Tag Archives: Extracurricular activities

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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Filed under Family, Sports and extracurricular activities

The Kindness of Strangers: Part Two

After my first blog post about the kindness of strangers a funny thing happened: those kind strangers started coming out of the woodwork. Maybe it was because the story about prof from Carleton University moved me so much I felt compelled to write and thank him for seeing past the challenges that our kids can present. He responded right away and I was glad I had reached out to him.

That encouraged my husband to make good on his promise to write to the family-run business that manufactures the E-Z Bar, which helped Ryan learned to ride a bike this summer. The owner was incredibly touched by Ryan’s story and how his gizmo had prompted so many joyful tears!

Since then I think I’ve been awakened to the myriad of kindnesses around my family everyday. Ryan started taking an art course just days after my last post and when I shared my usual Asperger’s tip sheet with his instructor she wrote back right away with questions and ideas about how to make his experience more positive. Not only that, her assistant’s mom got in touch with me too to learn more too!

Soon after that, there was the neighbour who told me how Ryan’s great behaviour at a noisy basketball game blew her away – she didn’t know I’d been worrying about his relationship with his peers all night and how her casual comment helped me regain my perspective.

The skating badge of honour! Courtesy of Emma the amazing instructor.

Then I got to thinking about Ryan’s swimming instructor – who builds small towers with flutter boards for him to destroy when he reaches a goal.

Or his skating instructor who promptly showed up with a white board when I told her that giving Ryan a list of tasks to complete during lessons really kept him focused. I almost fell on the ground with gratitude when she showed up with that dollar store whiteboard with the happy faces drawn on it. Yesterday, Ryan got his second skating badge. If his instructor had seen him three years ago lying on the ice and refusing to get up she would have wept ‘happy tears’ as Ryan loves to say.

I’m writing these little gems down, so I can take them out at a later date and admire them all over again. They are a good reminder that there’s plenty of kindness out there, just waiting to be recognized and appreciated. Happy Valentines Day everyone!

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Filed under Celebrating Difference, Education, Sports and extracurricular activities

Navigating the minefield of extracurricular activities

I know we looked completely crazy to the parents sitting near us in the skating rink today. After all, how many parents laugh, hug and practically cry as they watch their child glide down the ice? But we knew how hard won this icy flight was for Ryan and we couldn’t help ourselves. It was a big deal and we knew it.

Finding activities that work – and knowing when to push your child and when to throw in the towel – is such an intricate dance with any child. Add Asperger’s Syndrome to the mix and it becomes a bit more complicated.

Ryan started skating lessons before his diagnosis and his initial reaction to lessons was one of the things that hinted that he may be on the spectrum. He hatde his uncertainty on the ice – and his fears scared the bejesus out of all the other little kids in the dressing room. Oh the cold hard stares we got those Saturday mornings.

Once we coaxed him onto the ice (talking about how he was Anakin Skywalker travelling across Hoth) he would lie down more than stand up and use his skate to repetitively take chunks out of the ice . We all felt horrible and at a loss. But we peservered, made some small gains, and then abandoned skating for a year.

Now we’re so much more prepared to meet Ryan’s needs. We know one-on-one instruction is definitely a must in his case. We also know that skating, bike riding and other activities are naturally going to take longer for Ryan because of the coordination/gross motor issues that often accompany AS.

And we prepare his instructors in advance. I recently met with the aquatics supervisor at the pool where he receives one-on-one instruction. My goal was to share a quick handout I created about Aspergers. He was surprisingly positive and open to the piece, so I’m reprinting it here, in case someone else finds it helpful.

Three Things You Need to Know about Asperger’s Syndrome

1. It’s neurological. That means Ryan’s brain is wired differently than ours and he experiences the world differently. The rules that most of us follow quite naturally don’t really make sense to him.

Listening. This is Ryan’s biggest challenge. The pool is a very overwhelming place for him. His brain is like a blackboard filled with sticky notes and they all look the same, so things that we block out (background noise, the shimmering water, the lights) all demand his attention at the same time.

  • What works: – Visual instructions. Showing rather than telling. Ryan’s very smart, but processing verbal instructions is difficult. Show him the list of what he needs to do to get his badge and check off the things he accomplishes.
  • What doesn’t: Don’t expect that saying Ryan’s name or calling to him will get his attention. I often touch his shoulder to ensure he connects with what I’m saying.

 2. Asperger’s makes the world a confusing place. Things that most of us learn, know and remember (like I’m safe in the water when my teacher is here or I can’t run on the pool deck) aren’t as easily accessed by kids with Asperger’s – that means we need to give them lots of reminders.

Staying on task. All Asperger’s kids resist change because it scares them. Ryan resists change, so learning new things can take a lot of time and patience.

  • What works: Make things a game. Ryan loves role playing The offer of doing something ‘fun’ after he tries a new thing works well too.
  • What doesn’t: Talking too much. Short instructions. Gentle encouragement. The promise of something fun after something hard, is much better than long negotiation.

 3. Ryan’s brain is an eccentric, but exciting place. He’s command of language and concepts is very advanced for his age. Don’t be surprised if he wants to talk forever about a computer game or if he uses very big words.

  • What works. I use Ryan’s love of language and information to keep him on task. Give him a word he doesn’t know or explain how something works and he’ll be listening with laser-like focus.
  • What doesn’t: If he would rather talk about computer games than do what you’re asking, use what he’s talking about to your advantage (i.e. It’s time for the Super Mario brothers to swim up to me…)

I have this in Word format. If you want a copy just let me know and I can send it your way.

I would love to know what sports/activities your kids like and why? And how do you prepare them and others?

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Filed under Education, Sports and extracurricular activities