By Patty Pacelli
I'm sure some children with autism learn to ride a bicycle just as well as any other child, but my son Trevor had a hard time with it, and more significantly, had practically zero interest in learning. According to HowtoLearn.com, bicycle riding is usually more difficult for children with autism.
His older sister started learning to ride a bike at about 5 years old, being pushed from behind on a tiny bicycle with training wheels. She had a tricycle before that. Trevor rode the tricycle a little bit, but just wasn't interested in even trying a two-wheeler. He was too entranced by other things. He would play outside, but spent a lot of time squatting down on the ground, playing with blades of grass or dropping leaves into the storm drains on our cul-de-sac. He seemed happy and content to walk around and explore, but just didn't want to get on a bicycle. As he went through elementary school, we were busy dealing with his classes and IEPs, and he was developing well, but by 8th grade, he still couldn't ride a bike. It didn't really impact him or the family, and it didn't bother him much.
One day, at the end of his 8th grade year, his dad challenged him to learn to ride a bike over the summer. He said it would be good for Trevor to have a summer goal. I agreed, and decided I would teach him. I am actually pretty patient, but I knew this would not be easy. Trevor was willing to learn, but nervous and not exactly excited about it. I also knew he would be embarrassed for anyone to see him learning. So, on the first day of summer break, we embarked on the journey the best I could.
I decided to start in an enclosed private space, so we took the cars out of our 2.5 car garage, and closed the doors. We started by having him get onto the bike and practice balancing and getting the feel of being on a bike. Keep in mind he was taller than me and using an adult-sized bicycle. I couldn't hold him up like I could with a 5-year-old. We worked on this every morning for about one or two hours. I think we stayed in the garage for about two weeks until he was gradually able to ride a short distance in the garage.
Next, we walked our two bikes about four blocks to the elementary school, where we practiced on the pavement in the back and the side parking lot, moving out of sight if we saw any kids coming around to play. He had a lot of minor falls, but kept working at it, and finally after about six weeks of practice, he was able to stay on the bike and ride the distance of the parking lot! I remember the moment he did that, because he was beaming with pride, and I was so glad I had put the weeks of effort.
Once he could ride on his own, we practiced riding around the neighborhood together, and I taught him safety and etiquette, and how to handle a car coming. Fortunately, we lived in a neighborhood with a lot of quiet streets. He then started riding alone, and had a few falls, but always got back on and continued. By the end of the summer he could ride pretty easily, and when school started he rode to school every day. He really enjoyed bicycling, and it was a convenient way to get around to places he wanted to go, giving him even more independence.
I'm grateful to my husband for challenging Trevor to do something difficult, and thankful that I had the time to devote to teaching him that summer. It was a memorable time, spending every single morning consistently working toward a goal. Now Trevor has a valuable skill he will never lose. Better late than never!
Let me know about your experiences with your autistic child and learning to ride a bicycle.
Inspiration for Life with Autism
This blog has a variety of articles about people living life with autism, and topics and ideas that can help in the journey. Guest bloggers are welcome. Inspired by Trevor, a young adult film critic, photographer and college graduate on the autism spectrum.