GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) — There was a gleam in Shelbie Mitchell's eyes. She couldn't speak, but it was evident she was excited.
The 5-year-old squealed with delight, pedaling the bike like she had done it for years.
It was the first time Shelbie had been on a bike, and the sight brought her mother to tears.
Shelbie has Rett Syndrome, a neurological disorder that predominantly affects girls. It is the most severe form of autism, and most cannot speak, walk or use their hands.
Shelbie was among six children who received the specially built bikes last week from Ambucs, a nonprofit organization that raises money solely to provide therapeutic tricycles through AmTryke. The trikes create mobility and independence for children and others with disabilities.
For Trent and Stacy Mitchell, the bike for their daughter gives them joy.
"It's a dream come true," Stacy Mitchell said.
They have a wagon they use to pull Shelbie, but this is her first bike.
"People take little things like being able to ride a bike for granted," Stacy said. "We bought a Radio Flyer bike and tried to adapt it ourselves, but that didn't work out too well."
The bikes cost about $900, and Ambucs pays for all the expense.
David Duffee, vice president of the Birmingham Ambucs, brought the specialty bikes to Gadsden last week to the Department of Children's Rehabilitation Services, where the children and their families are teamed with social workers and physical therapists.
"It's times like this that I am reminded that what we do daily at Children's Rehabilitation Service truly makes a difference in a child's life," said Emma Hereford, social worker administrator at Children's Rehabilitation Services. "It's a great feeling."
Lisa Ellis, a physical therapist with Children's Rehabilitation Services, said the children have a huge benefit from the bikes.
"It helps them learn how to coordinate their arms and legs at the same time," she said. "For them, it's getting to do something normal."
The Mitchells had never heard of Rett Syndrome when Shelbie was diagnosed at 23 months old.
"It mainly affects girls, and it affects one in every 10,000 girls," Stacy said.
Most are affected between the ages of 6 months and 18 months, and they begin to lose their ability to talk and use their hands.
Shelbie had already said "Mama" at 6 months and was drinking through a straw, her mother said.
"Then one day she just looked at me like she didn't know what to do ... like she had never done it," Stacy said.
Shelbie gradually lost the abilities she already had developed, and she did not progress to new development.
Rett Syndrome is caused by a random gene mutation, and the body does not produce the protein needed for brain development. It is not genetic and affects every ethnic group.
"We had never heard of it," Stacy said.
Shelbie's most prevalent symptoms are hand wringing, breathing and swallowing difficulties, teeth grinding and scoliosis.
She is in school in Alexandria and communicates through eye gazing and her iPad, Stacy said.
Every once in a while she will say "Mama" or "Dad," Stacy said.
October is Rett Syndrome Awareness Month. The Mitchells are advocates for awareness and do fundraisers and other events to bring attention to the disorder.
The Mitchells hope for a cure.
"They have reversed Rett Syndrome in laboratory mice," Stacy said. "A cure is there. When they find a cure for Rett Syndrome, they will find the cure for a lot of forms of autism."
Information from: The Gadsden Times, http://www.gadsdentimes.com