Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Back to School

     As some children head out to school for the first time and more and more pictures of them come up on my Facebook wall, I stop and wonder what this milestone must be like for parents of a typical child. 
     I only have one child (God knows what he does, I could not have handled more than that) and my experience, although life changing, was not typical. GP was non verbal, and there was no excitement. There was only dread. There was the thought that while other children his age stayed home and played blissfully, he would be in school struggling to communicate with strangers. He wasn't even potty trained. It was such a sad time. I remember sitting in my car and sobbing uncontrollably after leaving him at school. Then, I remember deciding that I would not leave him, and staying in school with him until I weaned myself off the drop off. It took a long time...
Again, it was a heart wrenching experience. There were no pictures, no smiling faces or Disney lunch boxes. It was such a horrible, horrible time. 
My FB wall has smiling faces, excited children, happy parents and once again I stop and think, "What if???" I will never know. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

It's Not About Falling, It's About Getting UP!

I read an article this morning on Autism Speak's website about a local shop that had custom built a bike for a child with autism and it made me think of GP's biking journey.

When GP was a little boy and he was of "biking age" he already had a diagnosis. He was still nonverbal and had more tantrums than I would like to relive, but we bought him his first bike anyway. Not knowing that his sensory system was not only affecting his learning, but his gross motor skills as well, we went about facing this milestone without much forethought. We bought him a bike with training wheels, a helmet, elbow pads, knee pads, and everything but a tushy pad to keep him injury free, and off we went to the culdesac behind our house. Turns out all the pads in the world couldn't keep him on the seat. Seemed like the seat was too hard;  he cried and wanted off... we tried a few times, and gave up. A few years later we bought him a mountain bike (with training wheels of course), and by this time he WAS verbal and he told us in no uncertain terms that he couldn't do it. The training wheels were too small, the handlers (Gino and I) too inexperienced to help him navigate the training wheeled bike with him on it, and he was having none of it. He wanted off... and he was done with it. Discouraged and thinking it was just one more thing he would never do, I was saddened but had bigger fish to fry (like multiplication, division and fractions), I was done too. 

A couple of years later I found a website for children with special needs and I found out that GP wasn't the only child with special needs who could not master the bike BUT that there was a solution... a tricycle. WooHOO! I was totally psyched. I had never even considered a tricycle. I thought they were for old people and for some reason it just never crossed my mind, duh. So I told my then-husband that I wanted to buy him a trike (not an inexpensive suggestion, mind you)
Never in my wildest dreams would I have guessed that a tricycle would cause so much arguing in a home. I had no idea that a riding a tricycle would  "make him (GP) look like a weirdo". I thought it was all about the kid and enabling him to do something FUN... ugh. I was so angry. I relented and kept the peace by not making my son "look like a weirdo". For years (and I do mean that literally) I thought about the trike and how much fun he might have zooming around with the wind in his hair....

A few years ago I got divorced (after eighteen years of marriage) and not having anyone to answer to, I bought GP his first tricycle. Hoping he wouldn't be self-conscious (now that he was almost a young adult), I took him to Walmart and after a short test drive in the store, I bought him a tricycle. 
It sat in the garage for a day or two but he eventually decided he'd give it a go.

*Here he's thinking about getting on.*
*Now he's struggling to get up the hill without Mom pushing him.*

It was very challenging at first, even with the large wheels and the years of working out to build his gross motor skills, but he now zooms around like Sonic the Hedgehog...
Words cannot express the joy I feel when I see him with his hair stuck to his face and his shirt drenched in sweat from peddling away. It's something I never though he would do.  I wish that I hadn't been discouraged by someone else's opinion and more importantly, that I wouldn't have given up without trying;  because that's what I did, and that's something I work really hard to forgive myself for, and probably will work at, for the rest of my life. Oh but life's lessons are usually hard and it's just one of many... 

But back to the point of the story. GP took his first real "spill" a few months ago when he discovered that his tricycle has a "speed limit". He was banged up real good with scrapes all the way up his arm, and leg. Not a pretty sight. The worst part was he said he "couldn't ride again". And I told him that he had to go riding again because, "Everybody falls down, Gene Paul. It's not about falling, it's about getting up.  When you get up, you are the winner. If you don't get up, you lose.  So get on the bike and peddle slowly if you want, but you HAVE to get back on." All bandaged up he got back on his trike the next day, and said he would only go "very slowly"... yeah, that lasted about thirty minutes. After that it was WOOHOO, all the way down the hills at the Edgewood Cemetery. 
*Flying down the hills at the Edgewood Cemetery in Nashua, NH. 
He's but a little spec in the distance*

I truly believe that riding a tricycle is a lot like living a full life. You have to work hard to learn how to stay on, then you ride along, then you think you know it all, then you fall down, and then you learn that you didn't know it all, and you learn to proceed with caution... but still have fun. I am so glad that he fell, and he got up. A painful lesson for sure, but proof positive that it's not about falling, it's about getting up. 
May you always get up, because as sure as day turns into night, we all fall...we just have to remember that to win, you must get up! =)