My Fear of Falling (#288)

I went to work late this morning to make sure Charlie was settled with my parents, who arrived here after midnight from California. Our house has three bedrooms, one of which–Charlie’s old bedroom–is now his ABA and play room. We decided to move Charlie’s bed to what had been our guest room because, when we started a home Lovaas program up for him again last September, we quickly concluded that he needed more room for his desk, shelves of toys and teaching materials, a big blue pillow for lolling on, and various electronic gadgets (like his iPod and computer).
The other reason we decided to move Charlie’s bed was because he had kicked a hole in the wall and kept picking at the dry wall until it became quite large. Jim dragged a chest of drawers in front of the cardboarded-up hole and I piled Charlie’s collection of stuffed animals (many courtesy of his Aunty Jen) atop.

To underscore the occasional futility of parental efforts, Charlie has made cracks in the walls of our two other bedrooms with the back of his head. (Jim is getting adept with the spackle.)
None of that today, though I was so "on alert" that, when my cell phone rang with my mother’s number during a class, I excused myself and took the call (which was not about Charlie). Before leaving my house, I set up a schedule of walks, car rides, time inside the house, eating, and went over it with my mother. I showed Charlie the calendar of "Red Schoolbuses" and "My Houses" that our consultant had printed out for us (miraculously finding a picture that looked exactly like the minivan that Charlie takes to school); he crossed out the days that had passed. I cut up an apple for Charlie in eighths, as he likes it, and explained what would happen before "Mom comes home."

"Bye Mom," munched Charlie.

It’s a lot of strategy but, I will confess, I am always fearful of Charlie falling.

It was my fear of this–of Charlie literally falling–that led Jim to become In Charge of Teaching Charlie To Ride The Bike .

Charlie was six years old when Jim took off the training wheels, which barely touched the ground because Charlie pedaled so fast.

Jim has always ridden his own bike in tandem with Charlie. I would never have taken the training wheels off; Charlie could not yet use the brakes, had no conception of the dangers of car traffic, ran into the street without warning. The day after Jim took out the pliers and took off those little wheels (worn bare), I tried to "launch" Charlie from a standing position. Jim had been doing this; once Charlie got going (he had the balance thing on two wheels down), Jim would run to his own bike, hop on, and pedal like crazy to ride beside Charlie, all in a matter of less than three seconds.

That day I held onto the seat of Charlie’s bike as Jim directed and Charlie started pedalling.

"Now, let go," Jim called out.

But I could not. I was convinced in some deep unconscious mother-fearing way that Charlie would fall without my hand on his bikeseat and go smash bang mess on the pavement. So I held onto his seat and ran for almost a whole block and, when I tried to let go, I pulled Charlie and the bike over, with me beneath.

Jim got Charlie back up and on his bike and I limped home, raw and aching.

For the year when Charlie was six going on seven, Jim rode beside him and held Charlie’s shoulder to stop him. Often Jim would ride to a park, where Charlie and I would meet up with him in the green car (Charlie’s bike in the back). Charlie often rides right next to cars or people–perhaps he does not really see them unless he is "thatclose"?–and we were starting to get mad glares from walkers. When Charlie was seven, he and Jim spent an afternoon in a school parking lot during which Jim said "squeeze brakes" and, his hands over Charlie’s, they squeezed the brakes together.
When we started Charlie in a Lovaas ABA program back in September 1999, Jim and I both became trained in ABA and did regular sessions. So, on that late spring day in 2004, Jim applied the knowledge of prompts and fading them to teach Charlie how to "squeeze brakes." And he kept at it until Charlie could squeeze the brakes when Jim said "squeeze brakes" in the parking lot, and they rode home, Jim calling me to watch Charlie using the hand brakes on his bike.

"How did you do it?" I asked.

"Oh, you know," said Jim.

Jim still did and does ride his bike beside Charlie’s but has rarely has to use the shoulder-touch. At every stop sign Jim says "stop sign, squeeze brakes," and points to the sign so Charlie sees it and stops as requested. The latest innovation is that Jim says "slow down."

A basis in ABA—some facilitated bike-riding instruction–lots of encouragement and the treat of self-motoring through our town and many beside it:

That is how Charlie learned to "brake when he [needed] to."

How I learned, too.

4 Responses to “My Fear of Falling (#288)”
  1. Eileen says:

    “A basis in ABA—some facilitated bike-riding instruction–lots of encouragement and the treat of self-motoring through our town and many beside it:

    That is how Charlie learned to ‘brake when he [needed] to.’

    How I learned, too”

    And how I learned too.

    How we all learned through encouragement, praise, guidance and reinforcement that we accomplished what we set out to learn. The principles of ABA are used to teach many kids, NT, ASD and all “differently abled” individuals.

    I have no doubt that I will need to use the command “squeeze brakes” for Brian, my NT child, when I teach him to ride his bike without his training wheels. And I will praise him when he does. I am sure he will fall, but will get back up and try again…Just as Andrew will when the time comes to teach him. He just might need more help and more practice, or maybe not.

  2. Amy S says:

    Thanks Kristina, I blew coffee out my nose at the mental image of you pulling Charlie and the bike over on top of you. Moms are so goofy.
    Thanks so much for the suggestions! There is no way I’m letting him ride outside with training wheels quite yet. He sounds a lot like Charlie going SOOO fast. He has learned to take corners in the house by throwing his body weight and the bike skids sideways around turns. He yells “Faster! Faster!” a good deal of the time. Now I am worried that he’ll be really good at the whole bike-thing and I’ll have to get some exercise just to keep up.
    Thanks again for your reply. I appreciate it.

  3. squaregirl says:

    I sometimes think that all of the “scary” stuff should be left to dad’s. That was a lovely story!

  4. Hate to reinforce any gender stereotypes but I was glad to turn the bike business over to Jim. (After he saw me, Charlie, and the bike in a heap on the street, his expression said, “I’d better take over here!”)

    Susan, Yes, Charlie biking has meant we have to stay in shape! Is there a parking lot or empty space nearby where your son could practise?

    Eileen, see you the Ride4Autism?

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