Riding Through Summer One Success at a Time
When I think back on this summer, I will always remember Ari riding her bicycle past us, wind blowing in her hair, yelling “Look at me, I can do it!”
We opted not to enroll Ari in summer school this year. During the regular school year, she is in general education with both “push in” and “pull out” services. But in our district, summer school for students with significant disabilities consists of self-contained classes on one campus for six weeks. In the past, no matter how amazing the teachers were, and how great it was that she continued her therapy services, summer school always seemed like a big step backwards in terms of our goal for Ari to be known, welcomed, and included in the community. This type of summer school was unlikely to result in Ari learning valuable life-long skills or making friends with kids in our neighborhood.
So, instead, we chose to engage in the natural summer routine of our family, to do what Ari enjoys, and to introduce skills that might be important for her to learn. We signed up for a week of church day camp, two weeks of swim lessons, iCan Shine Bike Camp, and a trip to visit extended family. Swimming, biking, having new experiences, and spending time with friends and family—for our family, these were the perfect ingredients for summer.
We attend a large church that draws a few hundred kids for one week of camp. It was an interesting week, but she had fun and looked forward to going every single day and talked about it for weeks before and after. Despite some details I wish had been different, camp was a huge success overall, and the best part was that both of our children were able to, for once, participate in a program together. Swim lessons were also a huge success. Again, both children were able to go to the same program at the same time. While Ari worked on water safety and swimming skills with personalized supports as a “Penguin," her brother learned the basic strokes in the “Alligator” group. It was the first time in a long while I was able to sit with parents and grandparents and talk about our kids without comparing therapies and services. We were just another family enjoying a day at the pool. I felt reconnected with a long lost world.
Fast forward to the iCan Shine Bike Camp. When we heard about the bike camp, we knew we had to try it, as Ari wanted to be able to participate in Family Bike Nights riding a two-wheeler without training wheels. The camp was everything I expected it to be, and we were pretty excited. By Thursday, I was getting nervous she wasn’t going to make it to complete independence, in part due to her general anxiety disorder. My heart sank as I watched her go from a two-wheeler with support back onto the training bike in the first half hour. At break, she was tired, looking anxious, and asking to go home. She looked as defeated as I felt inside, but then something amazing happened. As camp staff and volunteers offered gentle encouragement, I saw a spark in her eyes when she looked up and said, “Ok, let’s go.” Half an hour later, she was doing laps with minimal support, and by the end of Friday’s session she was riding a bicycle as if she had been doing it her whole life. The following week, we went to Family Bike Night. I offered to hold her bike and help her get started, but she simply gripped the handlebars with determination and said, “I got it,” pushed off, and pedaled away. I watched as she steadily rode on, picking up speed. Not five minutes later, she was holding a steady pace, head held high announcing to everyone and anyone who made eye contact, “I can do it!” Taking a step back to watch her from the sidelines, I was reminded that she will waiver, she will fall, and sometimes she may crash and bleed a little, but that’s ok. That’s the story of life—finding a balance between the highs and lows. A popular Albert Einstein quote sums it up perfectly. “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”
We have no doubt that the right decisions were made for Ari this summer. She is a more confident swimmer, made new friends at camp, and learned to ride a bike. As a family, we figured out how best to support Ari in all of these experiences. Did we give something up by choosing family routines over therapies and segregation? I don’t think so—although I dream of a day when families don’t need to make choices between special and regular. I dream of a day when the supports for Ari to learn and grow are available in the places we most want her to be successful—with her family and her friends, acquiring new skills like swimming and riding a bike, and learning in her neighborhood school.
Ari is starting a new grade level with a new teacher. We’re all anxious and excited. We don’t know what the year holds and there are bound to be highs and lows. We will keep moving forward, using the natural instincts and experiences of our family as our guide and maintain our balance along the way.
- Kimber Rice