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Adapted Bikes as Therapy Tool

By Darold Treffert, MD

While bike riding is a rite of passage and an accepted societal norm for adolescents, a number of children with cognitive as well as physical disabilities aren’t able to master bike riding other than by continued use of awkward training wheels and possibly other trike and four-wheeler adaptations. Richard Klein, a retired University of Illinois mechanical engineering professor, has devised a systematic program providing the opportunity for children with a wide array of disabilities to master conventional two-wheeler bike riding.

Klein uses special adapted bikes which are slow in forward speed and slow in falling to enable children to become comfortable and to learn the nuances of bike riding. As children develop and encode proper steering responses, the bikes can be refitted to be more like conventional bikes. He replaces conventional tires with wide, but crowned rollers. Unlike bikes fitted with training wheels, the roller equipped trainers will tip gently in response to rider manipulations. The therapy is delivered in a camp or clinic format, thus working with a group of youngsters typically lasts normally one week.

Large numbers of children (typically about 80% who participate in the program), are able to master bike riding and are thus able to shed those humiliating training wheels and cumbersome adapted trikes. The therapy is effective for children with a wide range of disabilities such as autism, Asperger’s syndrome, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, fetal drug syndrome, Prader Willi syndrome, obesity, and visual disorders. These children learn to ride bikes, typically, within a few days of therapy. There are numerous benefits such as increased self-esteem, improved stamina, and peer inclusion. An article in the Utica, NY Observer-Dispatch of October 14, 2003 provides an overview; see www.uticaod.com/archive/2003/10/14/news/17451.html. The October 2002 issue of Exceptional Parent Magazine, pp. 64-66, also provides an overview.

Klein has conducted camps in a number of states including California, Delaware, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Camps or clinics are usually held in conjunction with area civic institutions or charitable organizations that provide facilities as well as volunteer instructors. Klein is presently based in the St. Louis area, although he travels extensively for the bike therapy program. Additional information about the adapted bike program can be obtained by contacting Richard Klein at r-klein@uiuc.edu.

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For more information, please contact:
Darold A. Treffert, MD
St. Agnes Hospital, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry
University of Wisconsin Medical School, Madison
Personal Web site: http://www.daroldtreffert.com
e-mail: savants@charter.net