This is an excerpt from Eric Chessen’s Bike To The Future book about autism and bike riding.autism and bike riding

With bike riding and autism there is something called the “Proximity Bias,” and if it has not already driven you nuts it will at some point.

Basically, the closer in relation you are to someone, the less likely they are to take your instruction, advice, or input.

I have been involved in fitness since I was 18 years old and I make a living as an Exercise Physiologist.

It took my father about 5 years before he actually used my advice about certain exercises he was doing that I thought were counterproductive to his goals.

If he’d read that in a golf or tennis magazine, he would have changed his behavior instantly.

If you have a child with autism and want to connect autism and bike riding (or in general), you’ve probably experienced a similar situation.

Your son/daughter will tear books in half at home, but doesn’t do it in school.

Gregory will eat carrots and celery in the lunch area of the classroom, but never at the dinner table.

Michelle only speaks in 2-word sentences at home, but was observed using 4- ad 5-word requests with classmates.  Sometimes part of the issue is simply, and unfairly, that you are mom and dad.

Bike Riding and Autism plus the proximity bias has something else too,  unrealistic expectation.

This book is obviously intended to help you teach bike riding to your child with autism how to independently ride a bike, but consider your initial goals and time frame.

Are you setting bike riding and autism goals that do not correspond to current physical, adaptive, and cognitive abilities? Is your time frame too short?

This brings us to Mistake #1 with bike riding and autism:

Mistake # 1: Unfair Expectations

Bike riding and autism is not a life or death situation.

Parents get upset, frustrated, and afraid when their kids do not reach certain age-related markers and skills.

If you begin setting unrealistic schedules for mastering bike riding, there will be unnecessary pressure and frustration, most of which will be focused on the child learning to ride.

Everything becomes hectic and rushed, which are usually indicators that something not-so-good is going on.

Many of my non-verbal athletes are quite perceptive, and can pick up on parental stress and aggravation.

Expectations for bike riding and autism should be made with three things in mind; the abilities needed, the teaching required, and long-term success.

Mistake # 2: Theory of Mind Gone Awry

You are not your child.

He/she is going to have different ideas, experiences, and desires than you are.

I often see a slow, steady shift from “This is what I want for my child” to “This is what my child wants.” Most kids with autism will have fun riding a bike, but they don’t know it yet, so they don’t want to learn.

It takes a little bit of effort, so I suggest writing down a 3-column list:

What I want for my child What my child wants (to do) Success Factor





The Success Factor for bike riding and autism is whatever it will take to “bridge” the difference between what you want and what your child wants. More about how to find out what that is in chapter 5.

Mistake # 3: Forcing Fun

The first rule in my Autism Fitness programming is “You can’t force fun;’ you cannot tell a child who is having a tantrum on the floor that they are having a great time. Thin about the last time you did something you loved doing. Did someone have to remind you that it was enjoyable while it was happening? Probably not.

Bradley has been riding his bike for 5 minutes and says “I’m finished, I want to go inside.” His dad replies “But we’re having fun!” Fun for Bradley stopped ten or twenty seconds ago, maybe even longer if he has the patience to put up with it and not say anything. There are things you can add to a situation to make it more fun, but saying the word “fun” does not magically make everything better.

Mistake # 4: Turning Play Time into Work Time

I was working with Ellen, a 12-yearl old girl who had a PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder) diagnosis. She was very sweet and happily rode her bike while I helped her stay balanced. We were talking and laughing while she made great progress within the hour.

Ellen’s  mother began yelling directions to her from about 30 yards away. “Ellen, keep working! You have to learn how to ride your bike! Concentrate!” After the session, I politely informed her mother “You keep doing that and you’ll have one of two things; A daughter who doesn’t know how to ride a bike and doesn’t want to learn, or a daughter who can ride a bike but doesn’t want to because it’s not fun.”

It is possible to learn and be productive while still enjoying yourself. In fact, at most of the companies that make the Fortune 500 or “Best Companies to Work For” lists, personal interest and pursuits, along with an open workplace environment are encouraged.

The language you use is important. “Let’s ride bikes” is a lot more inviting than “It’s time to work on bike riding.” Which one sounds like a chore? It also affects your approach to teaching. If you are going outside to make sure your child works, you will probably have a different demeanor than going outside to “ride bikes” or “play with the bikes.” Think play, forget work. Things will still get accomplished.

Mistake #5: A Lack of Teaching Options

If we learn something one way, we want to teach it that way. This does not always work in the favor of the autism population. Recall the breakdown of abilities in chapter 1. We don’t all learn the same way, and some individuals need to be shown several times before a concept “clicks.” When the same teaching strategy fails to elicit the correct response, it is time to consider a new way of delivering the information.

Maybe a physical prompt such as placing your hand over the learner’s foot to teach “use pressure when you pedal” will be helpful. Maybe Omar needs to see how you grip the handlebars in order to understand the concept.

Think about a time when you got frustrated. Usually it is because a situation is out of control and we do not have the options available to change it. In teaching situations, we have to think about what the learning is thinking about. Ask yourself, “How is he/she processing the directions that I am giving?” Making sure you have different ways of teaching the same thing is crucial to success.

The preceding was an excerpt from Eric Chessen’s E-Book, Bike to the Future: A Parent’s Guide to Teaching Children with Autism to Ride with Success.  No part of this electronic media may be copied or distributed without the expressed written consent of Eric Chessen and Autism Fitness.

2011, Autism Fitness (Theraplay-ny, LLC)