Camp teaches kids with autism how to enjoy one of the rites of childhood

Jul 11, 2019

Rocco Rodrigues rides a bike with the help of a staff member from AutismUp's "iCan Bike" camp.
Credit Beth Adams

Rocco Rodrigues was diagnosed with autism at age 2.  Now 9 years old, Rocco has spent the past four days at the "iCan Bike" camp at the Gordon Field House at RIT learning to ride a bike, something that AutismUp says over 80 percent of people with autism never learn to do.  

On Thursday morning, he was riding at a pretty good speed around the track with two volunteer spotters running alongside him.

"It's a little bit...I'm not gonna say scary, but startling," he said. "You want to know why? Because you feel like you're gonna fall over."

Many people with disabilities have motor planning, coordination, and sensory challenges, which makes bike-riding difficult. But, this 5-day camp, led by the nonprofit iCan Shine, helps riders develop their confidence and skill.   The bikes have an adaptive wheel on the back that kind of looks like a rolling pin.  Over the course of the week, that wheel is lifted until the rider can balance on their own.

"It's very important because what it does is it normalizes their experience as a kid," said Sarah Milko, executive director at AutismUp. "It helps them participates with kids in the neighborhood; they can ride up on a two wheel bike and feel like every other kid their age."

Milko says over 400 kids and young adults have learned to ride at the camp in the last 11 years. 

"And not only is it important for our younger kids," she said, "but it could actually be a mode of transportation for our young adults. As they start to work in the world, as they start to socialize more, it gives them the freedom everybody wants."

Rocco says he already knows where he wants to ride the new green bike his parents just bought for him.

"I'm gonna take trips to the ice cream store," he said, looking at his mother, Lynn Rodrigues.

"This is gonna be so great for his self-confidence and exercise," she said, smiling. "We can do a family activity together."

This story was produced by WXXI’s  Inclusion Desk, focusing on disabilities and inclusion.