There are a few milestones most people remember throughout their lives. First kiss. Prom (if you went.) Wedding date. Birth dates of your children. The time you fit perfectly in your skinny jeans. Who taught you how to ride a bike.
The last one is an accomplishment I wasn’t sure my youngest autistic son would ever achieve.
I have never been happier to be so wrong.
This summer I enrolled Zach, my mildly autistic son, in the iCan Shine bike program through www.icanshine.org. iCan Shine is a national non-profit which runs bike camps all across the U.S. and Canada by partnering with local organizations and individual hosts. I was somewhat optimistic that he could learn, but our one attempt at riding a bike without training wheels had been a wash. Although the organization has an 80% success rate I still wasn’t certain Zach could focus enough to accomplish this goal, but I wanted to give it a try anyway.
And I’m so glad I did, because by the third session of camp he was riding his own bike independently and told me “this was the best day of his life.”
And yes, I captured that moment on my iPhone.
In a nutshell, the camp runs five seventy-five minute sessions daily for a full week, and is staffed by volunteers. The first day the riders ride the camp’s bikes, which have wide rollers on the back of the vehicles that make it almost impossible for the campers to fall. By day two riders get a ride on the specially designed tandem bike with a staffer.
The third day many children “launch” by riding camp bikes with a handle at the back so staffers who are running beside them can limit falls. By day four many riders are independent, with day five culminating with riders on the bikes they will be taking home and family members learning how to properly spot their rider so they can continue to practice!
Not all of the campers are independent by day five, but all of them made progress. And I have to tell you, the moment Zach took off on his own for the first time, and stayed up, will remain with me forever.
During the camp I had the opportunity to interview Jane Kleiman, a mom of an autistic son who was the organizer for our session this summer. Jane, along with her fantastic volunteers, worked tirelessly to pull off this camp, and has done so for several years. I’d like to share her thoughts with you, as I think her words will give you greater insight as to the importance of this camp.
Kim: What are some of the most important things about this program that people need to know?
Jane: iCan Shine bike camp promotes social skills and allows the campers to feel just like “one of the kids” who can ride a bike! Riding a bike promotes independence and self-esteem. It encourages physical activity and can also be a mode of transportation for campers when they become adults.
Kim: When did you get involved with iCan Shine?
Jane: I ran my first camp four years ago. I decided to run the program because I realized there was a need for one in central Jersey, as I kept hearing parent after parent saying there were no programs in the area to teach their disabled children how to ride bikes. I also chose to run it because I have a son who falls on the spectrum among other things, and hoped he could master the skill as well. I took a big leap of faith that I could raise the money, get the volunteers, and fill the camp, and fortunately it all worked out.
Kim: How do you view success at the camp?
Jane: All campers are successful as long as they get something out of it. And believe me, they ALL get so much out of iCan Bike! I had a little girl in one camp who was absolutely terrified of bikes, wouldn’t even get on one of them. By the last day she was able to conquer her fears enough to ride a bike with rollers on the back, and she was having a great time. Whether the kids get to two wheels or not, if they can overcome their fears and have fun they are an equal success story to the kids who achieve independent riding by the end of the week.
Kim: How would someone sign up, volunteer, or donate to the iCan Bike program?
Jane: iCan Bike Lincroft is solely funded by donations and iCan Shine is a national non-profit. If you are interested in donating to our camp here in Lincroft please go to http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/LTTWLindroft/iCanBikeLincroft2015. To donate to iCan Shine, Inc. go to www.icanshine.org. Volunteers must be sixteen or older and able to come for all sessions the entire week. Riders must be eight years old, and registration is in the spring and fills up quickly. Please go to www.icanshine.org if you are interested in participating in the camp, there are many different sessions run throughout the country during the summer.
My heartfelt thanks to Jane, all the volunteers, and to Team Zach: Chris, Natalie, Jaida, Paxton, and Carmen. You were all wonderful and Zach and I appreciate all you did!
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