A special guest post by Amy Heuston Special Education Teacher at Central High School in Rapid City, SD
I watched in awe and exhilaration as I cheered on two of our school’s Special Olympics athletes recently in the Special Needs Races at the Strider World Championship. Sweet, yet quite competitive, 13-year-old Ali led most of the race, agilely keeping just ahead of 19-year-old Grady. His longer legs and strong stature gave him a powerful push, and he edged past her at the finish.
As we congratulated each other with hugs, I smiled with pride and pure joy. I could hardly believe that just two years prior, neither of them had ridden a two-wheeled bike. And here they were, speeding along on STRIDER Balance Bikes, nimbly navigating cones and ramps, then celebrating with friends and family as they enjoyed the freedom and accomplishment of riding a bicycle—a milestone that many of us take for granted.
As a Special Education Teacher at Central High School in Rapid City, SD, I use 13 STRIDER Bikes with my students. They aren’t just an “extra” developmental tool, they’re a huge part of our program. We keep them in our classroom and use the bikes often. We incorporate the STRIDERs with our science curriculum to demonstrate their ability while riding to “observe or experience speed,” which is one of the areas they need to understand on the standardized tests. I also integrate examples and exercises using STRIDERs into their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).
We knew the STRIDERs would have physical benefits, which were confirmed by a recent study of kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). But I have seen their impact in five areas; PT, OT, Speech, Behavioral and Social. What we’ve seen with our students aligns with studies such as Motor Profile of Children With Developmental Speech and Language Disorder, which found that, “developmental speech and language disorders are frequently associated with motor problems … The findings support the need to give early and more attention to the motor skills of children with developmental speech and language disorders in the educational and home setting, with special attention to children whose speech is affected.”
This research article, The Motor-Cognitive Connection: Early Fine Motor Skills as an Indicator of Future Success, states, “There is a clear connection in the circuitry of the brain between areas controlling fine motor skills and areas controlling cognition … These areas are developing simultaneously, with exceptional speed during early brain development.”
1. Physical Therapy (PT): Grady is just one of my students who has made great strides with his gross motor skills, balance and coordination from riding, and even transitioned to a pedal bike after nine months of riding the STRIDER Bike two to three times a week. The progression of walking and then striding on the bikes also helps improve core stability and strength. Some of the kids even show off their “BMX-style” tricks by standing up on the foot rests and sticking out one leg.
2. Occupational Therapy (OT): Many kids with autism also have Sensory Processing Disorder. This interrupts learning, as they want to crash and move, so it is hard to sit still and focus. Sensory seekers thrive from sensory input, and the “rushing” that goes by their ears as they ride a STRIDER provides this sensation.
Riding stimulates the vestibular system which we use to negotiate balance. It also helps the proprioceptive system, which refers to sensory input and feedback telling us about movement and body position. This physical movement and sensory input has a calming effect. One of my students has severe autism and riding a STRIDER helps calm him down.
Experts in SPD know riding bikes helps in several areas. The article Sensory Processing Disorder: Vestibular Dysfunction reinforces that, “Riding a bike is good for helping almost all of the senses, especially vestibular and proprioceptive. Balance can really be a struggle for lots of kids. Giving opportunities to have fun and practice using the vestibular system is important.”
Some teachers overlook the need for physical movement with kids with special needs. Every teacher has to figure out the reason. Is it just unusual behavior? Is he simply being “a boy?” Or is it SPD? One boy I have is a “bouncer” who bounces on a ball. He also bounces when he’s on his STRIDER.
3. Speech Therapy: I am positive that riding a STRIDER balance bike has increased the vocabulary of my students. When they experience something new, they talk about it with peers and family. One student rarely communicated last year. He loves being on a STRIDER so much that when we did karaoke, he insisted he do it while sitting on the bike, and he even made it “dance.”
He loves cops and robbers, so we put a picture of the siren on the handlebars. He would ride around the room making siren noises and talking to people. This year, his behaviors are better and his vocabulary has improved. I’m sure there are many contributing factors, but I believe the STRIDER is one of them.
4. Behavioral Interventions: In regard to student behaviors, I use the bikes both as a reward and also preventative measure. As a reward, they sometimes have to earn the opportunity to ride by showing good behavior. This works particularly well with some students, as the incentive to ride helps encourage them to focus on work.
As a preventative measure, I know riding helps calm them down. So if I see one of them getting agitated, I suggest we take a spin on the bike. I schedule time in our weekly plans to ride at least two or three times a week, but sometimes we ride all five days. When it’s nice, we ride outside. If it isn’t, we just take them around the halls. The administration understands how important time on the bikes is for our students.
5. Social Skills: Riding helps them to be socially accepted and do something their peers are doing—those with special needs and typical kids. We even play games together on STRIDERs at school.
The Adaptive PE teacher is also stoked about STRIDERs and has the kids compete against each other in a game kicking a large, lightweight Omnikin sport ball while riding the bikes. This helps develop their spatial awareness of self in relation to people and objects around them. While they’re competitively playing, they are looking up, paying attention and following the rules.
At least two of our Special Olympics athletes have even transitioned to pedal bikes, which makes me think of a sixth benefit of learning to ride: mobility. Riding gives them the opportunity to even ride to work someday, which would provide a more positive and independent future!
Some people who are outside the field of disabilities may say, “Oh, that’s cute,” when they see an individual with a disability riding a bike. They have no idea how challenging it can be to get that to the point of riding on two wheels, nor do they understand the impact riding has in several areas of their lives. The five areas above build upon each other; improved spatial awareness helps them feel more comfortable riding and spend more time doing it, which increases agility, balance and strength. With better behavior, their social skills with peers and family members improve.
Someday I want to pursue an MA and would love to do a research project on STRIDER’s impact in each of these areas. I know the results would be significant, as I see it every day in my school!
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.
New Research Shows Riding STRIDER® Bikes Significantly Improves Stability Scores in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Rapid City, SD (November 17, 2015) — Findings released last week show that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects one out of every 45 children in the United States. Many people with ASD never learn to ride a two-wheeled bike because of challenges with balance and coordination. New research by Dr. Andrew Shim, Chair of Briar Cliff University's Kinesiology and Human Performance Department, confirms that children with ASD show a significant improvement in Limit of Stability (LoS) outcomes after riding a STRIDER No-Pedal Balance Bike for five weeks.
“Stability scores in all body planes were significantly improved during the five-week duration,” said Shim, who conducted the research at the Pier Center for Autism in Sioux City, Iowa. “Starting on a STRIDER Bike can assist children with special needs in transitioning to a regular, two-wheeled bicycle without the anxiety of falling or using training wheels.”
The five-week study involved eight children with ASD between the ages of six and 10 who had no prior bike-riding experience. They met three days per week for one hour, and on average, they rode for about 15 minutes each time, based on their tolerances.
A MANOVA, a multivariate analysis of variance, was used to determine significant changes, if any, during the five-week period. Variables such as static balance with their eyes open, unstable surface with their eyes open, and stability in four body planes (front, back, left, right) were measured consistently during the five weeks. Scores were recorded on a computerized balance plate which determined Center of Pressure (CoP) scores and Limit of Stability (LoS) scores.
Many parents like Amber Zorak of Cheswick, PA, also see behavioral and social benefits of kids riding STRIDER Bikes. Her 11-year-old son Dante Hoffman has ASD and competed in the Strider Championship Series Special Needs Race in Pittsburgh this year. “Dante is always smiling and laughing when he rides his STRIDER! His behavioral therapist incorporates it into his therapy twice a week. Riding makes him feel like he fits in and helps him bond with his 6-year-old brother who rides a pedal bike.”
Amy Heuston, a special education teacher at Central High School in Rapid City, SD, has 13 STRIDER Bikes, incorporating them into the curriculum and the students’ Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). She states, “We knew the STRIDER Bikes would have physical benefits, but I have seen their impact in five areas: Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech, Behavioral, and Social.”
The research was sponsored by Strider Sports International, the leading manufacturer of no-pedal balance bikes, which has sold over one million STRIDER Bikes since 2007. The STRIDER Bike line-up includes the 12” model for riders from 18-months up to 5-years old, and the 16” and 20” models developed for older children and adults with balance and coordination challenges.
A full report of Shim’s 2015 findings is expected to be published in early 2016. A 2012 study with three- to five-year-old typical children led by Shim at the University of South Dakota (USD) in Vermillion, concluded that participants benefited from using a STRIDER Bike by improving their balance and functional fitness, while likely reducing future injuries during their daily routines.
About Strider Sports International, Inc.
Founded in 2007 and headquartered in Rapid City, SD, Strider Sports designs efficient, no-pedal balance bikes for all ages and abilities. Strider’s mission is to simplify a bike to its essence, so proper size, weight, and simplicity combine to eliminate any fear of riding and instill confidence in the rider. STRIDER No-Pedal Balance Bikes are industry-leading training bikes that help children as young as 18 months learn to ride effectively on two wheels. Strider also manufactures balance bikes for individuals with special needs and for seniors wanting to stay active later in life. The patented STRIDER Balance Bikes focus on the fundamentals of balancing, leaning, and steering without the distractions and complications of pedals or training wheels. STRIDER Bikes are now distributed in more than 75 countries worldwide. In 2015, Strider sold its one-millionth bike. To learn more and to find a retailer in your area, visit www.StriderBikes.com, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter and Instagram.
About the Strider Rider Fund
In its continued commitment to pay it forward, Strider Sports created the Strider Rider Fund in 2014 to facilitate providing balance bikes to non-profit organizations serving individuals in need. One percent of Strider Sports’ gross revenue from worldwide sales each month is allocated to the Rider Fund. In 2014, the Rider Fund donated more than $300,000 in bikes and accessories, and Strider expects to exceed this amount in 2015, with more than half of the fund earmarked for special needs organizations. To learn more about the Rider Fund, and to join the cause, please visit http://www.striderbikes.com/special-needs-bikes