Today’s post is from Ryan’s Dad…
Ryan achieved an important milestone last week: he rode his bike without training wheels for the first time.
For our family, it was a huge accomplishment. Ryan, now 8, had long resisted the idea of riding without extra wheels. He was anxious about crashing. “I’ll be killed,” he’d yell.
Getting Ryan to ride with training wheels had been a struggle in itself. At first, he would travel only short distances, complaining loudly about how hard it was. He’d hit the brakes as he approached even the slightest downhill grade. He wouldn’t ride uphill at all.
He was worried about getting hurt, anxious about learning a new skill.
But we kept at it. We made frequent trips to the path around the nearby duck pond. In time, he complained less and rode farther. At one point, he surprised us by pedalling around the pond on his own.
It’s not unusual for kids on the spectrum to shun bike riding, mainly because of a lack of co-ordination, poor balance and anxiety. On one discussion board I found, some parents argued that trying to teach their Aspie kids how to cycle just wasn’t worth the heartache. They said it was a mistake to think that cycling was a necessary rite of passage. They said it was better to focus on more important skills rather than cause familial strife over a recreational sideshow.
More importantly, they stressed that it was wrong to push kids to do something they simply did’t want to do.
Fair enough, I thought. You have to pick your battles. I was prepared to give up on teaching Ryan how to ride if it only made us all miserable.
However, it was clear that Ryan enjoyed the sensation of riding once his anxiety had subsided. So we kept at it.
Still, I figured that teaching Ryan how to ride on two wheels was going to be challenging. He needed extra security and stability. Crashing wasn’t an option.
Like most guys, I figured I needed a gizmo. So I turned to the Internet. That’s where I found the E-Z Bar.
It’s a long, metal pole with two handles and a wobble-joint at the other end. It attaches to the bike’s seat post, which allows the trainer to maintain control of the bike, virtually eliminating crashes. More importantly, you don’t have to stoop over the bike, and the rider gains confidence without really seeing the trainer.
At the beginning of the summer, we practised riding in a straight line. Then we focused on stopping and starting. Finally, we tried turning in circles and figure-eights.
There were many times when Ryan grew frustrated with his slow progress. He’d often get off the bike and sit in the grass, his arms folded, his mood foul.
I would simply wait while offering gentle encouragement. I knew that getting angry wouldn’t help.
And I remembered the words of the parents who advised against pushing too hard.
But Ryan was motivated to learn, even though he made it clear he found it hard.
After a few minutes of pouting, he would inevitably rise to his feet and get back on the bike.
I knew his determination made it likely he would succeed.
As well, Ryan has a good sense of balance and his gross motor skills are, well, getting there. It was really only his anxiety and lack of confidence that were getting in the way.
After about a dozen practice sessions — some of them lasting up to an hour — the anxiety was gone, his confidence bloomed. He was ready.
During our final session, I was exhausted. He was often travelling at top speed down a small hit in a nearby church parking lot. I could barely keep up.
I told him I had to take a break to catch my breath. I sat down and wiped the sweat off my brow. I told him we would return to the next day with his mother because I wanted her to witness the progress he had made.
But instead of waiting for me to re-attach the bar for the ride home, he simply pedalled away — on two wheels — travelling about 10 metres.
“Did you see that, Daddy?” he asked, a big smile on his face, the sun glinting off his red helmet.
“I did,” I said. “That was awesome.”
Then he rode off as if he hadn’t used training wheels in years. He hooted and hollered, and he sang. He was elated.
The next day, my wife Anne-Marie was ready with the video camera as Ryan climbed aboard his red, BMX bike, suitably called “No Rules.”
We hadn’t told her about Ryan’s accomplishment the day before.
I pretended to attach the bar to his bike, but Ryan knew what to do. He rode off, smiling and singing.
Anne-Marie gasped and immediately started to cry — all of her raw emotion captured on the video soundtrack as Ryan merrily rides through the frame.
Afterwards he asked me: “Are you proud of me, Daddy?”
That’s when the tears started the well up in my eyes.
“Tears of joy, Daddy?” he asked, still smiling.