Riding a Bike, How Can Autism Make that More Difficult?

When most people think about Autism, they think of a child that has social problems, probably can’t speak and is possibly even violent. Many forget that it usually affects a child’s motor skills as well, especially when exerting themselves by doing things such as running or in this case, riding a bike.

If you’ve ever watched a child with Autism run, you can see it quite clearly by the complete lack of control of their arms, their body being off balance and their legs kind of kicking out to the sides just as much as moving forward.  It kind of looks like a 1 year old just learning how to run for the first time.

Riding a bicycle is a tricky thing to learn for most children as pushing the peddles forward in a circular motion, one foot at a time, is a lot to process for even the most gifted children but when you lack fine motor and muscle control, it can be near impossible.

In fact, I know some people who’s children are over 10 and have yet to be able to master it. It’s not from a lack of trying, it’s just not in them yet to be able to coordinate all of the body parts at once that it requires to get the bicycle moving.

In my case, I had another issue on top of all of that and that is Cameron’s size. You see, he was the size of an average 5 year old when he was 2. This meant that he was immediately too large to learn how to peddle a tricycle. He never had that first learning step because his legs were too long before he ever had the chance.

We got him a 2 wheeler with training wheels shortly after, so that he’d have a better chance at peddling something with his size but again, he was never able to get the concept.

This is where patience came in, and lots of it… over the span of 2 years.

Cameron got pretty frustrated a lot of the time, not wanting to try after failing at it for a few days… sometimes I even had to fight with him to get him outside to try. But we just kept at it a little here, a little there…

Now Cameron is just 1 week shy of turning 5 years old and after a lot of trying and trying and trying… he can ride! Granted, he puts his feet on the front tire to stop and he doesn’t turn yet… but he has the basics down and for me, that’s the biggest hurdle.

Keep in mind that he’s now the just about 5 and is the average size of an 8 year old… he looks pretty big on his bicycle now, but he can ride it and that’s the important part!

About Stuart Duncan

My name is Stuart Duncan, creator of http://www.stuartduncan.name. My oldest son (Cameron) has Autism while my younger son (Tyler) does not. I am a work from home web developer with a background in radio. I do my very best to stay educated and do what ever is necessary to ensure my children have the tools they need to thrive. I share my stories and experiences in an effort to further grow and strengthen the online Autism community and to promote Autism Understanding and Acceptance.

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8 Responses to Riding a Bike, How Can Autism Make that More Difficult?

  1. BlueNight July 21, 2010 at 9:38 pm #

    Until I was twenty-three, I had never ridden a bicycle without training wheels. I had pretty good balance for a kid with Asperger’s, but when the training wheels came off, I cried because I couldn’t ride. So I gave up.

    When I was 23, I made a friend at work who lived a mile away and rode his bike to work. Somehow the topic came up in conversation, and he offered to teach me. This is what I learned about cycling, and about myself, over the course of a month, both in words and in practice:

    1. You will fall. You will only stop falling as you practice more and more, because your body must learn to match bicycle theory to movement. So first, learn how to safely fall off a bike, and how to safely lose your balance on a bike.

    2. Level straightaways are the best for learning. Roads are curved up at their centers and sloped toward the gutters, and are not level straightaways. Sidewalks have driveways. Parking lots are best.

    3. You only feel your balance on a bicycle when you are losing it. It takes practice to learn to feel the edges of balance without losing it.

    4. Cycling is not sitting down and pedalling. Cycling is to walking what multiplication is to addition. Cycling is standing on one foot, over and over again on different feet.

    5. I initially had no symmetry; I could start cycling on my right foot, but not my left. Each side of my brain had to learn how to cycle on its own before both could work together.

  2. Laurie May 30, 2011 at 9:52 am #

    Loved your article about teaching your son to ride a bike. My son is going to a camp for a week this summer (Lose the Training Wheels) to learn how to ride. The camp is designed specifically for children with special needs you have given up or having alot of difficulty learning at home. I am applying for a grant to bring this camp to my hometown next year and would like to use some of your story in my application…would that be ok?

    • Bernadette June 5, 2016 at 9:00 pm #

      My little guy just turned 4 years old. I feared he would never be able to ride a bike, also. Someone told me to try the balance bike route. I really didn’t have any confidence this would work. After riding on the balance bike for 2 days, he really liked it. It is basically like a scooter with a seat and no pedals. He rode it proud for about four months. He asked if her could try a bike “Santa” had brought without training wheels. I didn’t want to discourage him, I think I was more afraid of the outcome than he was! But to my surprise I gave him a push and told him to pump the pedals and closed my eyes!!! I heard giggles and opened my eyes, he was having the time of his life!!! He will be 5 next year 2017, and is ride a 2 wheeler bike with no training wheels. I couldn’t be prouder. I have read a bit about this beforehand. When you learn from, tricycle, to training wheels and then no training wheels, that’s learning how to balance your body three different ways. Being autistic is different for every child. But I wanted to share in hopes to help another child.

  3. Stuart Duncan May 30, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    Yes Laurie, absolutely! I really hope it helps you to get those grants. Best of luck!

  4. Shelley Patterson May 8, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

    Hi Stuart, very nice story. Many parents feel the same frustrations that you do. You and your son really need a Buddy Bike. Although he can ride now (which is wonderful!), you will both enjoy the safety of riding the same bike together. Your son will be out in front receiving sensory input and you will be able to enjoy longer rides. Several families have even told me that their kids transitioned to their own bikes after learning cycling skills on the Buddy Bike. If you want to know more, please visit buddybike.com. Thanks! Shelley at Buddy Bike

  5. Brian Miller August 30, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

    Hi Stuart… I have a nine year old son with autism (who is probably a year or two larger than his age). He rode a bike with training wheels for a while like your son is doing now, then I tried without training wheels, but he couldn’t get the stopping down and my own fear of his lack of judgement made me get an inexpensive tandem ($250 on Craigslist… lucky me). I still have hope that he will be able to ride his own bike one day, but for now, we are racking up miles (100 miles in the last 5 weeks training for a 30-mile charity ride to benefit autism awareness and supports) and he’s really enjoying it. The bike is a regular tandem with him on back – see the pic at http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/brian-miller-5/3rd-annual-cycle-for-autism – and it works well for him.

    It’s also helped force him to communicate better… at first, a year ago, he would do running dismounts (unsafe), but in the past few months, he’s gotten better about saying “stop” when he wants to stop and “bicycle” when he wants to go again. When he really gets into it, I can feel him pushing the pedals of our bike (a true tandem has the front and back cranks running in sync, so we can both exert pressure to share the load). I think he’s learning left-right coordination, balance, and communication (we’re sharing the work) on the tandem… and one day, again, I hope he’ll learn to ride solo.

    Best of luck with you and your son! If all goes well, he’ll go straight to riding solo… but if not, there’s always the tandem option (or Buddy Bike someone noted above, a similar concept which seats him in front). He looks like he’s really getting into it on the video. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Alex January 28, 2014 at 8:10 am #

    In the UK we have a charity called Charlotte’s Tandems that lends tandems to people with special needs for FREE. Charlotte herself has Severe Learning Difficulties and Autism (non-vocal). Lots of the borrowers also have Autism. Borrow one today and have a fun, safe time on a bike.

  7. Jenn October 1, 2014 at 10:54 am #

    We don’t have any kids yet but my husband is a cyclist & just shared this with me. I instantly saw how this would help autistic kids learn to ride a bike with confidence: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/529668138/jyrobike-auto-balance-bicycle

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