I swear I won’t keep talking about roller skating. I promise. But you’re going to have indulge just one more post on the topic. Here’s why.
The other day, a reader left a comment on Diary’s Facebook page in response to my post about a classmate’s surprise that Brooke was able to roller skate. This is what she wrote.
Honestly, it surprises me that Brooke IS good at roller skating. My son just doesn’t have the coordination and motor planning down for such a task. He even looks odd when he runs! I thought that motor planning type issues were common among those with autism.
I get this. Like, I totally get it. A few years ago, I would likely have written the same thing. But I wouldn’t anymore. And, if you don’t mind, I’d like to tell you why. Actually, even if you do mind I’d like to tell you why. I guess it’s just up to you whether or not you keep reading. I hope you do.
When my daughter was initially diagnosed (with Autistic Disorder aka Classic Autism), she was also handed a bunch of bonus diagnoses as well: Sensory Processing Disorder, Pervasive Anxiety Disorder, and some more vaguely worded but equally ominous things like Gross and Fine Motor Deficits and Motor Planning Challenges. Right.
At the time, they made perfect sense. She couldn’t hold a crayon no less use it to color or write. She froze like a deer in headlights on a playground. Had no idea what the heck to do with a swing. Balked at a slide. Didn’t go near anything that required her to climb or otherwise have a plan of attack. Motor Planning Challenges was a tidy catch-all to describe what we saw. But, looking back, I don’t think it was an accurate one for what was really going on.
Over time, it became obvious that Brooke’s reticence to play on these structures and her tendency to get ‘stuck’ mid-action when she was prodded to do so, were functions, not as much of a lack of physical or physeo-cognitive abilities, but of anxiety. Ed note: I made that second one up, so don’t go using it if you’re supposed to sound like you know what you’re talking about.
She was scared shitless, didn’t know where to start, and panicked as soon as something unexpected happened. Unfortunately, on a playground, the unexpected is precisely what is supposed to happen. Because the unexpected is what’s ‘fun.’ Bridges wobble, climbing structures sway, other kids show up out of nowhere and suddenly you’re in the middle of an uncontrolled, unpredictable chaotic maelstrom. Which, is, um, fun.
Years ago, I wrote about how Brooke could not jump from a two-inch mat down to the floor. Could she jump? Yes. But did she trust the floor to be there when she did? Not so much.
Did she have some real issues? Absolutely. Because she hadn’t been “practicing” coloring like the other kids, her hands were weak, making it difficult to hold a crayon. An OT offered up exercises that were actually sort of fun – picking up pennies, squeezing water bottles (her favorite!), putting toothpicks into cheese. They helped. Now, not only can she hold a crayon (or a pencil or a pen), we can’t get her to stop drawing. (Nor would we ever, ever want to.)
Throwing and catching were not remotely natural activities for her. Watching her process what she needed to do long after she needed to do it (and the ball had since gone sailing by) was tough. So we stopped throwing the ball. We sat on the floor and rolled it, as you would with a toddler. We backed up. We took our time. And when we did, it came together. Throwing and catching didn’t connect for her in a vacuum, but they made sense in the context of a slow, methodical evolution from rolling to bouncing to tossing. Now? She may not be the next all-star pitcher, but at ten she can indeed throw (and catch) a ball. For the record, that’s more than her Mama can boast.
For Brooke, many of her motor planning issues were really just flags, asking us to stop, examine and break down the tasks that we, as neurotypicals, believe to be intuitive, but may not be to her. To make them familiar by degree. Once that happened, her anxiety around them eased and the ‘planning’ challenges all but disappeared.
Okay, so that was part one. Here comes part two — roller skating itself. Ready for this? I would argue that not only does Brooke not roller skate well *despite* her autism, but the very reason that she can roller skate well is that she *because* of her autism. I know. Bear with me.
As much as wobbling still causes anxiety, (hence the training wheels on the bike that she told me she will happily remove “when I am a grown up”) Brooke loves to roll. I took all of the following pictures over the course of eighteen hours. I could have taken far more.
This is what my daughter does.
She lives for the feeling of the wheels beneath her, the breeze that SHE CREATES pulling her hair behind her, the humming of the wheels on the wood (or the rug or the pavement). She glides back and forth and back and forth and back and forth yes, back and forth along the hardwood floor from our bedroom to the hallway in her father’s old roller blades, twice the size of her feet, for as long as we’ll let her.
If we run out of time before bed, she says, “But wait! I have to do my skating!”
It’s her thing.
Call it a stim if you feel you must. It is the very definition of self-stimulatory activity, after all. It’s repetitive. It’s soothing. It’s exhilarating. It’s regulating. It’s centering. It’s where she finds joy and peace and calm.
So when she hit the roller rink the other day, in roller skates that actually fit her feet, she was ready to roll, literally. Was she anxious at first? Yup. Did she try to hold onto me? Yup. Did it take some cajoling to convince her that she could do it? Some. But did she rock it? Oh yes she did. And was she good at skating despite her autism or good at it because, as part of her autism, it’s something that she unwittingly “practices” for hours and hours and hours each week?
I’ll let you decide.