Tag Archives: Bicycling

What I learned on my summer vacation

Camping is a summer ritual for our family. Every year we tow our little tent trailer to various provincial and national parks. And every year camping shows us how much our boys have grown. How much they’ve learned and changed.

Photo by D. Wilson. Parks Canada

We had a glorious time camping in Kejimkujik National Park in August – full of the kinds of times that one hopes will become fond childhood memories later in life. Lazy mornings snug in sleeping bags, board games played on the picnic table, munching on s’mores by the campfire.

As the busyness of our daily lives fell away, I became aware of what they boys had learned over the past year and the lessons they were teaching me over the course of the summer.

Lesson #1: It really is a journey, not a destination!

Some of you will know that last summer Ryan said good-bye to training wheels for the first time. It was a big moment for him and for our family for so many reasons. So when spring arrived Mike and I were expecting bike rides galore. The training wheels were off. The milestone achieved. The learning complete. Ha!

There’s a big difference between riding a bike and going on bike rides. We quickly encountered a whole other level of learning that needed to take place around hills and speed and the myriad of other things that go into a successful bike ride.

It wasn’t always pretty – sometimes because Ryan fought getting on his bike and sometimes because I had to face my own need for ‘efficiency’ and ‘speed.’ Ryan was content to be riding and who cared when we arrived.

Lesson #2:  Man, those kids can really surprise you

We arrived at Keji with what I considered ‘realistic expectations’ around bike riding. The park has great mountain bike trails, but I assumed we would hike those and keep our biking on the roads, which are easier to navigate.

Day One at the park: Ryan immediately gravitates to the mountain bike trails; we spend the better part of the next 10 days covering at least 6k of trail every day and on our favourite day we probably covered 20k.

Mike and I were floored. We were elated, overjoyed, thrilled! I will never forget the feeling of flying along a mountain bike path, watching Ryan peddling his bike alongside Lake Kejimkujik. Mike provided steady, quiet commentary behind Ryan on his first ride and I could tell it left him feeling confident and at home on the trail.

Lesson #3: They really do grow up – and we have to grow with them.

This was also the first year the boys went cycling solo around the campground. And even though I knew they were ready and okay, I still had that dread of the unexpected.

True confessions: we called park security the first time Ryan went out and Euan came back without him. Ryan showed up 20 minutes later – having decided to go mountain biking on his own! Mike and I were upset and excited at the same time: “Omigod, we couldn’t find him. Omigod he voluntarily went biking on his own!”

This newfound independence extended to some playground visits as well. The boys kept in touch with walkie talkies and finally mastered the ability to hold the button and talk at the same time. I can still picture Mike’s grin as he carried on a long conversation with both boys.

It’s easy to get caught up in the challenges facing our kids – the things we need to work on and help them master. But we have to be determined not to let those ‘to dos’ define us or our relationships with them.

So for me, this will not be the summer of shoelaces or stressful summer camps. It will be a summer where we all learned to stretch ourselves a little bit more, step out of our comfort zone, and experience the thrill of doing something for the first time. We’ve already started planning next year’s mountain biking and our first family foray into backcountry camping. Stay tuned for more tales from the trails…the path may get a bit bumpy along the way, but I think we’re ready for it.

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Got a problem? Get a gizmo

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.

On the road again, this time without training wheels

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.

You bet.

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Filed under Managing Anxiety, Sports and extracurricular activities

When learning new things is hard

If learning a new skill or trying something for the first time can evoke anxiety in an adult imagine what it can be like for an Aspergian kid who relies on routines and predictability to keep their world feeling safe and secure.

Before we knew Ryan had Asperger’s he used to scream when it was time to do his homework. He was five at the time and the ‘homework’ was cutting and pasting. The mere thought of picking up scissors, which challenged his fine motor skills, was enough to create a meltdown. Now, thanks to Jed Baker, I understand why.

Slow and steady really does win the race

I recently attended a conference, organized by the Autism Awareness Centre, that featured Dr. Baker. His advice was incredibly practical and we’re now planning to use some of his tips in our upcoming plan to teach Ryan to ride his bike without training wheels.

By the way, if you have kids who haven’t started riding a bike yet, I recommend starting with those bikes with no peddles since balance is the hardest part of riding a bike. That way you can skip the training wheels altogether! 

Here are a few of the tips we picked up from Jed and will be sharing with Ryan’s swimming and skating coaches as well.

  • Start with what’s easy, not hard. This is so basic, yet I often find myself jumping into the hard work right away, which triggers stress and anxiety. Now I will try to start with a task that Ryan is really good at, so he feels confident, and then work up to something more difficult.
  • Break it down into small pieces. For our bicycle plan, the first (and maybe the only) thing Ryan is going to start with is sitting on the seat. Then we’re going to ask him to go from point A to point B just using his feet.

I read about this approach in a wonderful memoir called Finding Benabout a mother and son struggling to make sense of their world long before the Asperger’s diagnosis was available to them. I think it took them months for Ben to start riding his bike, but he did it, in his own time and at his own pace.

  • Give choice of work & use special interests. If we have three activities on our list maybe Ryan can choose the two he wants to do and in what order. Options increase comfort levels and special interests (Super Mario!) can be a big help.
  • Use visual supports. White boards, diagrams, labels are all great for our visual learners. We use them to break down our activity into steps and show what the reward is at the end.

 A few weeks ago Ryan’s skating instructor showed up with his lesson plan written on a white board. I could have kissed her right then and there!

  • Reduce length. ‘Let’s try this for one minute and then we’ll do X.’ Keep the trying short and then move on to a preferred activity. Or take a break and then try again.
  • Reward trying. I loved this part of Jed’s presentation. He talked about how compliance isn’t a skill but trying something is a skill that we need to teach our kids. So he rewards trying, not just succeeding. He even suggested a reward system based on trying rather than achieving.

Let me know what techniques you use to teach ‘trying.’ I’d love to hear from you. 

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