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 skateThis 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.

blades in-2

blades out-1


princess scooter 1-3


This is what my daughter does.


blades in-2


blades out-1


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.


blades in-2


blades out-1


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.

33 thoughts on “rollin’

  1. You nailed this, Jess! …and once again, Brooke is amazing. It doesn’t matter why. She’s just her amazing self–leaping and bounding!

    Love you,

  2. Way to go Brooke.
    A couple of years ago I read somewhere the best way to learn to ride a bike is to get your child to treat it as a scooter, so that they are scootering along with it especially if they are used to scootering, that way they learn to balance on the bike ( a smaller bike so that they have room for their feet and no worry of falling over and no need for training wheels) and then one day you’ll find that they have the balance and will simply ride. I didn’t believe it and then it happened, my ASD boy who a couple of years before couldn’t ride a tricycle was riding a 2 wheeler after about a week of scootering with his bike. We didn’t even bother trying to tell him to use the pedals, I would have been happy for him to scooter on his bike for months. Always worth a try because you never know what will work.

  3. Way to go, Brooke! It looks like you had a great time!

    And you’ve got ME beat with being able to roller skate. I can’t do it…not for a moment! I’ve tried for decades and skating and my own coordination skills seem incompatible. I do know, however, that wonderful feeling of the wind behind you, because while I don’t like to roll, I LOVE to surf. Or bodyboard. It gives me that same kind of peace.

  4. That. Is. Awesome. I think Cymbie suffers from a very similar anxiety when it comes to gross motor activities. SO awesome! Look at her go!!!!

  5. So good to see! Reminds me of last Sunday. Our son just got a scooter for this birthday and DH finally put it together. What amazed me was that my husband and I let him go far, FAR from us as we sat at a picnic table and he went flying across the school yard and not feeling panic and the urge/need to get up close “just in case”.

  6. My son is loving his bicycle! He doesn’t have the pedaling down but he loves the feeling of rolling along and he has no problem steering. Brooke looks like a natural on skates! I’m having flashback to the early 80’s at the roller rink listening to Stevie Wonder’s “I just called to say I love you” and doing shoot the duck!

  7. Awesome! Thanks too for the reminder to break things down, to take things slow, to ease everyone’s frustrations, to not worry about the age “matching” the ability. In their own time.

  8. I SO agree that anxiety is the root cause of so many things. The only reason K got off training wheels was bc her little brother could ride without them, and that motivated her, and also bc we were at the point of having to order them special, since they don’t make them for bikes her size :/ It was not a fun experience, teaching her how to ride, but it wasn’t because she couldn’t do it. She was just scared to death of falling, or whenever the bike did something she wasn’t expecting! We perservered, though, and now she’s doing GREAT!

    I remember being in OT years back, and watching as K couldn’t climb a ladder. Was it really motor planning, or was it really anxiety? I have to say a lot of it was, again, anxiety. Sure, there are definitely issues kids have with motor skills, but I don’t think we 1)give them enough credit and 2)understand it’s not ONLY a motor skill issue. We just assume, oh, they have autism, so clearly they will just be behind in a physcial way.

    I also think it helps when you find what they like. K loves arts and crafts. Her fine motor skills blossomed bc she loved standing at the “cutting station” in preschool, cutting little pieces of paper all day. Like you said, maybe stuff like that is a “stim”, but it made it so that she could actually use scissors at a young age, and helped all that other fine motor stuff along (bc some of these craft kids I can barely do!!!) Finding what they love helps so much. Introducing new skills in a way that isn’t overwhelming helps so much. We really need to take a step back and not just assume our kids aren’t incapable. Sometimes it just us who are incapable of seeing what they CAN do.

  9. I was nodding and saying “yes!” throughout this post. Brooke’s journey is similar to my son’s….and after years of therapy and time at home with us and throwing away typical milestone “schedules” and a couple of really dedicated aides, he is playing basketball pretty well….and riding a bike(also with training wheels)…and is scootering….because he, too, loves rhythm and motion.

  10. Great job, Brooke! It’s just another reminder that ALL kids are different, autistic or not. I have 2 boys with ASD. The older one crawled at 6 months, walked at 10 months, and had no trouble riding a tricycle. At the same time, we were getting him OT for oral-motor and fine-motor delays. When it came to bikes and skates, he didn’t like the wobbling. We started trying to teach him to ride a bike around 8 and he just wasn’t getting it. Not that he physically couldn’t do it, but he would get too anxious. When he was 10, one day he said, I’m going to ride my bike now. And he did. No help from us, he just needed to do it on his own time. Meanwhile, the youngest is now 15 and still can’t ride a bike. It wobbles and he panics. But he loves his scooter.

  11. Your post has given me the strength to believe my son will be able to ride a bike for the very first time this summer. He may be 13 but has never been on a bike before, just a scooter, because he has a pacemaker that sits inside his left front shoulder and the drs have told us to protect our son from falling at all costs in order to protect his pacemaker so we never bought him a bike. Well now we think he may be ready (our hope is he will be able to break a fall better and not break his pacemaker) but with his recent diagnosis of PDD, I am afraid he will be afraid to ride, he will be too uncoordinated to ride and if he falls just 1 too many times while we are teaching him he will be too frustrated to ride. And for me I will be cheering him on while secretly freaking out because if he falls I fear he will break his pacemaker or if he falls he will get angry and frustrated and quit and will never experience the joy and freedom a bike can give. But these days it seems you are the only one who understands what I am going through so again thank you for helping me believe if your daughter can roller-skate my son will be able to ride a bike.

  12. Brooke, you’re just amazing. No joke.

    My son’s OT calls the it “Gravitational insecurity”, the fact these kids get scared when the bridge wobbles or the cargo net they’re climbing seems insufficient to hold them despite the fact it is. At least, I think it’s the same thing. For what it’s worth, I’m a near 35 year old neurotypical woman and I am scared to death of being on anything like roller or ice skates or skis. Bless her heart for being a such a rock star on wheels… She’s one accomplished young lady in all the best of ways.

  13. I took my kids skating a short while ago at a rink. My Autistic son does pretty well on 4 wheels. I bought my 2 youngest rollerblades and he looked at them curiously. He said he would never be able to use them they are too scary. A few days later I was at a garage sale and saw a pair spin decided to buy them. He’s 14 and pretty strong and was hard for me to help get him up and balance him. He was scared. Once we got him down to the road he mastered using them in under 5 minutes. I was amazed!! He doesn’t like how tight they are or snug rather but is willing to try again.

    I am happy for Brooke and the confidence you are able to give her to let go and try.

  14. I love this post. I’ve written quite a bit about my son’s journey with (ice) skating, and how he went from not being able to stand on quad roller skates to being one of the leading scorers on his (NT) hockey team because HE was READY. More recently we saw the same exact thing with a bicycle, which he learned to ride in about 15 minutes. Oh, by the way, he’s 12. But he just wasn’t ready before. Lisa put it so well above — throw out the “typical” schedule. Kids on this path are going to do things on their own timetable. If we can just stop comparing them to their peers (which is nearly impossible) we probably won’t be as amazed by what they CAN do. They just do it in a different order.

  15. Hi there!

    Motor skills and being on the spectrum is really a funny thing. I’m 43 and on the spectrum. I tell people that I have the coordination of jello. I frequently run into walls and door frames, have a hard time hitting the correct keys on the keyboard while looking, and cannot hold a pencil for over two minutes without it being physically painful.

    Having said that, I am awesome at rollerskating and cycling, and always have been. I have no idea why it works out like this. I just chalk it up to the fact that those on the spectrum develop skills atypically and asymmetrically as compared to their peers.

    John Mark McDonald

  16. She’s looking great! Go, Brooke!
    Everytime I watch my son scooting or cycling it fills me with joy. It took him ages to learn but he’s so brilliant at it now. I love him more than anything but I sometimes underestimate his ability to learn things or stick at them until he masters them. I must overcome that because, as you say, the sky’s the limit for our kids!

  17. Love this post. We’re going to try again again with E riding a bike this summer and this has given me some motivation to keep at it with her.

  18. Love this post. It is the breaking of everything, even things that we NTs think should be learned through osmosis like language and jumping and greetings, down into chunks that leads to success in, well, anything. Thanks for reminding me how to explain to people that see two moderately well functioning pre-schoolers, that every next step will also need extra supports and creative teaching to get there…

    Go Brooke! Roll on…

  19. MacKenzie took off as soon as I took her training wheels off. She didn’t teeter or fall. She stunk the first time we went roller skating, but now is a pro. Her favorite activity is putting on her heaphones, blaring the mus8c and spinning as fast as she can on our office chair. That is her favorite stim.

  20. My PDD-NOS 12-year-old still can’t color between the lines or cut something out easily. He’s terrified of riding a bike or roller skating. But yesterday, he got a hole in one at his weekly golf lesson and his name is going up on a plaque at the golf academy there. They know he has special needs because of various behaviors. But on the golf course, all they know is that he KICKS BUTT.

    All of this to say: Go Brooke! And to the rest of the world: Never assume.

  21. For days, this post has been sitting open on my browser. Because I’ve wanted to say something but just couldn’t find the words, other than “yes”. This is it exactly. As an autistic person with HORRID hand-eye coordination, terrible balance, etc. no one believes when I have physical talents – I used to be a gymnast, and I can juggle and even ride a unicycle. But those things, they took me years to master, practicing every single day. Sure, I’m good at them now, but that’s not a mistake. I’m not talented or naturally graceful. I work my behind off, over and over. My peers learned to juggle in 1-2 days. It took me 8 months. But I learned just the same. I’m not talented, just persistent, and when I want to do something that I enjoy, I will learn to do it.

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