Learning to ride a bike is a basic right of passage for children from New York to Washington. The thrill, the skinned knees, and the independence are all a part of the process and every child deserves the chance to experience it. Children with special needs, however, often don’t get that opportunity. Less than 20% of autistic children and 10% of children with Down syndrome learn to ride a bike. However, programs popping up across the country are bringing about a change.
These bike camps first began with a single camp in 1999 in LaCrosse, WI. Dr. Richard E. Klein and his wife Marjorie grew the program into 30 camps by 2006. In 2007 parents, therapy professionals and business leaders formed Lose The Training Wheels, Inc. with 50 camps across the country and the goal of expanding to 100 camps in 5 countries by 2015.
The University of Michigan’s School of Kinesiology in Ann Arbor holds one of these camps each year. Children with Down syndrome and autism participate in the week long program and by the end, 80% of them are completely independent bike riders. Parents watch in amazement as their children, many of whom have struggled with learning to balance on a bike, ride around unaided with smiles flashing across their faces.
However, the program is about more than a right of passage by bicycle. Learning to ride a bike just like the other kids in their neighborhoods and schools gives children with disabilities a sense of pride, self-assurance and independence that they have never felt before and it’s written all over their faces. In addition, these children get exercise, learn to balance, gain muscle control and coordination as well as improved leg movement. This is especially great for children with Down syndrome who have a higher rate of obesity and suffer greater health risks because of that.
In addition to the health and physical benefits, these children are gaining socialization skills while at camp that will help them in school and in their communities. This opportunity will lead to more opportunities as their new sense of pride and self-worth stays with them throughout their lives. Plus, bike riding can now become a family activity, bringing health and fun to the entire family and allowing them to spend quality time together.
For information on programs in your area go to www.losethetrainingwheels.org.