How to teach an autistic child to ride a bike

You may be surprised to hear that many children on the autistic spectrum struggle with leaning to ride a bike. This is due to differences in how their vestibular and proprioceptive senses function. These senses are of paramount importance when learning to ride a bike, as it is a skill that demands the use of both balance and movement.

 

 

If you are wondering how to teach an autistic child to ride a bike, however, read on to find out more:

 

The Vestibular Sense

The vestibular system is located in our inner ears where it regulates our balance and body control. It also contributes to our gross and fine motor skills. When this sense is not working the way it should it can have an impact on the way we understand what is happening to us and the world around us.

 

The Proprioceptive Sense

Proprioception is the sense which tells us where our bodies are in relation to other objects and how our body parts are moving. The regulators for our proprioceptive sense are located in our joints and ligaments. Children with proprioception autism may have difficulty in understanding where their body is in relation to other objects.

It is important to keep these two senses in mind when teaching your autistic child to ride a bike.

 

Don’t use stabilisers

Now this may sound a little scary for some parents, but if you teach your child to ride a bike with stabilisers on they are not learning the key ability to balance on the bike. They will learn how to pedal which is another key skill – and one that can be quite challenging for an Autistic child to learn. The best route to success is to break down the task into a series of steps focused on mastering one skill at a time.

 

Use a Balance Bike

The first skill to master is balance, before you move to steering and pedalling. The most popular way to learn this skill is to use a balance bike. A balance bike is smaller and more lightweight than a normal bike, and has no pedals, chain or sprockets. Most balance bikes are aimed at kids aged 2 to 5, but you can get ones that will suit children up to 125lbs.

Balance bikes are propelled forwards by the child using their feet, and so are great for autistic children as they don’t have to deal with learning balance, pedalling and steering all at the same time. They can just focus on exploring the feeling of balancing on the bike and will learn how to propel themselves with enough momentum to balance and coast on their own.

If your child is already too big for a balance bike, don’t worry you can make your own quite easily. Just find a bike that is slightly too small for your child, lower the seat as far as it will go and remove the pedals. Your child should be able to put both feet on the ground comfortably, and feel in control of the bike.

Once your child has mastered the art of the balance bike, you may feel like graduating them onto a pedal bike straight away, but don’t rush into it as you might frustrate them. Give them the time to explore their new skill before you add the complication of pedals to the process. If you add pedals in to soon then you could undo all of the good work you have previously completed with your child.

Only when your child is ready should you graduate them to a pedal bike. The best way to do this is to find a grassy hill for them to start on so that they don’t have to create their own momentum to begin with.

Here are some other tips to help your autistic child learn to ride a bike:

  • Let them select their own helmet that they want to wear. Involving them in the decision-making process when purchasing a helmet should make them more likely to accept the fact that they have to wear one to complete this activity.
  • Resist the urge to take over and control the bike on behalf of the child. Every parent wants their child to succeed and so it can feel natural to take over and help them to do so, but it can have the opposite effect and make them feel like they have failed.
  • Don’t have any expectations. As we have said above, everyone wants their child to succeed but having set expectations as to how and when they do this can add to the feeling they have failed if they don’t meet your expectations.
  • Pick somewhere to practice that has no distractions and that is safe. Somewhere like a basketball or tennis court are ideal as there is no traffic and they are level surfaces.
  • When they say they have had enough and don’t want to practice anymore, let them stop. Bike riding should be a joyful experience, so don’t force them to do anything they don’t want to.

Teaching a child to ride a bike who is on the autistic spectrum should be easier if you approach it as a ‘balance first’ set of tasks – as this can often be the difference between success and failure. However, the sensory overload that often comes with the task of lerning to ride a bike can be hard to overcome.

Teaching a kid with autism to ride a bike can be a difficult task but it is not impossible – similar to the task of teaching them to communicate. There are aids you can use to help you to help them to communicate, such as voice output communication aids. App2Vox is one of the leading communication aids for autistic children, and adults, and was developed in association with autism together and supported by COMMITT.