Savannah Chalifoux learns to get comfortable on two wheels

Kids with special needs learn to master a bike at You Can Ride Two!

Charity Evans of Red Deer had been trying to teach her eight-year-old son Jaxson how to ride a bike for years. And it just seemed like something that wasn’t going to happen, she said.

Charity Evans of Red Deer had been trying to teach her eight-year-old son Jaxson how to ride a bike for years. And it just seemed like something that wasn’t going to happen, she said.

Then the family heard about the You Can Ride Two! program offered at Red Deer College in partnership with Aspire Special Needs Resource Centre.

Here, Jaxson, who is autistic, made huge strides when it came to taming the terror of training wheels and even rode independently on his two-wheeler.

“When he first started, he hated his bike and wanted nothing to do with it,” Evans said. “I was shocked to hear him say ‘Again! Again! Again!’ That’s what stood out the most — how they managed to change his love for biking.”

You Can Ride Two! provides hand-on training for children, ages six and up, with special needs to help them learn to ride a bike — a memorable milestone in any childhood, said Brandi Robinson, a kinesiology instructor at RDC who helps run the course.

Started in 2012, the program is run by a number of professionals, including a pediatric physiotherapist, occupational therapist, and Robinson and some of her students from the college’s adapted physical education program.

“The kids we’re working with have a variety of impairments. It may be a physical or cognitive or behavioural. So we see kids on the autism spectrum, kids with Down syndrome,” said Robinson.

Some of the children have been riding a little bit with their training wheels and others won’t even go near them.

“They all come with their bikes and we work with them through a system developed in Edmonton and our task is to have them riding without training wheels within six weeks.”

Achieving independence is also a key component of the weekly program, Robinson said.

“We don’t want them to have to have someone to pick up their bikes for them. So they learn to do that and walk it around and we take the pedals off. Some of these kids don’t see the pedals until week three.”

Twelve children took part in the program this year and about 90 per cent of them were able to take off on a two-wheeler by the end of it.

The faces and wide eyes of proud parents as they watch their kids pedalling on their own is a beautiful, “pretty incredible” sight, said Robinson.

“This is the stuff that matters.”

While Jaxson has been trying to pedal around on his own at home, Evans said she plans to sign him up again for the program next year.

“He tries but I think maybe he just trusts them more than me, I don’t know,” she said with a laugh. “They’re great at coaching him about his fears and they’re in the gym where it’s a bit softer compared to the pavement at our house.”

Evans said despite being skeptical at the beginning, she was beyond impressed and would recommend You Can Ride Two! to others with special needs children.

“I was amazed at how they broke it down, with no pedals and letting them fall and get back up,” she said. “I was actually crying on the last day because he rode a bike by himself for about 15 seconds with no training wheels so that was huge for us because we’ve been trying this for years.”

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