Ready, Set, Go! (How Anjali learned to ride her bicycle)

Hello everyone! I hope everyone is staying safe and having a good time during this holiday season. During the lockdown, our family has been consistently guiding Anjali on bike rides on a nearly daily basis. This effort, led mostly by my mother, has taken the last few months, and we’ve finally taught Anjali how to ride a bicycle without any assistance and training wheels! Let’s take a look back at the process of reaching this point.

In the earlier half of the year, we were trying to find ways for Anjali to remain active and safe, as highlighted in my Pandemic Precautions blog post from that time, since lockdown had just been put in place in our town during that time of the year. My mother started having Anjali ride a small bicycle that was previously unused for many years. The biggest challenge at that time was for Anjali to familiarize herself with the format of a bicycle, become comfortable sitting in a seat, and not be scared of the speed at which she was travelling. It took many days for my mother to train Anjali to simply sit on a bicycle. Once that goal was hit, she started bringing Anjali to the sidewalks and started teaching her how to pedal. This was the biggest hurdle at that time, since it was difficult to make Anjali understand that the bicycle would only move if she pedals on both sides of the bicycle, and not just on one pedal. Eventually, Anjali had the confidence to start pedalling and she started riding a few laps of our street with training wheels, with one of us walking beside her at the same time.  

By this point, Anjali became comfortable with completing multiple laps with training wheels. Breaking Anjali out of this comfort zone and teaching her to ride the bicycle without training wheels became our next challenge. Once we took off the training wheels from her bicycle, we had to once again spend multiple days to get her to simply sit on the bicycle and not be afraid of the lack of training wheels. Eventually she learned to ride without the training wheels, as long as someone was holding her from the side or her shoulder. In reality, this assistance didn’t help her balance or ride the bicycle. We simply had to do it in order to make her feel safe and confident. However, on a specific day my mom subtly removed her hand from Anjali’s shoulder while she was riding, and Anjali didn’t notice and continued riding! We’d done it! Anjali could now ride a bicycle without any help. From this point onwards, Anjali only became more confident, and eventually we bought a brand new bicycle for her. Now Anjali goes on two bike rides nearly every day! 

Something that I hope readers take away from this story is the simple fact that patience and persistence are needed in order to teach any new skill to a special needs child, which is a message that I shared in my Little Einsteins blog post as well. It took months of hard work and daily efforts to teach Anjali how to ride her bicycle. However, the result was worth it, since Anjali now has a form of exercise that she enjoys doing on a consistent basis!

Sensory Showtime!

Happy holidays everyone! While a lot of us here in the United States and the western world are bombarded with Christmas decorations and events throughout our local areas, my family was excited about one specific event. Our local mall had a sensory-friendly Santa meetup for kids with sensory needs. Anjali falls under this group of children, and I was very grateful that this community of kids was not excluded from these festive events. Is a sensory-friendly Santa common? What events are sensory-friendly throughout the year? What does it even mean for an event to be “sensory-friendly?” All of these questions popped up in my head and I set out for answers. I hope this post can help family members of special needs children find these events and for others to understand the importance of these events.

Sensory-friendly Santa can be a stress-free environment for a special-needs child. Explore options such as the ones provided by https://www.autismspeaks.org/santa#CA. Picture credit: https://cbceducation.net/autism-speaks-sensory-friendly-santa/

First of all, what does it mean for an event to be “sensory-friendly?” A simpler explanation would involve first looking at the word “sensory.” Many special needs children are sensitive to the sounds, lights, or colors of their environment. For example, the bustling noise of people in a mall may seem normal to us but might have an impact of greater magnitude on a special needs child. This is specifically the case with Anjali. Each special-needs child has unique sensory needs. Another example is explained by Jennifer Lovy when she writes for the Friendship Circle Organization about how her son’s sensory-friendly birthday party meant “no loud music, no dark skating rink, and no flashing lights.” The formal definition for a sensory-friendly or autism-friendly event is explained by The Place for Children With Autism as an “environment [that is] . . . moderate and structured. If you’re curious about the environmental accommodations available for a sensory-friendly event, always ask to make sure you or your child’s needs can be met before attending.” With a clear understanding of what a sensory-friendly event is, we can now look at the different options of events throughout the year.

This chart by beacons unique.com fully shows the sensory impact an environment can have on a child.

I’ll start off this list of events by making it clear that I am by no means endorsing any of these events. Nor am I suggesting every family should participate in Christmas events. I am simply informing that many entertainment options exist for special needs children. An example of this a sensory-friendly Santa. Business Wire writes about this growing trend and the “partnership between Cherry Hill Programs and Autism Speaks. Together, they are presenting an unprecedented 741 events in 581 shopping destinations across the U.S. and Canada on November 24, December 1 and 8, 2019.” The festive Christmas season isn’t the only time sensory needs are considered for special-needs kids. AMC theaters have partnered with the Autism Society to offer “[a] Sensory Friendly Film program  . . . available on the second and fourth Saturday (family-friendly) and Tuesday evenings (mature audiences) of every month. Please check your local theatre listings for specific showtimes.” The Friendship Circle Organization shares more events including “a number of Major League Baseball teams [offering] sensory friendly evenings (often on Autism Awareness Night) . . . [and] local Pump It Up [continuining] to offer sensory jumps once a month”

Movies can be a sensory rollercoaster for a special-needs child. AMC and other theaters run sensory friendly shows that are a great alternative for a special needs child.

These events are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the amount of sensory-friendly activities across the country. The point I am trying to make through this post is how necessary these events are. We take for granted how our bodies and senses aren’t sensitive to the everyday sounds and sights of the world. These same aspects of society are bothersome to almost every special-needs or ASD child. Despite this, these children still deserve a variety of entertainment options just like us. So the next time you consider watching a movie or going to your local Christmas event I hope you consider options that accommodate for your special needs child. The following is a helpful link to find sensory-friendly events for your child: https://www.autismspeaks.org/events. I hope this article helped others learn about the sensory needs of special needs children and understand the importance of these events. Best of luck to all for 2020!