Autism Doesn’t Keep Our Family from Riding Bikes
Tanis on his STRIDER 16 Sport
Guest blog post by Patricia Fox (Tanis and Aiden’s Mom!) – My husband Rhys is a mountain unicyclist and avid rider. When we got pregnant with my oldest son Tanis, we had hoped he would be Rhys’ sidekick as I do not ride unicycles. However, that has not happened due to some of the symptoms of Tanis’ autism. Our second son, Aiden, also has autism, so we weren’t sure we would ever be able to ride bikes together as a family. How wrong we were!
Now we ride around the neighborhood and even take the bikes camping with us. Our sons share a unique bond because of the bikes. This wouldn’t be possible if we hadn’t tried a STRIDER Bike when they were young. And we couldn’t continue riding as a family if the company had ignored my request (among others I’m sure!) for a larger sized balance bike.
Tanis was diagnosed with severe autism when he was three years old, and is nine now. He struggles with poor core strength and low stamina, making riding a bike very difficult. My other son, Aiden, is six and also on the spectrum, but much more physical.
Several years ago, we came across a video of an 18-month-old on a STRIDER at a BMX track, so we thought we’d try one. We learned that every kid reacts differently. Some have a slower transition from walking to just getting comfortable enough to put their butts down on the seat. When they finally lift up their feet and really balance for the first time, their faces shine with a “Look what I can do” expression!
Tanis got his STRIDER first, the original 12” model, when he was five. He liked it, but after Aiden got his and started riding it, that really encouraged Tanis. When Tanis outgrew the small bike, we got the 16” model and it opened many riding doors for us as a family, since it was light weight and easy to ride. We were so proud when he rode it and joyfully shouted, “I did it! I did it!”
Tanis is tall for his age and so we knew he would soon outgrow that bike. A couple of years ago, I sent the folks at STRIDER a request asking them to continue their excellent work and make another model for even older ages. We were so happy to see the 20” model come out in 2014. We were even more thankful to receive one through the generosity of Black Hills Family Support. Tanis loves riding his bike and says it’s “shiny and cool.”
We donated Tanis’ 16” STRIDER to LifeScape, the school Aiden attends for OT and other programs. I read recently about research that riding a STRIDER helps kids with autism. In the past, Tanis’ therapists used his bike to help with his core strength and gain balance and coordination. Aiden’s therapists work with him on his bike now.
Aiden started riding the STRIDER when he was three and was extremely attached to it. He even wore out the tires, so we had to replace them. After about a year and a half on the STRIDER, we decided to try a pedal bike. We were stunned that the transition to pedaling happened in a matter of minutes!
If it wasn’t for a STRIDER, we don’t think Aiden could have learned to ride a pedal bike. We realized that training wheels don’t really teach kids how to balance. As my husband said, “Why didn’t anyone think of this bike before?”
Tanis also learned to ride a pedal bike. Unfortunately he is distracted easily, so he had several accidents and minor injuries (we made sure he wore pads and a helmet). He sticks with his STRIDER now and feels safer. With the footrests, it’s easier for him to put his feet down quickly.
Having both of the boys on two wheels has opened up a lot of possibilities to ride as a family. We could walk to the local park a few blocks away, but it’s so much more fun and cooler to ride bikes! We also name things while riding, such as stop signs or other markers.
We take the bikes camping in our renovated old school bus to Custer State Park and other local places. We tried tent camping, but the sound of the rain on the tent freaked out Tanis. Having the bus makes it easy to bring along the bikes.
One of the greatest benefits of riding is the special bond it has created between Tanis and Aiden. It’s something they can share together. On their bikes, they’re typical boys who enjoy racing back and forth on the sidewalk in front of our house or around the campground during trips.
They also ride with other kids in the neighborhood, which is an important social connection for them, especially for Tanis. Since his autism is severe, sometimes his behaviors confuse other kids. When he’s riding his bike, he’s just like them. He feels like a regular kid, and I love seeing him so happy.