How Cycling Can Help Children With Autism 

As part of our cycling for health series, we’ve written a few posts including Cycling With a Bump – Is Cycling Safe During Pregnancy; How to Ride During the Coronavirus; The Benefits of Cycling for Seniors with Arthritis; and Cycling Will Help You Manage Diabetes. Today we’re continuing with our cycling for health focus with our attention on autism.

On average, 1 in 59 children in America are living with autism. It is a developmental disability that can affect how a person perceives and interacts with the world around them. Autism affects social skills, speech, language, and behavior. It is not a disease or an illness and so cannot be “cured,” in fact people living with autism can in fact have an extremely fulfilling life and cycling can be part of this. Cycling is proven to be extremely beneficial to children with autism for improving their physical coordination and also as a valuable way of socializing with others and practicing communication skills.

Balance and coordination
One of the earliest and initial signs of autism is a lack of physical control over the body. Many children struggle, particularly when they are younger, with stability and coordination. One of the best ways that occupational therapists help children with autism overcome this is by providing them with learning strategies through play. Riding a bike, whether it is a balance bike, road bike, or mountain bike,  can be a great help as it addresses the difficulties like balance and coordination. In fact, a 2015 study found that a group of children living with autism significantly improved their physical stability after only five weeks of training with a balance bike.

Improving motor skills
Research done by the autism group Generation Rescue found that cycling strengthened weakened muscle groups and improved both motor skills and sensory integration. This in turn improved children’s self-confidence. Many autistic children benefit from learning to ride using a Buddy Bike – a kind of tandem, where the child sits in front of the adult. This can help them to learn steering, pedaling and control in a graduated way. From there they will conquer riding an ordinary bike with far more confidence in their abilities.

Boosting happiness
Patrick McCallister is a keen cyclist who also is living with autism. In his blog he describes how autism and cycling go hand-in-hand. He describes how the repetitive motions are extremely soothing, the rotation and spinning are completely absorbing. The repetitive motion helps to release a lot of built up sensory stress. He also talks about how cycling puts him into a wonderful dream world. The fact is that cycling releases endorphins, including serotonin and dopamine which make you happy. That in itself is a wonderful thing.

To capture the gains of cycling, there are a few secrets to success.  The first of course is having the right size bike. We mean it! This means having a bike that fits. If purchasing a new toddler or youth bike, make sure you avoid the common mistake of buying a bike that they’ll “grow into.” Doing so can set your child back a couple of years. When shopping, be aware that children’s bikes are measured by their wheel size (not frame size). The right size is one where your child can comfortably get on the bike and stand with his or her feet on the ground. If you have questions on the right size bike for your child, visit our staff at Peak Cycles Bicycle Shop. We’re more than happy to help you select the right size bike for your child.

Additionally, get the right cycling clothes. Kids love clothes, gear, and bike parts too! Dress your kids for cycling success. Investing in a well-fitting helmet, along with a jersey, cycling shorts, and a good pair of gloves inspires your kids and affects enjoyment levels and performance. If your child is comfortable, they are going to want to ride. We have bike parts and cycling accessories that include windbreakers, gloves, shorts, jersey’s, chamois, pedals, hats, backpacks, and bikes that kids love. Most importantly, we have reflective materials to put on your child’s bike to make sure they are visible.

Cycling brings joy to us all. Given that, learning to ride a bike can be an enormous boost for children with autism. Cycling regularly can help to improve coordination, balance and provide a wonderful outlet and a new way to see the world.  Stop by Peak Cycles Bicycle Shop in Golden, Colorado for your children’s cycling apparel and bikes. 

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