Biking is for Everyone!
July/August E-Newsletter > Biking is for Everyone!
Written by Kathleen Buckley and Jonathan T. Parkhurst, JD
Outdoor play is important to help kids exercise, stay healthy and strong!
For some children with special needs, jumping rope, outdoor sports, throwing a ball, or riding a bicycle can be challenging.
The Adaptive Bicycle Summer Camp program developed by physical therapists in the Research Center at Franciscan Hospital for Children introduces adaptive bicycles to children with special needs to give them the opportunity to ride!
Twenty-four children, ages 4-19 years, participated in this intensive “Bike Camp” for three hours per day for one week.
Children had a variety of disabilities such as Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Developmental Delay, and Down Syndrome.
Children learned to ride one of 13 bicycles that were adapted to fit their unique needs. Our physical and occupational therapists fit each child with the proper bicycle and helmet and taught them the rules of the road and how to ride. One-on-one support was provided by Boston University and UMass students studying occupational therapy and exercise science, giving children a safe environment, surrounded by professionals to teach the skills.
“It is important for all children to engage in physical activity on a daily basis but it can be more difficult for children with special needs because they may need extra help, activity modifications or adapted equipment to participate. Riding an adapted bicycle can be a great way to exercise, get outdoors and be active with family and friends,” says Maria Fragala-Pinkham, Physical Therapist in the Research Center at Franciscan Hospital for Children.
“An adapted tricycle can give us lots of ways to work with each child, pedaling with arms or legs to improve upper or lower body strength, sitting on the bike to work on balance and to increase trunk strength, or simply working on holding their head up. The best results are when I see tired campers, I know they needed that exercise and the therapy is working.”
Each camper and parent set goals for the week based on their skill level and therapists track improvements for every camper. Campers’ goals included learning how to steer and use the brakes, getting on and off the bike, and of course, riding without stopping! The best part of this innovative therapy program is that the children are able to receive a real camp experience, socializing with other kids, having great camp counselors, and the opportunity for fun exercise each day!
At the end of Bike Camp, campers received t-shirts and a certificate of completion. Parents reported that the camp was an invaluable experience for their children because it provided not only exercise but an opportunity for social interaction. The children left with a real sense of pride, confidence and accomplishment.
A key feature of the Bike Camp is that campers learn a skill they can continue to use with family and friends. And by practicing these new “biking skills”, children are improving their fitness and gross motor skills while participating in a fun sport. Families can rent adaptive bicycles through Massachusetts Park & Recreation programs, as well as other programs around the state.
The camp was free for families thanks to funding by the Christopher Catanese Children’s Foundation, the Trust Family Foundation, CVS Caremark Foundation, and the Boston College Community Fund. In addition, the Franciscan Hospital for Children staff also works to help families select the right adaptive bicycle, and help facilitate options for those families that are unable to purchase one.
Our research and rehabilitation staff is dedicated to designing programs to promote strength, fitness, and improved motor skills for children with special needs through community activities like sports and play.
The Bike Camp is an example of a community sports program to promote health and provide fun for these children and families.
Parents and siblings also attended the “Bike Camp” to promote family fitness and fun! The Adaptive Bicycle Program was so popular that there was a waiting list this year! The positive feedback from campers and parents and the success of the program in helping campers reach their goals has the Research Center staff already planning for next summer’s Bike Camp.
Local resources for families interested in renting adaptive cycles: