Father

My son’s biking lesson started on endless boardwalk of New Jersey shore. We drove there in the evenings and walked along our children’s bikes.  Amanda rode her bike with training wheels while Robert kept getting off his tricycle every two seconds.  Our goal for Robert was to keep him sitting for 10-20 yards. My husband was bent over the bike with one hand on the handlebar and the other on the back of the seat. He was pushing the bike while  simultaneously trying to prevent Robert from escaping. When Robert was 2 years and 3-4 month old, he learned to tolerate sitting on the bike and being pushed by others.  I would risk stating that he even found it enjoyable. .

When he was three years old Jan started teaching Robert to turn pedals.  We had already moved to Massachusetts apartment complex which, with many narrow and winding streets, was not a good place to teach bike riding.  Harvard Arboretum in Jamaica Plain was much, much better.

First, Jan placed himself in front of the bike facing Robert , said, “Do this”, and demonstrated movement with his leg. He bent   and immediately straightened it with a  forceful exaggeration. Robert didn’t move.  Next, Jan pushed Robert’s leg down to make the bike move a little.  He repeated this series of actions hundred times. Next  day, another hundred times.  It took a few seasons before Robert started to push pedals on his own.

What surprised me about Jan’s teaching  was the fact that he used a  technique similar to discrete trails  (but without reinforcement if you don’t count the fact that bike moved a little with every turn of a pedal).  Since my husband avoided successfully all ABA trainings,  I must assume that he came up with this method on his own.

Well, Robert pushed pedals but he still didn’t steer the bike. The fact that we  didn’t realize that Robert needed a visual cue directing him where to go interfered with learning.  Robert wanted to ride on the edge of the asphalt, along the grass line. But my husband always placed bike in the center of the path believing that this position would give Robert more space to maneuver.  Wrong.  As soon as my husband took his hand of the handle bar Robert aimed at the grass at the right side of the road. One training wheel was on the asphalt while the other was on the grass.  It is possible that Robert already knew how to steer the bike, but because he always ended up with one training wheel on the grass we assumed that he didn’t know what he was doing. So my husband felt obligated to take the control of the bike again and bring it to the center.  When we finally realized what the problem was, Jan simply changed the position and instead of walking on the left side of Robert, walked on his right side.  This allowed Robert to ride close to the edge but not on the edge.

I don’t remember how Robert learned to slow down and/or stop the bike.

For a few more years he was still riding with training wheels.  When Robert was almost eleven years old, my husband went to a one day training on teaching children to ride without training wheels.  It was a free workshop offered by Ladders.  I don’t know what my husband learned there but the following weekend he took Robert to a church parking lot and managed to teach Robert to keep the balance on the bike without training wheels.

Of course,  Robert still had to learn changing gears, stopping at the stop signs, and many other skills.

I am writing this because today is Father Day and New York Times printed an article on parenting a child with autism.

It irritated me terribly.    I do  understand that other people have different attitudes/feelings/approaches toward their children with autism.  I don’t understand why those approaches are displayed prominently in  the  media.  Why it is more appealing  for editors to empathize with a father who suffers because of the issues related to his child with autism than to learn from the father who just do his parenting job with endurance, patience, and …great satisfaction?

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