Rollin’ on Dubs
And training wheels! Liam learned to ride his bike and raced in a triathlon! I meant to lead with how this past summer was
filled overflowing with growth and development. That pain in the ass motor skill he couldn’t master becomes an achievement and he’s a bit more independent than the moment just before. That’s riding a bike with dyspraxia.
Riding a Bike with Dyspraxia
Since the summer before Liam turned 3, he’s been training to ride a bike. Before this milestone, he practiced, daily, on a stationary bike (meant to be a video game accessory), along with countless other therapeutic activities including bi-weekly trips to an under-used community center gym during fall and winter.
Liam has dyspraxia, which is a neurological condition that makes motor planning (movement) and learning (among other things) different and far more difficult. A person without dyspraxia might say riding a bike is a two-step process, hop on and pedal. To Liam, it’s more like, ten or more. He had to learn how every part of his body needed to move (or not) to get the bike in motion. It’s like his brain and body don’t speak the same language. We ran into more delays because Liam also has sensory processing disorder (SPD). Dyspraxia and SPD greatly alter his body awareness, so we practiced a lot.
Practice pep-talks were (and still are) saturated with reminders and lessons of awareness, acceptance, patience, commitment, and self-love. In the beginning, practice was over when he was done. When Liam turned 5, I put on more pressure to practice, expected follow-through, and began having honest conversations about his conditions. Although he couldn’t just hop on a bike and pedal, I saw no reason why riding a bike with dyspraxia can’t also be a two-step process.
Practice Makes You Better
There were many days, he’d kick or stomp his bike while screaming, “I hate you” over and over until I pulled him off and to the ground, so he could melt in a safe place (my arms). I had to be quick with getting his helmet off or that would be another thing he couldn’t do that’d piss him off. We’d sit criss-cross applesauce staring at his bike, preparing for the same conversation. (He could fill in my blanks). As usual, I’d ask to hold his hand while we sat quietly trying to sort out our thoughts before we speak. These chats always began with focusing on how his mind and body feel and ended with his echo; “I have dyspraxia. This is going to be hard. I am smart and brave. I am learning to ride my bike.”
In late-July, Liam had a few pediatric visits needing lab work. The doctor is aware our insurance no longer covers PT and OT, so I’m his therapist. Trying to grasp his development, the doctor asked Liam if he could ride his bike yet. Liam took a deep breath, hunched over so far I flinched (thinking he was crashing face first to the floor) and said, “No. But I try so hard and I’m patient.” He threw his body into a stretch, fake yawned (something he does to regain composure and hide tearful eyes) and changed the subject back to why we were there. Flashback to all the times he didn’t want to struggle anymore. This is so much more than riding a bike.
The Very Next Day (7.26.17)
Liam and I walked his bike down a block to the newly paved church parking lot. It was the same walk, same reminders, and the same pep talk as the day before. He already had his helmet on and buckled. (He’d been practicing that too.) As he hopped on, I reminded him “Stay patient. Everything is difficult until you’re a professional.”
He pulled back on the handlebars, dug his foot into the pedal and, holy shit, away he went! He pedaled about 5 feet before dyspraxia interrupted. My excitement was second to his own. He hopped (yes, like it was nothin’ hopped) off his bike, tossing it away to run back to me. “I did it! I did it!” He ninja kicked around the parking lot, punching the air. He hopped back on and rode on the sidewalk to the nearby school playground.
Every day (sometimes multiple times a day), for the next month, we went to the church parking lot. He practiced riding, listening, stopping, and following directions. Liam was becoming a pro (even at falling an thats a whole other accomplishment)! When he and I agreed on his readiness, I tightened up my running shoes and smeared on a fresh coat of deodorant. He had me showering twice a day (no bullshit) but it was exciting to have another healthy activity we could share and both enjoy. In late August, I signed him up for the Hawk Island kid triathlon.
He was brave and confident. I was so nervous I felt sick. Dyspraxia makes Liam fall a lot. He bloodied his elbow before we even made it through the parking lot. After visiting the first aid tent, we moved on to the check-in table. We got his bib, fought with a super stinky swim cap and headed down to the water. We talked about all the what ifs and came up with quick fixes to get him through. Just please don’t fall or deviate from the path.
The participants and parents lined the beach. Liam tugged his hand free from mine, gave me a kiss, a thumbs up, and headed out to chest deep water.
Ready? Set? Go!
The whistle blew. Liam stayed on his feet through the water, kept a safe distance from others, and kept his hands to himself. He booked-it through the sand, and up a paved trail to his bike. I met him at the top of the hill and ran behind him toward his bike. I muscled shoes on his water-logged feet while he fiddled with his helmet. It was on and he was off.
He peeled out of his parking spot down to the next transition point. I positioned myself near the finish line, which meant he would do this transition alone. Whether he unsnapped his helmet or he had to calmly ask for help, he was on his own. Would he remember what we talked about, practiced and rehearsed over and over? I watched him jump off his bike and run directly to a race volunteer for help. Oh! My shit! He’s doing everything perfectly! Seconds later, he was truckin’ toward the finish line, to a sparkly new medal where I attacked him with my aggressively proud hugs.
All this was short lived because during a self-promoting victory lap he fell. This time he bloodied his knee better than his elbow. It was time to call it a day. Liam has a few marathon medals but he’s most proud of his triathlon medal. He brought it to his next doctor appointment to show it off!
Summer 2017 was BIG! Liam has accomplished so many skills this summer but learning to ride his bike wins the whole damn year and is his Standout Performance! He’s learned so much more than just riding a bike.