!