The neighbor across the street stopped short and semi-gasped as Charlie pumped the pedals of his 24-inch, 7 gear bike and whizzed away.
I gasp a bit too whenever I see Charlie--who still cannot really catch a ball; his hands rise just as the ball hits his chest--speed off down our street on his bike. When I was Charlie's age, I was still bargaining with my dad about only taking one training wheel off and barely ventured past the sidewalk in front of our house. With Jim as Charlie's coach and constant companion, the two of them have gone on some hour-plus biking outings two and more towns over, crossing major intersections, passing by the on ramp for the Garden State Parkway.
Jim--aka "Charlie's Dad"--is entirely responsible for Charlie's being able to ride his bike and to ride so well. An ABA therapist back in St. Louis got Charlie to learn to push the pedals of his tricycle by waving one of his then-favorite things--a colored square of paper--in front of his face; Charlie was so motivated to get that square and the therapist (a college student) coaxed with such joy that he pushed down on the pedals without noticing. From then on, Jim followed and pushed Charlie on the sidewalk, set him up on a two-wheeler with training wheels, noted that he was pedaling so fast the training wheels were not touching the ground, and--one weekend in the spring of 2003--taught him to "squeeze brakes" when they came to an intersection.
Feet pushing up and down, hands gripping handlebars, one hand squeezing the hand brake, mind-eye coordination, mind-body coordination (Jim telling Charlie "stop sign, squeeze brakes!"; Charlie hearing, processing, thinking, telling his hand to squeeze the brake).
Sound passing from ears to his mind, connections misfiring, sound scrambled but registering, signal going back down the neural pathways to the mouth, lips, larynx, tongue, scramble again, sound coming out from Charlie's mouth is a vowel-consonant-vowel combination blur to which we (unthinkingly) respond, "What?".
Riding a bike is a complex process involving split-second coordination of mind and body and senses, and--while he cannot track moving objects (like cars)--Charlie has mastered this one.
Talking is a complex process involving split-second coordination of mind and body and senses, and--while he can hear fine, though new words and new voices always take some getting used to--Charlie has a lot to master in this regard. Exercise, especially activities like bike riding and swimming that require some coordination and motor planning, seems to help his talking, perhaps because they teach him to manage the thoughts in his mind and the movements of his body. Today and yesterday, Charlie had two of his best bike rides ever--"no whining," Jim noted--and perhaps this has something to do with all the talking he's been doing.
Though, as Jim noted to me later, "one thing he definitely does not do on the bike is talk." After a pause, Jim added, "he does sing."
"What does he sing?" I asked.
"All the things he sings," Jim shrugged.
That would be the "The Star-Spangled Banner," "The Chipmunk Song," the theme song from The Courtship of Eddie's Father, Dell'amore Non Si Sa, a little Chuck Berry, and that great classic, "We love you Chah-ah-lee, oh yes we do / We love you Chah-ah-lee, you know it's true."
Jim taught him that one by singing it to Charlie every night, on and off during the day, and (I would think) on some of those long bike rides.