Last summer, we celebrated Samuel’s 10th birthday. Sam likes to add items to his Amazon wishlist for his birthday and Christmas. He had a few things on his list, but I had a different idea I wasn’t very sure of. Most 10 year old’s already have bikes and know how to ride them. He would definitely be too big for a tricycle, and other than his Big Green Machine (a low-riding three-wheeler with levers to turn and “drift”), he didn’t have a bike and because he’s always had trouble with low muscle tone; it would be difficult for him to maneuver very well, especially up any hills. And I wasn’t sure how he’d feel about training wheels. He tends to view any sort of help to do something as only necessary for babies or very little kids. If he can’t do it completely on his own, he won’t do it.
But there’s no harm in asking, right? So I asked him, “Sam, would you want a bike for your birthday?”
He replied, “Well, I DO want a bike, but I don’t know how to ride one. I would fall over. So, no, I don’t want a bike.”
“But Sam, you can have training wheels on the bike that will catch you so you don’t fall over, and they teach you how to balance. You never know until you try!”
“Oh, well then in that case, I would like to have a bike for my birthday.”
We found a local bike store and had him try out different bikes, then went back and got him the one that fit him best (that he also liked best, thank goodness) for his birthday. We also had training wheels put on it for him. He was happy, but apprehensive about it. But he got on, and began to ride (with a little bit of a push to get him going.)
Over the next several weeks, he tried riding his bike. Despite our explanation about how training wheels worked, he didn’t feel like they were doing their job. We tried to tell him that it wasn’t the same as a tricycle because the training wheels weren’t supposed to both be touching the ground at the same time. It was designed so that if he started to tip too far to one side, the training wheels would catch him. Apparently though, he relied too heavily on his training wheels – literally – and they became bent upward. He had several spills with lots of crying and angry frustration because he wanted to ride so very badly, but kept falling.
The Sunday before Thanksgiving, we were getting ready to leave town and Sam begged us to come watch him ride his bike. Kyle went out while I finished getting everything ready, then came in calling for me.
“Sarah, have you seen him ride his bike?!”, he said.
I replied, “No, not since he kept falling over.”
We all went outside to watch. Sam was happily riding his bike up and down the street just in front of our house, and even though the training wheels were still attached, they were bent so far upward, he wasn’t using them, except when he turned around in a sharp curve. I was shocked.
Weeks later, thanks so an incredibly mild fall, the kids were still able to play outside – mostly without even having to wear jackets! That meant more bike riding weather. Once again, I was summoned outside to watch Sam. But this time, Kyle had removed the training wheels. Sam mounted the bike, began to push on the pedals – all by himself – and he took off down the driveway.
WITHOUT TRAINING WHEELS.
I took video with tears welling up in my eyes. I couldn’t believe it. This was a dream come true for me. This milestone was one of those things that I had wondered about since the time he was first diagnosed with autism. We didn’t know how much his hypotonia would affect him down the road. We didn’t know what his communication would sound like. We didn’t know if he would ever care to ride a bike, much less actually be able to ride it without support. There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with needing support to ride a bike, or do any other activity. But I don’t think I need to explain to other parents of special-needs kids how we all longed for a “normal” life for our child. One unhindered by supports for disabilities. Yet, here it was right in front of me, riding back and forth with the biggest smile on his face. I could tell just how proud he was of his accomplishment, and I know he felt our own pride as well.
But none of this would have ever happened had I not even asked if he wanted a bike for his birthday. I had assumed he didn’t want one because he had never mentioned it, or expressed a desire to be able to ride one before. And I wrongly assumed he couldn’t do it anyway. Or that he would struggle a great deal with it before mastering the skill. I was wrong on every count. He didn’t mention it because he didn’t think he himself could do it. He did struggle, but I don’t think he had any more difficulty than the majority of other kids his size anyway (age notwithstanding since he’s a pretty lean guy). And he WAS able to do it!
Are there things you think your kids can’t or wouldn’t do because of their special-needs or disability? Do you hold back from letting them do things because it’s too scary to try? Some things maybe are okay to hold back, especially if it directly affects their health or safety. Some things are worth discovering, but you’ll never know the answer to a question you never ask. Like I told Sam, you never know until you try! If you never explore the possibilities, you’ll never know the capabilities of your child despite their disability. You’ll never know the kind of joy that comes from finding an answer to a question you never thought you could ask.
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