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My daughter can ride a bike.

I couldn’t have said that last week.  This week I can.

I've tried for years to teach her to ride a two-wheeler, training wheels, low seats, push bikes and scooters.  I don't know how many miles I've run along behind her holding the back of her seat.

None of it worked.  But Lose The Training Wheels did.

After too many years, I realized my daughter probably isn't the first special needs kid to have trouble with a two-wheeler and I'm not the first dad to bang his head against this wall.

Sometimes, I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

So I went on the 'tubes and with a little help from a very nice woman at the Society for Handicapped Children & Adults in Modesto, CA, I found Lose The Training Wheels.

They say they can get most kids riding a two wheeler, without assistance, in one week.  That's a pretty incredible claim, incredible enough to make me a little skeptical.  But I found the nearest camp and signed her up.

The Camp
The camp was 5 sessions of 75 minute each.  It started in a high school's cafeteria and kids moved outside to the parking lot as they progressed.  Lose The Training Wheels supplied the bikes (including the freakin' magic bikes that are key to their program, along with the camp counselors.  

There were about 10 kids in our session and the camp had 5 sessions running sequentially through the day.  The kids ranged from fairly high functioning autistic and Asperger's kids to some pretty severe Down Syndrome kids.

Roller Bike

From the very first day, the kids were on two wheel bikes, sans training wheels.   The trick is the roller bike shown above.  Instead of a rear wheel, it has a wide roller shaped like a French rolling pin, slightly tapered from the center out to the ends.  The roller keeps the bike stable and prevents falls, but also has enough "wobble" that the child has to work to keep the bike steady.

I think that was where training wheels always failed.  They were too stable.  My daughter never learned to balance the bike with them.  So when I tried to take them off, she panicked.

The rollers, OTOH, were amazing.  Every kid in the camp could ride with them as soon as they sat on the bike.  After that it was just a matter of practice.  Volunteers helped the kids ride circles in the cafeteria, practicing balancing the bike, steering and leaning into turns.  After 30 minutes or so of NASCAR riding (left turns only), they reversed directions and everyone went clockwise to practice right turns.

The rollers for the bike come in 8 different cambers, increasing in difficulty from "rolling pin" to one which is almost as difficult to balance as a real two wheeler.  As each child got used to the roller he/she was on, the camp coordinator would swap it out for a harder one.

Most of the kids didn't even notice the change.  They just kept riding.

The Results
By the third day, some of the kids were ready for two wheels.  The camp coordinator used a special tandem bike to tell when a kid was ready.  I don't have a photo of it, but think of two Schwinns welded together end-to-end with active breaks and steering for the rear rider.  Sort of a Driver's Ed car for bikes.

The coordinator would take the kid for a couple of laps to get the feel for the tandem, then let the kid take over.  If the kid could steer, balance and lean into the turns properly, it was outside for the first experience with a two wheeler.

By the end of the week, every kid in our session was riding.  Some were completely independent, tearing around the parking lot so fast the volunteers could only stand in the center of the track and watch.  Others still needed a little help from a "Bike Buddy", a handle that mounts to the seat post or rear triangle and lets the volunteer provide a little help starting, stopping and keeping upright.

I'm on a bike.
Being able to ride a regular bike is a huge step with many great advantages for a handicapped kid.  Independence, inclusion in activities with normal kids (neurotypicals, in autism speak), training for eventually driving a car and getting around on their own.  It's huge.

I hope there are other benefits as well.  There's some evidence that the same neural pathways used for motor planning are used or are at least very closely related to those responsible for higher executive functions, like planning your homework, cleaning your room and other multi-step tasks that challenge my daughter.

The hope is that by exercising these pathways on the bike, her growing brain will rewire itself to better handle everything life throw at her.

So we're practicing in her school parking lot and I bite my tongue when she takes a corner too tight or rides too close to the curb.  I stand still as she wobbles on the starts and uses the "Flintstone's stop".

She's going to fall and it's going to hurt.  But she already knows "When you get bucked off, get back on."  That will take her further than I can.

Originally posted to VA Classical Liberal on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 05:26 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Good gawd (8+ / 0-)

    I hope they have a session in Denver.

    Our HFA son has never been comfortable riding anything with wheels; he's now 13.  Although technically he can balance on a bike, he freak out at the thought of riding it by himself, crashes as soon as he realizes that I've let go (even though he'd been riding 1/2 a block that way).  By now he's so paranoid about falling he refuses to try.

    Evil is making the premedicated choice to be a dick -- Jason Stackhouse

    by Frankenoid on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 05:31:22 AM PDT

  •  Oh, thank you for sharing (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sheddhead, Arthur Wolf, wa ma, siduri

    You have done a true public service, getting the word out.
    (It must be like giving yourself a gift, the joy it must have brought to your family.)

  •  Kudos on the effort and on the success... (6+ / 0-)

    When I was little I simply could not learn, no matter who ran along behind. Finally, when I was eight or nine, I just got on somebody's bike and rode it; apparently I had to figure out the math for myself.

    I realize every case is different. But then there's my son, who also has a hard-to-define set of strengths and disadvantages, and who, similarly, simply could not be taught to ride a bike. And who, at age sixteen or seventeen, just got on somebody's bike and rode it, and never looked back. The consensus seems to be that my kid, assuming he can function in light traffic (which he can), will improve markedly in his ability to perceive and concentrate on what's going on within a 20-foot radius.

    I've been recovering from a disabling illness for a little over a year now, and when I was able to get back on a bike and ride it last October, long before I was able to walk a mile, the feeling of freedom and accomplishment was huge.

    Congratulations: you've helped your child to both enter a new world and grow in this one.

  •  Congratulations to your daughter! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Arthur Wolf, miss SPED

    What a great idea that person has had... Your diary made me smile.

    Please share this again and again - it's important!

    "The joy of activity is the activity itself, not some arbitrary goal which, if not achieved, steals the joy." ~John "the Penguin" Bingham

    by sheddhead on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 05:43:12 AM PDT

    •  PS - neither my sister nor I were 'special needs' (0+ / 0-)

      but boy HOWDY, did my sister have some Major Issues learning to ride a bike without training wheels.

      Our friend Anne used to hold the bike so my sister could kick it.  It got THAT frustrating.  Even today, she says she has lousy balance... maybe that contributed to the bike riding difficulty.

      "The joy of activity is the activity itself, not some arbitrary goal which, if not achieved, steals the joy." ~John "the Penguin" Bingham

      by sheddhead on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 05:45:00 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Same here... my own experience (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sheddhead, miss SPED

        was that knowing that I could simply put at least one foot on the ground to keep from falling, was an enormous help. That, and a little exercise of trying to balance the bike without otherwise moving, and catching myself on an extended leg whenever I started to fall. Once you can do that, you just add pedalling to provide forward motion, and you're pretty much there.

        Of course, when you're my kid, you do all that and forget how to stop without large, soft objects to crash into... ;-)

  •  And guess what ACD (6+ / 0-)

    is doing Aug 3-7? Yup - volunteering for the program. I read about it in the Hartford Courant and emailed the contact person for a slot. I'm a bit anxious, because I have plantar faciitis. I THINK it will be under control by then.

    Thank you so much for the diary. I sub for a lot of SE kids - I'm hoping to see some of them.

  •  Yay! clap clap clap HOORAY! n/t (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    miss SPED
  •  This is pretty cool. (5+ / 0-)

    Our 7 yr old relatively high functioning autistic son, likes to ride his bike with training wheels.  We've given no thought to trying to teach him to ride without them because I just couldn't imagine how we could make that work.  This approach could actually do the trick.

    The one concern we would have would be the increased potential for a major accident related to him not really paying attention to what's going on around him as he rides.  Even with training wheels, he's clearly off in his own world on his bike most of the time.  But this is clearly something to think about for the future.

    •  My daughter is laser focused on two wheels. (5+ / 0-)

      She used to go off in her own world when she was on training wheels too.  But when she's in full control, she concentrates.  One or two close calls at camp was all it took to teach her that.

      She's older than your son (just turned 12), so that might be part of it.

      OTOH, she is going to have some pretty bad crashs. That's inevitable.  But it's the price everyone (NTs included) pays to learn.

      "If you get bucked off, get back on."

      Results count for more than intentions do.

      by VA Classical Liberal on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 07:24:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  (1) Hike training wheels up little at a time. (2) (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wa ma, MKSinSA

      (1) If the training wheels are all the way to the ground, the bike won't wobble at all. Raise them a little bit, so the bike rocks from side to side a bit. Have your child ride it like that several times, then raise them a little more. Repeat until they're as high as they'll go. Pretty soon the flops from one side to the other will take longer and longer, with more actual balancing in between. This will progress faster with . . .

      (2) SPEED! The FASTER you go on a bike, the more stable you are. Explain this to your child. Maybe spin a coin on a table to show the child how it stands up as long as it's spinning fast, but flops down when it gets slow. A child's natural instinct is to go slow until he feels safe, but in bike terms this is bass-ackwards. Once your child feels how the bike stabilizes with speed, your battle will be mostly won. Suggestion: get another adult to stand a few feet away. Push your child on the bike (with no training wheels) to the other adult. Then have the other adult push the child back to you. Begin with just a few inches of no-support riding. Stretch it out 6 inches or so with each push. Push your child fast!

      I LOVE riding a bike. I wish all kids many happy hours on two wheels.

      "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

      by HeyMikey on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 09:57:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Conversely. I switched bikes, to a smaller one (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        That way, his feet were nearly touching the ground, they became the training wheels, as it were.

        Told him to take his feet OFF the pedals, do nothing but steer. Our street sloped very gently down... so got him moving with no thoughts except steering.

        The trick with learning to ride is learning 2 things at once: pedaling with balance, and steering on 2 wheels.

        So he learned steering... then was curious to see what it would be like to pedal. I held him for a bit, both up and down hill, then would let go, and he'd be pedaling on his own for a bit, till he lost it... but only had inches to get that foot down to the ground, no way to fall over, really.

        Day 2 was zooming up and down on his own initiative. Day 3 was adding turns... on his own. This is a reasonably normal kid.

        I like the camp idea, where they're practicing one thing for a long time.

        This health care system is a moral atrocity. Dr. Ralphdog

        by AllisonInSeattle on Tue Jul 28, 2009 at 01:10:43 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Slopes are good. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          The forward motion takes care of itself, so the child can focus on steering and balance.

          Though once you start pedaling you quickly learn that pedaling makes balancing easier.

          "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

          by HeyMikey on Tue Jul 28, 2009 at 01:27:50 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Congratulations to your daughter, and to you. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wa ma, miss SPED

    It's often said that life is strange. But compared to what? --Steve Forbert

    by darthstar on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 07:15:43 AM PDT

  •  My training wheels... (5+ / 0-)

    were canted so that while they would break a fall if you tilted suddenly, they didn't keep the bike balanced. That helped me learn, although it didn't really click until a friend's father took a few of us out to a parking lot and instructed us on learning that steering isn't about where your handlebars are pointed, it's about where your bike is currently going.

    Same for driving cars and the steering wheel, btw. :3

    Stay with me, Neda. Stay with me.

    by Shaviv on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 07:20:39 AM PDT

  •  Congrats! (5+ / 0-)

    I broke down crying the first time my son (A.S.) managed to ride a two-wheeler. It took about 200 man hours and slowly bending the training wheels up but God, was it worth it.

    What an awesome program!

  •  I don't think you can ever forget ... (4+ / 0-)

    ... the moment you finally ride alone on two wheels. My dad had been helping me on the training wheels, then one day he said it was time to take them off or I'd never be able to do it without them. He was at work when I finally got up and off by myself. I couldn't wait until he got home so I could show him. And I'll never forget the smile on his face. I'm so happy you got to smile. Good for the kids!

    "It does not require many words to speak the truth." -- Chief Joseph, native American leader (1840-1904)

    by highfive on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 07:35:35 AM PDT

  •  Very cool (3+ / 0-)

    This reminds me of something from my past.

    My dad had polio when he was 14 and has walked with a leg brace and walking stick ever since.  In the 1970s he embarked on a project to remodel a bike so that he could pedal with his arms.  He is a very handy person and spent a lot of time on this.  Unfortunately, although he finished the bike, it proved to be too to difficult to operate for anything more than a test run.

  •  I'm checking into this right now (5+ / 0-)

    Great story.  My "low functioning" son just turned 10, and I've been despairing about whether he would ever ride a bike.  

    Ancora Impara--Michelangelo

    by aravir on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 10:55:53 AM PDT

  •  You've Been Rescued (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wa ma

    "What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them"

    by ItsJessMe on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 08:22:32 PM PDT

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