The timing was perfect. I just got my first major winter snowstorm (11-13 inches), and my snow blower quit working. I had no other choice but to get my shovel and dig my way out. Shoveling that much snow gives you plenty of time to think, so I concentrated on warmer times and what they brought in relation to Harrison.
It was late Spring or early Summer when Harrison took a sudden interest in riding his bike. I started him on a 15X15 foot cement pad in the backyard that doubles as a basketball court. I wanted to start him going around the block or even just down the street, but I remembered a presentation I saw at the Autism One conference this past year. It was by David Geslak of Exercise Connection, www.ecautism.com. A great point he made was to break down the physical activities into small manageable chunks, and it worked wonders with Harrison riding his bike.
I started him riding in straight lines, and he quickly mastered that. He then told me that he wanted to get “stuck in the mud.” Hesitant at first, I realized it would take more leg strength to make it through the grass to the mud puddle I made. Sure, he and his bike got a little muddy, but it was nothing a garden hose couldn’t take care of. Next, it was onto teaching him to turn corners.
Up to that point, Harrison liked smashing things, so I set out plastic cups at various points on the cement pad and told him to try to turn and smash the cups. Once he figured out how to turn and smash that first cup, he quickly caught on, and his favorite game became what he called “smash the cups.” I really didn’t mind all the cups we went through because of where it led: his first time riding on an actual street.
Harrison and I got his bike out one evening, but instead the cement pad, I told him he would be riding in the street. He said that he didn’t want to, but I knew to get him to this next step, I would have to be a little persistent. I got him to ride up and down the street a few times, and I was happy with that. The next time we went out, Harrison said that he wanted to go around the block. That’s exactly what he did, and the next time after that, he said that he wanted to go around the town (which was to him our subdivision, about a mile). His distances got longer and longer, but his biggest challenge loomed ahead: a big hill at the end of town.
The first time going up the hill, he made it about halfway up and then asked for help. He kept getting closer and closer to the top of the hill before asking for help. I remember the night when he looked at me and said, “Let’s race to the top.” I was on foot, so I could help him if needed, but that night, the only thing he needed was his own determination. As he got close to the top of the hill, he started to slow down, so I instinctively reached out to help. Harrison quickly said, “No Dad. I gotta make it on my own.” I pulled my hand back and let him keep going. He was sweating, clenching his teeth, and was really struggling to keep his bike going. He kept repeating to himself, “I can make it. I can make it. I can make it.”
He did stop for a moment, but it was at the top of the hill. I was standing beside him when he looked over to me and said, “Dad, I did it!” I replied, “Yes Harrison, you did do it. You can do anything you want.” As I was telling him how proud I was of him, he took off down the hill, and at a dead sprint, I could barely keep up.
That’s similar to how his recovery has gone. There were many struggles and challenges, and I did have to give him a little “push” at times. But it was mostly Harrison’s “I can make it. I can make it,” attitude and determination that got him up and to the top of the hill (of recovery). Once we reached the top of the hill, we looked out over the horizon and saw all the possibilities. After that, it was off to the races, chasing all the dreams we’ve ever had.