When I think back to when I was a kid, there are moments that I can recall that take me right back to that time and place in which I was truly free. Free of responsibility, free of stress, free of worry… I suppose it is called innocence. One of those moments is riding on the back of my mom’s bike along the Chicago lakefront. We moved from Chicago when I was 8 but when I returned as a young man and would ride my bike or rollerblade along the lake it would take me back… every time.
Eventually however, you reached a point in which you didn’t want your parent’s assistance. You wanted to be independent. You hopped on all by yourself; you pushed yourself back and then threw your legs forward. You learned how to maintain control and what your limits were. Your parents, though willing to give you that push, were now no longer a necessity. It was still nice to know that they were there for you, but their mingling in your affairs was no longer vital to the cause.
Sometimes you would even kick yourself up to the sky and when you reached the apex of your swing forward, you would launch yourself through the air.
In retrospect I have no clue what I was thinking when I did that. I guess there is a very fine line between innocence and broken bones.
We take the swings for granted. As a kid, you hop on the swing and just do what comes naturally. For kids with special needs though, a swing that we never gave two thoughts about can be intimidating and a challenge. I volunteer on Wednesdays at Bianca’s school to help with recess. When the weather is bad we hit the gym, when the weather is good we hit the playground.
Needless to say, the kids really enjoy the playground. There are about 10 kids in Bianca’s class, each child facing his/her own challenges. The playground is equipped with more climbing structures than a kid could ask for, multiple slides of varying height, shape and length, and a huge row of swings.
The cool thing about the swings is that two of them are suited for special needs kids. They are more or less La-Z-Boy recliners on chains with a restraining device akin to something you would pull over your head and shoulders on a roller coaster. They are VERY popular.
Bianca has always loved swings. I know that isn’t the case for every autistic kid, but she would rather sit in a swing and be pushed than run around and climb or slide. She likes those things too; it is just that she prefers the swings. When we did get a chance to go to the park this summer, I would make an effort to put Bianca on the big kid swings. Bianca likes worry-free swinging. So even at the age of 5, she would only swing in the infant swings. Every time I put her on a regular swing, she would protest. I would get head-butted, punched, scratched, bit… she definitely let me know that those particular swings were not her cup of tea. Still, I dodged, blocked and bled my way through it; putting her on the big kid swing even if just for couple of seconds.
At the school playground, Bianca usually wants to be on the swinging Barcalounger. The problem for her is that there are several kids in her class that feel the same way. Since there are only two special swings, if Bianca doesn’t beat them to the punch, she has to wait. I think we all know how well waiting patiently goes over with autistic kids. So to keep Bianca from beating on me in frustration, I diverted her to the monkey bars and some slides, but she kept running back towards those swings.
Just for the heck of it, I thought I would point out the big kid swings. I have done this during other recesses and not had any luck. I sat Bianca down as one of the aides joked that if Bianca dragged her feet she might find some loose change in the gravel rocks. I gave her a slight push and hoped for the best.
She swung for a very brief time before hopping off and trying to head back to the other swings. I directed her back sat her down again and gave another push… then I saw it. I saw the light switch turn on. A smile spread across her face as I saw her GET IT. She kicked a couple of times, and then dragged her feet through the gravel to come to a stop. She hopped off, turned around and looked at the swing. Then she turned herself back around put her butt on the seat, scooted back and looked for me to swing her. I was stunned. I pushed, and she smiled. I pushed a little harder, she smiled a little bigger.
I walked around to the front of her to watch her face and she had a look on her face that I have never seen before. She looked free. She looked like she could conquer the world.
Call me crazy, but I think she will overcome her obstacles. It may not be easy, she may never be completely “normal” but she is going to do it. I can feel it in my bones and more importantly, I can see it in Bianca’s eyes.
She is flying high. Don’t try to stop her now!