Strategies for Teaching Children With Multiple Disabilities How to Ride a Bike

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A Stable Base is Crucial

Bike riding can only be done from a stable base position. For some students, this may mean the need for adaptive equipment to ensure they are able to safely maintain a stable base position, which allows a part of their body to move to propel the bike.

An unstable base position (such as when a child with limited trunk control is unsupported on a bike saddle) is potentially dangerous, and could lead to a fall. At best, an unstable base means an inability to apply full power to propel the bike, and a lack of confidence on the part of the child.

Some strategies to improve the stability of the child’s position include:

  • a larger seat saddle on the bike
  • a modified seat which includes lower back support
  • a waist strap to prevent tipping or side falls
  • an adult assistant to provide a visual or tactile prompt to guide vertical positioning on the bike
  • the use of a recumbent bike (where the child sits in the horizontal plane and may pedal with their feet or hands, depending on their skills and the implications of their disability)

Well-Maintained Equipment is a Must

Special adaptive equipment for teaching students bike riding is often expensive, therefore, it is worth maintaining it well from both a cost of replacement factor and a safety perspective.

As a teacher, you have a duty of care to ensure you conduct activities in a safe and appropriate manner. It is vital that you set aside time for a regular, scheduled maintenance of equipment. This could be done by yourself if you have the appropriate skills, or by someone employed by the school. Your maintenance schedule should be planned, written down and kept up to date, with any repairs or modifications needed also documented.

Remember you may not always be the person in charge of sporting equipment, so your notes and documentation will help others who also act in a similar role.

Ready, Set, Go!

Once a student has a stable base position on well-maintained equipment designed for their needs, they are able to propel themselves in the style which suits their abilities and functioning. One of the most satisfying strategies for teaching your students with special needs to ride a bike is to show them how to propel themselves forwards independently. This could mean:

  • using the hands to propel the bike while the legs and body are maintained in a stable position
  • using the feet while reclining in a supportive seat
  • using the feet strapped to foot pedals with the child sitting in a supported trunk upright position

Remember that for some children, the effort of propelling a bike will be extremely taxing. They may fatigue quickly and may only be able to produce the force needed to move the bike for a short time. This can be compensated for by having an adult guide the bike and apply some forwards force, limiting the time spent riding, or combining bike riding with a less physically demanding task (such as bike riding to a local park for a picnic).

Remember, sometimes less is more!