We had a major milestone in our house this weekend.
Ryan rode a bicycle for the first time in his life.
My son is 12-and-a-half years old, so it’s safe to say this day was a long time coming. Well it was, and it wasn’t.
Let me explain.
Last spring, Ryan’s sister got up on two wheels for the first time. She was motivated to do so after seeing that a number of her friends had learned. I freely admit I was slow to push her to learn because I knew Ryan couldn’t ride a bike, and it bothered me to have my younger child able to do something my older one could not.
It took Riley all of 15 minutes to get up and going on her bike. Veronica brought Ryan down to the parking lot where she was riding, hoping the sight of his sister would motivate him. It did not. I was able to talk him into one attempt some weeks later, but it didn’t last long. He would not pedal consistently enough to keep upright.
I moved past it. Riley got a new bike and loves to ride it. Any time people are out on bikes, she wants to ride. Ryan still didn’t express an interest.
My son can ice skate. He’s not going to win any figure skating medals, but he gets around pretty well. Ice skating and bike riding require a similar balance. I knew he could do it, the question was, when would he want to do it?
The answer came Saturday. Both kids had relatively unscheduled days and the weather showed the first hints of spring in a long time. So we packed up a bunch of sports equipment — basketball, football, mini lacrosse sticks, and, of course, Riley’s bike — and headed to the school yard.
A family game of two-on-two basketball didn’t last long, and wasn’t as successful as our last attempt. Suddenly, one on Riley’s best friends rode up on her bike, accompanied by her brother. Ryan knows the brother. He likes the brother. It didn’t hurt that the brother was wearing a hockey t-shirt.
Riley raced to get on her bike and join them riding all around the school yard while Ryan continued to shoot hoops with Veronica and me. After a few minutes, the three kids on their bikes pulled up on the playground and hopped off to take a break.
Ryan wandered over, intrigued. He asked Riley if he could borrow her bike. I heard the request, and it caught my attention. Was he serious? Was he finally interested? Veronica and I raced over to help, not wanting the moment to be lost.
Pretty soon, Ryan had her helmet on and was climbing on her bike. I put my hand on his shoulders for balance and gave him a little push, then encouraged him to keep pedaling. He demanded that I not let go. I jogged behind him for a couple of laps around the black top.
Less than five minutes in, I let go.
Ryan rode off. He made it a few seconds before putting his feet down. Within 15 minutes he was turning laps around the pavement all by himself. He didn’t want to give Riley her bike back. She wanted to ride with her friends, but was a great sport about it. She realized how big this was. We thanked her profusely.
By the time we got home, Ryan was ready to go to the bike shop to buy his own two-wheeler.
When he first pedaled off on his own, I paused to shoot the short video at the top of this post, which I emailed to a few family members with the message:
Subject: Big news
12 1/2 years. What took so long? He wasn’t ready. Until today.
Later that night, as I tucked Ryan into bed, I told him how proud I was of his new accomplishment.
“You learned to ride a bike today,” I said. “That’s a really big day in a boy’s life.”
But as the words came out of my mouth, I realized they weren’t quite correct.
I tried again.
“That’s not right,” I said on my second attempt. “Today you rode a bike for the first time. You already knew how. Today was just the day you were ready to do it.”
And that’s it, isn’t it? Autism puts kids like Ryan are on a different path, a different timetable. Sometimes they end up at the same destination, sometimes they end up someplace entirely different — and sometimes that different place is a wonderful one. But the point is, we can’t impose OUR timetable on THEM.
I was also a little proud of myself. Right when Ryan asked to ride Riley’s bike for the first time, there was another small child, perhaps five or six, racing around the same black top on her own two-wheeler. Not that long ago, I might have been embarrassed to push my 12-year-old around in front of her. But not this time. I didn’t even pay her much attention. My son wanted to ride, and I wanted to help him.
As it turned out, he didn’t need much help.
He was ready.