Who Knew That Summer Vacation Could Actually Be So Good?

Boy + bike
'Kathy!' said Charlie as we were driving out to New Jersey horse country yesterday morning. 

'Thea Marilyn Flo!'

All with a big smile.

Those are the names of two teachers and classroom aides Charlie had some nine (nine, back in 2001), years ago, when we lived in a condo in central Jersey.  Miss Kathy's class was really the first real school experience that Charlie had. In 2000 and earlier in 2001, he had been in some special education preschool classrooms in St. Paul (the Rondo school) and in a suburb of St. Louis, but these were only for two or three days a week and for a few hours. In those days, home ABA sessions were the central part of Charlie's education. The public school autism program that Kathy, Thea, Marilyn and Flo, and many others, all worked in drew heavily on ABA. Charlie went to school (first with Kathy and then with Thea) five days a week, for a ful school day, and took the bus that Mr. Richard drove.

And I do think Charlie mentioned Kathy and the rest as his way of telling us that, yes, he knows that school is starting.

It's been a great summer. I don't usually write this—in fact, I think this is probably the first time I've ever written such a statement. Usually the end of summer means a collective gasping in a heap of fatigue and sweat, and the first day back to school can't come quickly enough.

This August and the Tour de Jersey via bikes—a summer when, for the first time in years years & years, we didn't spend two weeks at our beloved beach house rental—has been a revelation. We may not have traveled out of the Garden State, but boy did Jim and Charlie pedal up the mileage, to the tune of approximately 150 miles per week, at least.

They tried out many a bike path in many a corner of New Jersey (including by the central Jersey condo we lived in when Charlie had Miss Kathy and Miss Thea as teachers).

They biked in searing heat and pouring rain, with mud.

They biked morning, noon, afternoon, and evening.

They biked out of New Jersey and into New York.

They biked for 17 miles and 23 miles at a time. Each time, I declared that those were Charlie's long rides yet.

So far, each time Charlie has broken his own record. Monday, he and Jim started at the very end of the trail and came just a few miles short of reaching the other end before turning back. They did 25 miles.

(Only 25.)

I have to attribute all that daily exercise to Charlie's doing so very well this past month off from school. Needless to say, biking all those miles (and at the powerful pace Charlie likes to pedal at) uses up a lot of energy. It  gives Charlie a huge sense of accomplishment and pride in his physical prowess (keeping in mind he's a kid who generally struggles tons with scant little to show for it in terms of academic progress in the classroom). Charlie's life, as you know, has been peppered with really difficult behavior issues including self-injurious behavior in the form of head-banging. There were some days of storminess this past summer don't get me wrong: The really great thing is that these were contained to just a few days, and perhaps attributable to a brief experiment changing Charlie's medication and a really bad stomach ache.

Not looking for perfection here at all. We take progress of any kind, in any minute quantity.

Charlie was beaming as he handed me his bike helmet and hopped into the car. Jim and I loaded and tied up the bikes (we've gotten pretty quick at this, especially in comparison to our initial bumbling 'now what do I do with this' moments) and Charlie again mentioned 'Kathy!' as we drove off. Jim said the name of Charlie's teacher (he will have the same teacher he had last year) and noted that Charlie will see her tomorrow (i.e., today, depending on when you are reading this). Charlie said her name and didn't add any no's or all done's. 

Clearly a good sign as we come down to our last moments of working the transition from a lovely summer.

There were a few more Monday evening as the countdown to the big Back to School day! started in force.

As Charlie watched videos on the computer after his latest long bike ride, I showed him the fingernail clipper. He held out each hand as I wordlessly clipped the nails of first his right hand and then his left. I had just finished when Charlie said,

'Thank you.'

'You're welcome,' I responded.

And really, thank you, Charlie, for all of this everything.

3 Responses to “Who Knew That Summer Vacation Could Actually Be So Good?”
  1. Barbara says:

    Wow. Thank you. That clipping nails story, a generally very good summer, Charlie’s apparent acknowledgment of school starting. Wow.
    And my personal gratitude to you for crediting exercise as a source of Charlie’s success. I believe this, too.

  2. I have been cutting Matts hair a little bit each day to get it ready by next Monday.
    He has already placed his go talk into his backpack. He picked out clothes for today – but they were ESY type clothes and not uniform white shirt.
    We have been going to a soccer field a few towns over and no dogs, pidgeons, lake or parking issues and we do several laps around with only a few soccer players here and there. Basically way out in the hills and a few surface changes with some sand, turf and grass to give proprioceptive input. He skips, runs and screams in delight.
    I need to do toenails next.

  3. autismvox says:

    I hope this week passes quickly for Matt, Bonnie. Charlie was definitely in need of getting back in the classroom.— I need to do toenails too. That usually takes a few days of ‘no, no’ and then I am able to do it.
    Barbara, thanks for noting what I noted about exercise. I can see a true correlation between the increase in Charlie’s exercise (aerobic and intense) and his behavior issues becoming much more manageable—also, I would note that he seems to have a better sense of how to ‘manage’ these.
    Too often, it seems that exercise and sports for kids with disabilities gets ‘watered down’—no one’s fault; it was not easy to teach Charlie to ride his bike. For years he was a very balky rider; there was a stretch (over a year it seems) when he constantly got off his bike to do various stim-things. Or when he abandoned the bike when a dog was sighted. His rides with Jim used to take 2 hours and they didn’t go that far.
    I think of how much energy Charlie used to expend with some of his tantrums—certainly we expended quite a bit trying to calm him—a couple of times we have seen him getting agitated and calling for his bike helmet. Sometimes he starts the ride in a very distressed state, Jim says, but while riding together (very quietly) often Charlie seems to let go of whatever was bothering him.

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