Ask BikePortland: Who can teach my autistic teen how to ride?

“My notion and hope is that there is some bicycle whisperer, bike shop dude, or cycling samaritan out there.”

Today’s Ask BikePortland question comes from a reader who is looking for a very specific kind of help. This is a bit different than our usual fare for this column. Instead of just trying to answer the question, we plan to forward tips and offers to help onto the reader (a woman who has asked to remain anonymous).

Here’s the email that includes the question and request for help:

Subject: Need an Awesome Pedaling Guru for Awesome 18-year old ASD son

I have a great-natured son who is 18, a High School Senior, and a young adult challenged by some impact of living with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Every adult that has ever worked with him cherishes his personality and work ethic. Neither he nor my younger son (age 15) have learned to ride. My older son is driven to become independent and enjoys going for walks, hikes, car rides, and any opportunity to view scenery and breathe fresh air.

I strongly believe that cycling would bring him more confidence, thrill, possibilities…maybe even a friend some day. He feels so inferior to his peers. There were a few family bike hand-me-downs over the years and some unsuccessful attempts to teach him but his readiness and issues with fear and failure were barriers. There was one incident with my former spouse (his father) that I believe caused deep-rooted insecurity and discouragement.

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20140928 Aidan bday18

(Photo courtesy Lisa Graham)

I’ve been told by several well meaning souls to buy or modify a special bike for him to scoot or coast upon for balance and practice. Knowing this kid’s history and “feeling” my budget, I’m hesitant to invest in something so temporary and have a different vision for what successful lessons might look like.

My notion and hope is that there is some bicycle whisperer, bike shop dude, or cycling Samaritan out there with access to bikes of all types; Someone cool to connect with that can teach my son without the pressure or annoyance that parents sometimes bring to a situation. A community class designed for children would definitely not be a good fit as it would make him feel embarrassed and may be sensory overload.

If he or she (bike mentor) could meet privately with my son and provide the type of bike best suited for the particular lesson then I would be willing to invest in a bike once the skill is in place and the security is in place. Do you know of anyone who has performed such a service or had experience with such a relationship? They would be an Angel in my book.

What do you think?

Well… Who has some advice for this woman? I’d love to see her son learn to ride a bike!

If you have suggestions, please get in touch with us and we’ll connect you to the right person.

— Read more questions and answers at the Ask BikePortland home page.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Esther
Esther
9 years ago
Alan 1.0
Alan 1.0
9 years ago
Reply to  Esther

I’ve seen some group taking special needs kids around Sunday Parkways, including push and pedal bikes, and specially adapted recumbent trikes. If that’s not Bike First!, then there’s someone else in that realm, too.

Jay T.
Jay T.
9 years ago

Bike First! is the outfit for sure. They have the experienced and caring volunteers to teach people with disabilities to ride bicycles. They are the Portland affiliate of iCan Shine, which owns the fleet of teaching bikes designed for just this purpose.

Find Bike First! at http://www.nwdsa.org/what_we_do/bike_week_info.html

Granpa
Granpa
9 years ago

Remove the pedals and crank from a BMX and begin with a balance bike.

Just a thought

Spiffy
Spiffy
9 years ago
Reply to  Granpa

this is how I’m teaching my adult (43 year old) roommate to ride a bike… once she can pedal and balance on her own we’ll move up to the adult bike…

Adam H.
Adam H.
9 years ago

Depends on how functioning his ASD is. How are his motor-planning skills? Is he verbal or non-verbal?

Shannon B.
Shannon B.
9 years ago

My In-laws live in Boise and volunteered to help at an iCan Shine Bike Camp last year. They loved it and felt it was very successful! Here is a local Boise news story on the camp as well as the iCan Shine website. Closest 2015 iCan bike camps to Portland appear to be Hermiston, Victoria BC and Boise.

http://www.ktvb.com/story/local/2015/02/04/12695999/

http://icanshine.org/

Dweendaddy
Dweendaddy
9 years ago

I think this is a nice intro video for teaching adults to ride:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WP3DNPDKxOM

Spiffy
Spiffy
9 years ago
Reply to  Dweendaddy

I’m using the grassy hill method with my adult roommate and it’s working pretty good for her… we had to stop in the rainy season though… now we use short driveways…

Ann Donaca-Sullivan
9 years ago

Thank you for mentioning Bike First! which is a program of the Northwest Down Syndrome Association. We are holding our 13th clinic in TEN YEARS June 28 – July 2nd at Concordia University in NE Portland. This is open to people 8 and older who experience a disability or have never learned to ride a traditional bike. Registration opened yesterday. We are also in the process of securing clinics in Salem and Southern Oregon this year. Bikes are transported from United Cerebral Palsy in North Bay, CA. We like the freedom this organization offers much better than others.

Anyone want volunteer? I promise it will change your life.

lee
lee
9 years ago

This sounds great! Do you by chance offer financial aid for families?

Dave Cary
Dave Cary
9 years ago

If you’re looking for volunteers in Salem, I would like to consider it.

Dave Cary
davecary57@gmail.com

John Lascurettes
9 years ago

Any bike with hand brakes can be a scoot bike if you:
– lower the seat
– remove the pedals and chain

Andyc of Linnton
Andyc of Linnton
9 years ago

If possible, I’d like a follow-up story on this man once he starts riding.
Good luck to him!

aaron
aaron
9 years ago

I know I’m late to the party, but it might be worth seeing if these folks have a program that would help – http://www.communitycyclingcenter.org/

That One Guy
That One Guy
9 years ago

STRIDER Bikes has a high success rate with their camp programs for kids and adults of all abilities. http://www.striderbikes.com/special-needs-bikes. Balance is key. I’ve had experience with iCanShine which is very similar to the Bike first program. Unfortunately they teach reliance on a stabilizer (Super wide wheel on the back) which hinders the learning process. I would suggest either buying the larger STRIDER or simply removing the pedals from a 2 wheeler and zip-tie the cranks to the chainstay. Use it as a balance bike until he is able to balance with feet up, then put the pedals back on. If you buy the bike at a Local Bike Shop they should be able to help you with all of this very easily. #PedalPower

BIKELEPTIC
9 years ago

I just want to give this woman and her son props! As someone with NLVD and epilepsy I didn’t think I would ride and didn’t until I was almost a teenager myself. I have terrible equilibrium problems and cognitive recall problems due to my neurological issues and OCPD. One of my good friends from college has similar issues and we worked together when she came and visited Portland a couple years ago with adaptive human powered vehicles to assist her (26 yr old at the time) to ride her very first bike, trikes and be a stoker on a recumbent tandem. It was quite an experience for her!

I am highly in favor of this and think just like any goal, take it slow, don’t get overwhelmed, work on it a little at a time, etc. 🙂

BIKELEPTIC
9 years ago
Reply to  BIKELEPTIC

(sorry for the double post. My computer/internet was providing me with stress when I posted this and I was a little click-happy)

BIKELEPTIC
9 years ago

I just want to give this woman and her son props! As someone with NLVD and epilepsy I didn’t think I would ride and didn’t until I was almost a teenager myself. I have terrible equilibrium problems and cognitive recall problems due to my neurological issues and OCPD. One of my good friends from college has similar issues and we worked together when she came and visited Portland a couple years ago with adaptive human powered vehicles to assist her (26 yr old at the time) to ride her very first bike, trikes and be a stoker on a recumbent tandem. It was quite an experience for her!

I am highly in favor of this and think just like any goal, take it slow, don’t get overwhelmed, work on it a little at a time, etc. 🙂