Some sports or physical activities can be challenging for autistic kids. But that doesn’t mean they should stay away from these interesting exercises and live a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, there are many forms of sports that children with autism can enjoy and benefit such as martial arts, hiking, or fishing.
But how about riding, one of the most popular activities in kids? Can your autistic kids ride a bicycle as other children? If yes, how can you teach them how to ride properly and safely? Keep reading our guide to find out the answer.
Can an autistic child ride a bike?
Kids with autism can ride a bike as other children. Many studies have shown that autistic kids have normal development of motor skills and physical features to perform nearly all of the basic skills in riding.
However, this can be a challenging task for them at the beginning because riding requires a complex combination of movement and balance. Scientists suggest that autistic brains heavily rely on internal sensory inputs instead of visual ones from the surrounding environment. This leads to some difficulties in following the instructions and other motor coordination issues such as:
- Difficulty in keeping balance
- Inability to perform pedalling and steering at the same time
- Inability to brake or stop the bike
- Safety awareness
- Following others
- Tolerating movements
- Difficulty in pushing the pedals
- Listening for instructions and cues in the surrounding environment
The good news is that most of these challenges can be overcome with the right guidance and method. And once your kids have mastered the basic skills, riding might be a great way for them to enjoy the outdoors.
How to teach autistic kids to ride a bike
As children with autism have some difficulties in following instructions, parents should be very patient. Also, it is crucial to teach them “fundamental skills” before they sit on the bike.
Using training wheels may not be the best idea because they won’t help your kids improve the balance skills. Instead, a scooter might be a safer and more effective option. Here is a good bike for a 4 years old, for example.
Here are necessary steps that you can follow to make sure they can master the basic things in cycling.
a. Wearing a helmet
A helmet is the essential safety gear to ensure the safety of your kids on the road. Since your autistic kids might feel annoyed about wearing the straps, it’s necessary to make them get used to it by keep the helmet in their play area or toy box and encourage them to play or put it on. Some important points to notice include:
- Touch the helmet
- Pick up the helmet
- Put on the helmet
- Buckle the straps
The easiest way to teach your autistic children how to pedal is to use targets. All you need to do is creating coloured dots on both pedals. If your kids need help positioning their feet on the pedal, just say, “Foot on the green” and “Foot on the red”. Similarly, encourage them to push down on red and green to pedal. This reinforcement method is very effective in helping them understand what to do.
As said earlier, keeping balance is one of the hardest tasks for kids with autism because this skill won’t come naturally. To develop balance, a good way is to provide your children with many opportunities to be involved in physical activities at playgrounds or local parks. Encourage them to walk along mulched, uneven trail in the woods, for example, can be helpful in learning balance skills.
The next thing to teach your autistic kids is how to use the brake to ensure safety. Firstly, tell them why they need to use this part and then push the brake to show them the effect. Practice braking while walking and keeping balance to ensure they can coordinate these parts together as well.
Once your kids have mastered all of these basic skills, it’s time to encourage them to ride the bike around the backyard or in the local park. Your patience will pay off, and you will see them smiling and enjoying their ride just like the kid in this clip: