Autistic kids' bike options include typical bicycles, augmented bikes and tandem cycles. It's necessary to determine the child's specific needs when selecting a bicycle.
Many kids with autism have no problem riding bicycles but many may be apprehensive about riding. Gross motor and sensory processing problems can make cycling difficult and proprioception is a significant factor.
Proprioception involves the ability to position the body in relation to sensory input. The process helps people develop new skills that require attention to more than one activity at a time. For example, a child learns how to pedal the bicycle and steer without needing to look at his hands and feet. A Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study conducted by Stewart H. Mostofsky, MD and his colleagues suggests that the autistic brain relies heavily on its internal proprioceptive sense and less on visual input from the environment.
- Difficulty balancing
- Inability to determine how hard to push the pedals
- Inability to coordinate steering and pedaling
- Inability to stop the bicycle
- Safety awareness
- Listening for cues in the surroundings
- Following others
- Tolerating movement
Many children on the spectrum can overcome the challenges they face with guidance. A special autistic kids' bike may be helpful in some cases.
Autistic Kids' Bike Options
Therapies often begin with the least intrusive method because many children on the spectrum are able to exceed expectations. Beginning with a typical bicycle can be the best approach if the child demonstrates good riding skills:
- Balancing on a balance beam
- Riding a Big Wheel
- Riding a tricycle
- Riding with training wheels
Using a systematic approach to riding can help children on the spectrum master bicycle riding. The approach requires mastering individual steps rather than trying to master all skills necessary to ride at once. For example, the child would begin by standing while holding the handle bars and progressively move to balancing on the seat, and so on. If challenges are too overwhelming, an augmented bike for autistic kids may help.
A three-wheeled bike for kids with special needs is more stable than a traditional two-wheeled bicycle is. While models are readily available, they can be very expensive. Special Needs Bicycles 4 Kids offers a viable option that allows you to turn a regular bicycle into a children's special needs bicycle using a conversion kit.
TrikeZilla produces the conversion kit that can be used to add sturdy wheels to the bike. This approach is nice because you have the option of removing the conversion axle after the child demonstrates mastery and is ready to move on to the next challenge. In some cases, extra guidance is necessary.
The Buddy Bike is a bicycle for two, also known as a tandem bike. The benefit of using this bike is the child learns with support and guidance. The product allows the child to sit in front and the parent to sit in the back. The parent pedals and steers while the child rides along.The child's seat is slightly lower than the captain's seat and the child has her own handlebars, which makes her feel as if she is controlling the bike. Benefits of the tandem Bike Buddy include:
- Unobstructed view
- Sense of control
- Learning by doing (kinesthetic)
- Building confidence
- Fewer skill demands
- Fewer steps to learn
- Child contributes to pedaling
- Able to keep up with other riders
- Close proximity to parent or instructor
Riding a bicycle is an excellent sensory integration activity that can help a child on the spectrum learn how to process motion while enjoying tactile, visual and auditory input in the process. The outdoor activity helps develop a sense of balance and it exercises important gross motor skills. While an autistic kids' bike isn't necessary for every child, some may benefit from augmented or specialty bicycles.