Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Teaching My Son to Ride a Bike

We recently had pizza night with Noodle, her partner and her partner’s children.  The four children are a rare good match: two powerful gals who are willing to share their power for the sake of fun and two gawky boys with no (G) or low (friend) eye-rolling urges. (G’s friend is a lot younger, but G doesn’t give a hoot about age.)

After a brief – but non-cruel – period of incredulity over G’s inability ride a bike, G’s friend – wisely, I thought -- offered him his scooter. Friend rode his bike up and down the street while G attempted to scoot alongside. After trying the bike, very briefly (and, one might say, fruitlessly), G wondered if we might get a “bike like this one” instead of the larger one we have been using to try to teach him how to ride for the last several years. I had that quick sinking feeling of worrying about the cost of a new bike, but answered immediately that we would do so.

The very next day, we were driving along a country road and saw the perfect bike with a “free” sign propped up against it.  We popped that bike in the car faster than you can say “Our motor-challenged boy with aspergers is willing to try to learn to ride a bike and, goldang it, we are going to Do This!”

Pardner pumped up the tires and we were ready to start.

I have been trying to teach G to ride a bike since he was really little for so many social and physiological reasons. Bilateral movement, increased proprioception (a fancy word for self-awareness in space), basic balance-improvement, focus, self-esteem, not getting crap from other kids, and general fitness are just some of the likely benefits. I have been dismally unsuccessful.

When G gets on a bike, he gets distracted. He looks down, losing himself in the turning gears, or the patterns on the road. He leans all his weight on me, making no apparent effort to balance. He is incapable of steering and pedaling at the same time. He forgets to leave his feet on the pedals if I tell him to try his brake. In fact, there are way too many factors to take in when on a bike and – At The Same Time! -- on a street. For many years it seemed like he would never be able to ride a bike. I understand: in an earlier post, I mentioned that I didn’t really learn to drive until my late thirties, largely for similar reasons. Sensory overload and safe, direction-oriented navigation don’t necessarily go together.

Our first try on the new bike: G displayed all of the above while Mama tried to instruct. Not long after starting the lesson, Mama began to lose it. “Keep your eyes on the road. Please keep your eyes on the road. KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE ROAD!” Also, “Feet on the pedals. Please keep your feet on the pedals. FEET ON THE PEDALS!” You get the drift.

“I think this is a good time to stop,” G kept suggesting; but noooooo: Mama pushed on until it became obvious that we were getting nowhere fast.

We veered gracelessly into the driveway. G’s little face was all crumpled up. I asked him why he looked so upset. “You were yelling at me every time I made a mistake!” he wailed, and then began to sob.

My stomach clenched. I tried to explain that I was raising my voice because he wasn’t listening and that I was sorry he felt hurt. And -  “Yes,” I had to finally admit,  “I was frustrated.” It’s just a bike. And yet it isn’t.

All the things that will be harder for him than they are for other people, all the extraordinary safety concerns one has for someone with zero common sense and oft-scattered attention, common and less-common fears...all are triggered in this bicycle-riding cycle.  Plus, there was me sticking my feet under his tires periodically, which was kind of annoying to both of us.

There we stood, both holding on to the offending object, a rusty, dirty, old black bike that still smelled for some reason like manure despite a good rinse. Both shaken.

Z, nimble and chock full of sense, watched us warily. She had been riding behind us on her bike, balancing alternately on each side of her broken training wheels just for the heck of it.  If there is a bike riding spectrum, once again we see a Wide Range in this family. She seemed confused by these clumsy, sappy people.

The good thing was, though, that after a recovery period he got back on that bike. And we are still trying.  It doesn’t seem like a “never” now, it seems like a “someday,” even if that someday is far away. Not only that, I dare say we have begun to have fun in the process!

Plenty of people don’t ride bikes. No biggie. But I very simply and not-so-simply want G to be able to ride a bike if he so chooses.

I would, quite frankly, prefer that he not ride a bike unless absolutely necessary (and only with me around) – much as Pardner feels about me and driving – but I want him to have the option.

Figure I – Rocket Boy

The text on this painting reads, “There was a person who could not walk to school so he invented a rocket and flyed to school.”

G knows that he is different – neurologically, physically – from the kids in his class and beyond. This painting gives me hope that he knows that for all the things he does differently or cannot do, there are things that he can do that are more magical and more wonderful than the ordinary. Even if G never does learn to ride, I know he will find ways to make his journey.

Righteous Love,
Full Spectrum Mama


  1. Do you know about Skuuts and other nonpedal bikes? I'm not sure if they would make them in G's size, but they help a kid learn the balance skills before having to do all pedalling and fiddling. Perhaps you could use the inspiration from those to just have him do the pushing and balancing without the other parts. Actually, you could just screw off the pedals and have a DIY big-boy size Skuut. And NO WAY should he be worrying about gears!!

    I would LOVE to see how G responded to Shiva Nata, it's all about spatial awareness and multitasking. Maybe I'll see if I can teach him some this weekend!

    1. Great ideas! I was just thinking about Shiva Nata and G yesterday! So let us give it a whirl if we have time. Thank you. We tried without pedals, unsuccessfully...And he isn't changing gears - hey, even Mama has a hard time with that -- just looking at the, well, i think they are called gears. the parts of the bike that are metal and turn and not wheels! Love

  2. A wonderful related story from a wonderful friend:
    " I read the last one on teaching bicycle riding and was reminded of a scene I witnessed a dozen or so years ago.

    Before one of my sons had basketball practice some hopefuls were shooting around. There was a teenager who with great determination launched shot after futile shot. With no one guarding him he mad perhaps 5% of these shots. After several minutes he began crying but continued shooting.

    You know how cruel teenage boys can be. No one laughed. No one ridiculed. This was a school that recruited world wide with players coming from as far away as Australia, Senegal, France, Russia... All showed compassion.

    I feel your fears over G's future and only want to say people are naturally more loving than our politicians want us to believe."


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