Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Balance Bike Benefits

Balance Bike Benefits
by Sherry Mabry 

April is Autism Awareness Month.  During the month of April, Balance Bikes 4 Kids will donate $5 from the purchase of every bike to Autism Speaks, a non-profit organization dedicated to the treatment and cure of Autism. 

There are millions of kids and parents who deal with the challenging health condition known as Autism. It's a condition that challenges both child and parent and can impair many aspects of normal, every day life. One rite of passage that many Autistic kids miss out on is the joy of learning to ride a bicycle. The complex motor skills and focus required to master bike riding can often elude an Autistic child and present serious challenges for the the most patient of parents. Despite the challenge, it's not an insurmountable task. Many children with Autism do learn to ride, and one method that's been very successful is through the use of a balance bike.

An autistic child should be involved in each step of the process starting with the bike purchase and most importantly the color selection to ensure the appropriate sensory experience for your youngster. Allow them to participate in the bike assembly so they become intimately familiar and connected with the bike. Letting your child use tools to help put the bike together can further enhance the experience and appreciation for their new bike.

For younger kids ages three to six, there is a great option for learning to ride a bicycle called a balance bike. These bikes have no pedals and do not use training wheels. They're small and lightweight and can be easily maneuvered. Since the bikes have no pedals, chains or sprockets the focus is on mastering balance first. Your child won't need to master a bunch of complex gross motor skills simultaneously. They will learn to balance and steer initially and can graduate to a pedal bike further down the road. This is a great approach for any child, but invaluable for special needs kids who may lack the required coordination and motor skills to balance, pedal and steer at the same time.

Allow your child to experiment with the balance bike at their own pace and on their own time table. Don't worry if the bike is a little small. That's a good thing. A child should be able to put both feet flat on the ground will sitting on the seat so that they can propel themselves forward and use their feet to "catch" themselves if they falter. Balance bikes are geared toward toddlers and preschoolers, but there are some companies that make bikes for bigger kids. The Go Glider from Glide Bikes will accommodate riders up to 125 lbs and the company even offers an adult-sized balance bike for adults with special needs.

Don't get hung up on the transition to a pedal bike. As long as your son our daughter is enjoying the ride, there is no reason to force them to move up to a pedal bike. When they do feel confident and ready, remove the pedals of the new pedal bike and let them use their feet to propel forward and test their balance. Find a gentle, grassy slope and let them cruise down with their feet just off the ground until they gain confidence. From there you can put the pedals back on the bike and let them try to place their feet on the pedals as they go down the hill. Next, you can find an even more gradual decline and have them start off by using the pedals.

Resist any temptation to put training wheels on the bike. Training wheels are "the old way" and don't really train anything. They do more harm then good by removing balance from the equation.

Use this method and you'll be surprised at the results. Balance bikes are a wonderful tool for teaching any child to ride a bike. If you have a son or daughter with Autism or special needs, consider a balance bike to ease the process of learning to ride a bike.

Sherry Mabry is the owner of Balance Bikes 4 Kids and a mom of five. When she's not busy helping customers of her online retail store, volunteering on the PTA or leading her Girl Scout troop...she attempts to breath.



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