All that 10-year-old James Lang of Ahwatukee wants are friends.
And if Ahwatukee residents help him out by March 7, he could be on his way to seeing his dream come true.
James is an only child with developmental delays from a brain tumor he was diagnosed with when he was 9 months old.
“Five years of treatment and a later autism diagnosis has left him with a limited ability to get what he deeply wants: friends and the social experiences he sees his peers enjoying,” said his mom, Pamela.
An adaptive bike for special-needs children could put him on the road to his dream, she said.
And Lang hopes he can get that bike through an online crowdfunding effort launched by a Michigan-based nonprofit that in six years has raised over $1 million and has provided more than 1,000 adaptive bikes for children and teens with special needs.
“It is a daily dagger in my heart to hear this outgoing, thoughtful, funny 10-year-old ask me to call a friend to come over and play and there is no one to call,” she said.
“I have tried everything I could think of, including begging on Facebook and even dragging in kids we don’t know from the playground. His bike will help him physically, emotionally and socially,” Lang added, explaining:
“He is an outgoing and thoughtful child. This bike will lower the wall between isolation and active participation with the outside world.”
Lang has partnered with a group called the Friendship Circle, which runs The Great Bike Giveaway.
“For a child with special needs, bike riding offers far more than a recreational experience,” the Friendship Circle says on its website, noting:
“Bike riding provides a source of much-needed exercise, gives therapeutic value and contributes to an inclusive environment where a child with special needs can ride a bike like everyone else.
“Due to balance and mobility challenges, many children and teens with special needs require the use of an adaptive bike.
“Sadly, most families cannot afford the high costs of adaptive bikes, and their children remain on the sidelines watching their friends and family members ride by.”
Lang discovered the campaign by accident while “scouring the internet looking for social opportunities for my son.”
She said that while the campaign wasn’t something she had started looking for, she thought the reasoning behind it “was brilliant.”
“Kids this age don’t have the awareness to know how to meet James at his level and James hasn’t yet learned the skills to communicate with them effectively, as he longs to do,” she said.
She added that his neurological deficits “from several years of brain surgery” mean “he doesn’t have the motor skills to keep up with them in the things they want to do.”
“So, he has become resigned to being alone, and the iPad is his best friend,” she added. “He listens to the sounds of other kids playing together in their yards. They pass by our window as they crisscross the street to each other’s houses.”
The bike, she said, “is awesome because it has the look of a regular bike, allowing him to feel the joy of similarity.”
Its three wheels provide balance – “a big issue with neurological problems” – as well as a belted, chair-style seat and special pedals.
Together, that special equipment will give James security and confidence and “enormous therapeutic value to improve his strength and agility.”
“Putting together all the physiological skills necessary to ride a bike is a tricky thing to learn for anyone, and doubly so if you have special needs. This bike compensates for all of that,” Lang said.
Lang’s site, greatbikegiveaway.com/JamesRishi?tab=MyPage, shows that she’s about $700 shy of achieving the $2,775 goal for James’ bike.
Anything collected beyond that will go toward Friendship Circle’s campaign on behalf of other special-needs children who need adaptive bikes.
Lang’s campaign was helped partly by a 15-year-old boy who has donated his birthday money after hearing about it.
The campaign has a deadline of March 7.
“People have to fundraise for so much these days, I worried it might get lost in the sea of solicitations, but I posted it anyway,” Lang said.
A friend shared the post with a wide list of people who decided to pitch in.
Lang said she looks forward to the day when James tells her, “I’m going to ride my bike outside, Mom. Bye!”
“Believe me, he wants that, too,” she added.
“There is a stereotype about kids with special needs that they are like happy idiots, and I think this enables neurotypical people to not lose sleep over excluding them.
“But in reality, most of these kids are very much aware of what they are missing and it hurts them as much as it would hurt anyone, to be aware of the simple joys of life but be consistently unable to experience them.”