autism awareness

All posts tagged autism awareness

UnderDog Bikes in Roanoke, VA

Published April 19, 2015 by April Fox

A couple weeks ago, my husband and I took Thing One (so named because he arrived on the scene two minutes before his brother, Thing Two, and I don’t use their real names on here) up to Roanoke, VA for a quick overnight trip. It can be tough to find things to do with Thing One; he has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and some low muscle tone, along with vestibular and motor skills difficulties, so while he is able to do the same things most everyone else can, social situations are tough, he gets tired fairly quickly, and he can’t do things like amusement park rides or riding a bike. 

You can imagine, then, how excited we were to come across UnderDog Bikes in downtown Roanoke. Not only do they fix and sell bikes, they also rent them out–including giant, adult-sized Big Wheels. Yes, Big Wheels, exactly like you used to ride when you were a fearless little kid, tearing up the neighborhood on your three-wheeled, low-slung, BadassMobile, only bigger and built of sturdier materials. Beloved and I were hit with a wave of giddy childhood nostalgia, but I was even more excited about the fact that this was something Thing One could do. The bikes sit very low to the ground and have a wide rear wheel base, so I knew he would feel safe and secure, unlike when he’s tried to ride a regular two-wheeled bike. We knew we could ride the Big Wheels down a quiet greenway that runs along the river, so he wouldn’t be in the middle of the downtown noise, and wouldn’t have to interact much with strangers. This sounded like the perfect outing for us, and it turned out even better than we expected. 


 We were greeted at the door by the resident UnderDog, a sweet and friendly pup who escorted us inside the shop. The owner of the shop, Christopher Heslin, was the perfect balance of helpful, knowledgeable, and laid-back as he went over the pricing (super-reasonable), safety information, and recommended routes. It’s clear that he knows his stuff, and genuinely wants to help people have fun on wheels. 


 We rented the Big Wheels for an hour, and had a blast riding up and down the greenway. It winds through a pretty residential area and past a small park with a playground, and the waters of the adjacent river are absolutely beautiful. The greenway is flat and paved, making for a ride that can be as easy or as challenging as you want to make it. We alternated between lazy pedaling and speeding up the path, and the grin on Thing One’s face as he passed us, hair flying in the wind, was about the most awesome thing I’ve seen in a long time. 


UnderDog Bikes doesn’t market themselves a service for kids with ASD, but for older kids with vestibular issues who want to have fun outdoors, it’s a spectacular place to go. Actually, for anyone who wants to relive those carefree days of childhood for an afternoon, it’s a spectacular place to go. We can’t wait to go back.

UnderDog Bikes is located at 1113 Piedmont St. SE in Roanoke, Virginia. They’re open 10 AM to 7 PM Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 10 AM to 6 PM Saturday and Sunday, and closed on Tuesdays. Give them a call at 540-204-4276 or visit their web site for more information, and be sure to show them some love over on their Facebook page.


The Autism Awareness Post

Published April 3, 2012 by April Fox

The handsome young man to your left is my son, Dylan. This photo was taken a couple days ago as he prepared to go out on a call to assist with a bad car accident. I like how he looks here: confident, relaxed, ready to get out there and help someone.

Dylan is a pretty typical 20-year-old kid. He played around with the idea of school and work and when he got bored with North Carolina, he ended up in Florida, by way of Flint, Michigan. It was a spontaneous decision, but it worked out and he landed on his feet. He’s enjoying the Florida sunshine, working full-time and going to school full-time to become a paramedic–the first stop on his way to med school. He’s maintained a high GPA the entire time he’s been enrolled. When he gets a break from work and school, he hangs out with his friends; I hear stories about new tattoos, all-night video game-fests, crazy chicks and the crazy things they do. Somewhere in there he finds time to help tutor other students.

I don’t know a whole lot about what Dylan does in school, but I know it’s a pretty intense program. Yesterday he sent me a text about being covered in blood after helping treat someone. I could tell it bothered him; he’s never liked seeing anyone hurt. He’s had a few potential setbacks, a minor car accident, some unexpected financial glitches, but he’s handled them well, probably far better than I could. He started a whole new life in a place he’d never been, where he knew nobody but his aunt and her kids, and he’d only met them a handful of times. He had to learn to navigate his new city, first on foot and then in the car he bought; there were meetings with school officials and financial aid advisers, job interviews and finding a new group of people to spend time with.

Why am I telling you all this? Why does it matter that my kid is doing all these things?

Because April is Autism Awareness Month, and Dylan has Asperger Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism.

Myth: People with autism can’t handle any change in routine.

Myth: People with autism are unintelligent.

Myth: People with autism need lifelong care and cannot live on their own.

Myth: People with autism can’t experience empathy or compassion.

Dylan is living proof that all of those are false.

I’ve told you all a little bit about another of my boys, who I refer to here as thing one. Seven years younger than Dylan, he also has Asperger Syndrome, though he’s affected a little differently than Dylan is. A couple years ago, thing one couldn’t tolerate anyone new being in his house. He spent one of his birthday parties huddled in his closet, hiding from the noise, the people, the over-stimulation, while his twin brother enjoyed the day. It was heartbreaking. From there, he progressed to wearing huge sunglasses over his eyeglasses whenever anyone visited or we went out in public. For years, he had to wear a hat 24 hours a day; if I tried to take it off while he slept, he’d stir and clamp his hand on top of his head, holding it there. He’d take it off only in the privacy of the bathroom, to shower, and then it went right back on. When he had to have his hair combed or cut, he sat with his eyes closed, rocking back and forth, until the hat was returned. He wore long sleeves even on the warmest days; photos of him taking swimming lessons show him submerged in the pool, fully clothed in jeans and a long-sleeved oxford shirt. He had an outstanding vocabulary, but wouldn’t talk to anyone he hadn’t known his entire life. He wore industrial earmuffs all the time, because he was so sensitive to any noise above a conversational volume, and any unusually pitched sounds drove him crazy.  Here is a photo of him taken last week. He’s in short sleeves, no hat, no sunglasses, out in a public place (The Moog Store and Factory, which is awesome), smiling, and on top of that, playing the theremin-an instrument that, if you don’t know what you’re doing, produces sounds somewhere between the mooing of a cow, a high-pitched scream, and a spaceship landing.

I don’t mean to downplay the seriousness of autism; the symptoms of autism run on a spectrum, and my boys are on the high end of that. Some kids and adults with autism truly stay locked inside themselves their entire lives, but hopefully more research and awareness of how the disorder works will begin to change that soon. I can’t look at autism as a disease or a disability; my kids simply are who they are. With Dylan-who was misdiagnosed when he was younger and only evaluated for ASD after our developmental pediatrician saw similarities between him and the newly-diagnosed thing one-you wouldn’t know he had Asperger’s unless you know someone else who has it. Thing one comes across as a quirky, unique, kind of nerdy kid: the kind you expect to grow up to be, I dunno, Steve Jobs or something. There are things we need to work on, ways to help them adapt to the world that they’re stuck in, but that’s true for everyone. Nobody falls into life knowing all the rules.

Dylan and thing one aren’t the only people I love who have autism. There’s another young man I love very much who has come a long way in dealing with social situations, but he prefers that I not mention him by name or discuss him here. I have cousins, friends’ children, other family members with varying degrees of autism spectrum disorders, and it’s incredible to hear about the progress they’re making. My friend’s son was diagnosed at two; he’s now reading at age four. There are millions of stories like his, and hearing them and sharing them is what helps promote true awareness.

I’m not asking you to donate money to anything, to post a chain status update on your Facebook page, or to wear a certain color to promote awareness. What I’m asking is that the next time you see someone acting out in public, to try and remember that he may have autism and not be able to deal with all the stimulation. When you encounter a child who doesn’t want to make eye contact, don’t try to force him or assume he’s being rude. When the kid next to you in class rambles on about his favorite subject, don’t discount him as a nerd and turn away; he might have something to teach you someday, and you’d do yourself a favor if you took the time to listen and get to know him.

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