Bicycle camp helps children with special needs find independence on 2 wheels

A camp for children with special needs teaches them to ride a bicycle on their own - and helps them find independence in the process.

The I Can Bike camp is for children on the autism spectrum and with intellectual disabilities

The I Can Bike camp, run by Easter Seals Nova Scotia, helps children with special needs learn to ride bicycles independently. (Paul Légère/CBC)

A Nova Scotia camp for children with special needs teaches them to ride a bicycle on their own — and helps them find independence in the process.

Henk van Leeuwen, president of Easter Seals Nova Scotia, says the iCan Bike camp in Halifax is helping the children be active and engaged in their communities.

"To go out after supper with other kids in the neighbourhood and be included," he said.

Improving balance and co-ordination

The camp, which is now in its second year, offers the children and youth participating the chance to improve balance, first by practicing on a bike with a stabilizer on the back, then on two wheels, with volunteers and trainers standing by. 

Campers started the week on bicycles with a stabilizer instead of a back wheel, to practice balance. Van Leeuwen said most campers move up to two-wheeled bikes by the end of the week. (Moira Donovan/CBC)

Holding the bike upright while steering, pedalling and following instructions also provides participants an opportunity to develop their co-ordination and multitasking abilities. 

Carmella Murphy's grandson, Derek, is on the autism spectrum.

"He really wants to learn [to ride a bike], but at home you can't do it," she said. "For children on the spectrum, it's never 'If I slip and fall I'm going to get a bruise', it's, 'If I slip and fall I'm going to break a leg.'"

Making progress

Derek has a bike at home, Murphy said, which he never used.

"It scared him."

But by the fourth day of the camp, Derek was riding in circles and around pylons in the indoor arena at the LeBrun Recreation Centre in Bedford, at times pedalling on the tandem bike with an instructor behind him.

He liked that bike, he said, because, "It feels like it's riding itself."

'It's phenomenal'

Over the course of the camp, Derek had confronted his fears, Murphy said.

Although never in real danger of falling with volunteers nearby, Derek had tipped to one side. But in those moments, the fear didn't take over.

"He's tipped over, and put his foot down, and righted the bicycle," Murphy said. "It's phenomenal."

With files from CBC's Information Morning