The Wing: Tales from an Autistic Childhood

When they were children, The Amazing Craig and his brother were the kind of trouble that I can only imagine: double-trouble, creative, full of vision, and fearless.

When Craig was around 10 he learned about flight and lift and aerodynamics in school. He was fascinated with it (and he still is). This was around 1972. In this era, media in the classroom consisted of a monthly National Film Board movie and watching filmstrips, which if we were lucky, had a soundtrack on a vinyl record that beeped when it was time to forward the frame. Upon reflection, it is interesting that both Craig and I were AV Monitors (Audio-visual Monitors) who assisted the teachers with setting up equipment and threading films and filmstrips. It was pretty high-tech… but I digress!

Craig learned how a wing worked and about the Wright Brothers and Otto Lilienthal‘s gliders. He fondly remembers his grade 4 teacher, Mrs. Fowler, having the class blow on a piece of paper to experiment with air pressure and lift.

Inspired by this, Craig and his younger brother D (age 8) decided to build a wing of their own out of lathing, tar paper and a broom stick. They built it on the workbench in the carport – back when you could just leave your tools out and they’d be safe. They scavenged the materials from the construction site of a new house being built down the block. (I suppose, conversely, the materials weren’t as safe from little boys with big plans as were the tools!) Craig says proudly that they were early recyclers. They nailed the frame together and used a staple gun to attach the tar paper to the lath frame. The boys spent about two weeks on this project.

Craig was convinced that once the wing was built all he needed to do was tie a rope connecting the wing to the back of his brother’s bike via the metal sissy-bar on the banana seat. (Craig adds: “Sissy-bars were great because you could tie all sorts of stuff to them. We are totally dating ourselves here.”)

So when the wing was finally completed and tethered to D‘s bike with about 30 feet of rope – which they had calculated was long enough to enable Craig to soar over the houses – they were ready to put the plan into motion.

D was to ride his bike up the street as fast as he could and Craig would run behind him holding the wing with the broomstick handle.

At a certain point, Craig would come to a screeching halt, and then when he stopped, the theory was he would have enough thrust and lift from the speed of the bike to take flight with their meticulously engineered wing!

I hope you can picture this! Craig is clinging to an 8 foot wing that is tied to the bike, racing down the road at fearless-boy-speed, and he suddenly stops.

He just stops, and in his imagination it is completely logical that he will at this point become airborne and achieve his dream of flight.

He is determined! He will not let go of the wing!

So… as you can likely imagine – that is not exactly what ended up happening to the boys.

Craig screeched to a halt – which in turn flipped his little brother off of the bike. The wing careened sideways into the lawn, dragging Craig behind, and snapped in two, leaving his upper body wrapped in tar paper and tangled in the wreckage. His legs did not become entangled but were left free so that his feet stuck straight up into the air.

Little brother D disengaged himself from his bike wreck, and staggered back to find Craig groaning in the wreckage! They never built another wing… but I love it that Craig is still the kind of guy who doesn’t let go!

This plan may have been destined to fail – but there is a lesson here about the freedom of discovery that these boys’ parents allowed their children to experience.

Comradery – planning –  skills – determination – teamwork!!

Yes, it is a funny story – one of my favourites in fact – but there is a bigger message here! These boys were allowed to build a wing and were able to experience the excitement of this adventure – and even the failure of a plan. Craig’s parents surely understood that the boy’s plan would not work but they allowed them to chase their dream – to attempt to fly and also to fall to the ground.

This morning as I am writing and as Craig and I are reminiscing, there is a tapping and hammering coming from our own basement. H was recently given an old computer and he is engaged in taking apart the motherboard and finding out how the different components work and interact. Yesterday he extracted the lithium battery. He is trying to extract the gold from the computer as well. Apparently some parts are gold-plated – and H is currently tracking the price of gold and calculating value of his computer mining – as he calls it!

I will continue to remind myself of the importance of these kinds of lessons! It doesn’t matter that there is not enough gold on the components for H to earn his imagined fortune, or that Craig and his wing never left the ground, because that has nothing to do with the real value of experience!


30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2012)

About Leah Kelley, Ed.D.

Leah Kelley, M.Ed, Ed.D., Writer, Consultant, Activist, Speaker, and Educator, working with Teacher Candidates at UBC. Authors blog: 30 Days of Autism. Projects support social understanding, Neurodiversity paradigm, Disability Justice, and connecting Disability Studies in Education(DSE)to Educational Practice. Twitter: @leah_kelley Facebook: 30 Days of Autism: Leah Kelley
This entry was posted in Aspergers, Autism, Autistic, Parent, Resiliency, retro pop culture, sibling, Teacher and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Wing: Tales from an Autistic Childhood

  1. so true, I get so much vicarious excitement over watching my kids discovering everything for the first time too. It’s just so cool to see all that hope and imagination and excitement at work. I hope H finds a treasure!


  2. I just love your stories!


  3. Thanks for a real, live LOL! OMG…I could just picture the two of them making then testing their wing. 😀 Those were the good ol’ days indeed and like you said, we must keep reminding ourselves that trial and error are good things.

    PS I had a bike with monkey bar, banana seat and sissy bar too. ;P


  4. Lady Lucy says:

    A great reminder to let my son find his wings, I to often clip them so he won’t get hurt emotionally or physically. A mothers instinct to protect is sometimes so strong that we can’t see the good in the flight before the fall. Thank you.


  5. C... says:

    Good thing they did not get hurt but it does sound like good fun!


  6. renatabplus3 says:

    Wonderful story, even better lesson to take away with me.


  7. Angela says:

    I love this story – the 70’s references, the dignity of failure, the freedom to follow your dreams. Thank you for sharing.


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