Monday, May 01, 2006

Pushing the Envelope

The other day I was reading the blog of a mother who was questioning whether she should push her son with Asperger's into riding a bike even though he was resisting. I responded with a story of how I taught my oldest son how to ride a bike, literally PUSHING him into riding the bike after much resistence, and the backlash from my story was so interesting. A woman wrote in response to my comments, appalled that I would be so insensitive as to PUSH my child into riding his bike, FORCING him to learn something he was not wanting to do. I'm sure that what I wrote seemed very rigid and could sound close to something like abuse, unless you really have an understanding of Asperger's, and you have experience with these young men and women.

My story was that when my oldest son was seven years old, about to turn eight, and we were about to move to a new neighborhood in a new state, and I was concerned that he would be considered "different" because he still didn't know how to ride a bike. Now, this was back in the days when nobody knew anything about somthing called Asperger's Syndrome, and my son was not diagnosed. All I knew was that he was a sensitive, bookish child who had much more experience with knowing the name of every single animal in the zoo, and where they came from, and much less experience knowing how to hit a baseball. Dad was very busy at work at the time, and out of town constantly, and I had a little three year old girl at home as well as my oldest son. I could see him having less and less in common with kids his age, and yes, I panicked at the thought of him not being able to ride his bike. I could tell he needed something like the ability to ride a bike to be able to socialize in a new neighborhood, and yes, I became fixated on this. So after months and months of patient bike-riding training, with training wheels, I could see that he had the ability to ride without training wheels if only he would allow himself to try it. But he was clinging to those training wheels. Knowing what I know now, this would have been the common Asperger's trait of not trying any new skill if one thinks one will fail. So I took my almost eight-year-old son to the top of a hill, and literally pushed him down (not hard, just let go of the bike and let gravity take it's course). He fell, and I just made him get back up on the bike. He cried, and I made him get back on the bike. He fell many more times. I would not go home until he showed me that he could ride that bike without training wheels. Does this sound harsh? YES. I know that it does. Did he hate me at the time? YES. He most certainly did. I allowed him to call his grandmother who lived way on the other side of the country and tell her that he had the meanest mother alive. But he also could tell her that he had accomplished learning how to ride a bike.

I honestly understand that this does seem like a very harsh thing to do to a child. And I never did a similar thing to my son ever again. But I am still happy that he did learn how to ride a bike. It DID help him socially when he moved to a new location. It DID get him outside and do something other than read books about animals over and over again. He took a bike-riding class in junior high, where the kids rode bikes all over town as a class, and that was his favorite class ever! To this day, he is the kind of guy that likes to stay in shape, EVEN THOUGH HE IS STILL AN UNATHLETIC TYPE.

My point in this post is that children with Asperger's have an almost phobic thing about not wanting to develop a new skill if they think that they are going to fail. I've seen it time and time again -- Will included, and Will's friends at Wesley included. And there are some times, as parents, that we need to literally push these guys into trying things that our children are SURE they will fail at. They are so sure that they can't accomplish a certain feat, and sometimes they can't. But there are more times when they actually could accomplish a certain skill, and they just need someone to really show them that they can actually do this thing! Then, the feeling of accomplishment for them is AMAZING! And, that whole experience acts as a springboard for the child to accomplish other things. I really think it is wrong for a parent to always allow the child to back down from trying new things. Of course there are times when a child really can't achieve certain skills, and those situations should be avoided. But how will you ever know unless you try? And sometimes I think that an Asperger's child can actually accomplish things, but they just have to have more practice than other children. We don't want these guys to be the next NBA basketball star, but we do want them to be passable at basketball (and other skills) so that socially they can play in a game if invited.



At 8:53 AM, Blogger me said...

I think you did the right thing with your son and his bike. Mine son was reluctant but once he got braver and rode his, one fall kept him off for weeks. It took us pushing him into getting back on (and over his fear) before he would ride again. Now he is very proud of his bike riding skills and asks to go frequently. He has also "invented" cool things he can do with his bike. It makes him feel good to be outside riding it and it makes me feel good to have him away from his beloved books and beloved computer.

At 11:28 AM, Blogger Kris said...

You are so right! I'm so glad to hear of other mothers who have seen the positive side of pushing their children -- and how wonderful your boy feels when he figures out other "cool" things to do with his bike. Like you, I love witnessing how good a child can feel when they finally accomplish what they once thought was impossible!

At 4:56 PM, Blogger Megan said...

Yes I agree since I'm a child with aspergers. But my dad was a perfectionist and never allowed me to make those mistakes.
But there's only so much pushing you can do because aspergers stays with you the rest of your life.


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