Posted on 14th Mar 2023
Physical activity is important for all children’s health and well-being, but it can be especially challenging for children with disabilities. Children with disabilities often face environmental barriers that affect their participation in community settings, leading to social exclusion and lower rates of participation in leisure activities than their typically developing peers.
Adapted bicycle riding is an intervention that can promote physical activity and enable social connections with peers and family members. Bicycle riding is a common activity in many communities, and children usually learn to ride a two-wheel bicycle by the age of 6 to 7 years. However, children and young adults with intellectual and physical disabilities are less likely than their typically developing peers to participate in physical recreational activities such as bicycle riding.
Adapted bicycles can be customised to suit the individual needs of children with disabilities, enabling access to bicycle riding. Additional supports may also be needed to develop competence and promote participation in the community. Adapted bicycle riding has been used in rehabilitation programs to improve social participation and exercise capacity in children with cerebral palsy.
A recent systematic review evaluated the effects of adapted bicycle riding on body structures and functions, activity, participation, and quality of life in children with disabilities aged 4 to 18 years. The study included ten studies with 234 participants, and the findings suggest that adapted bicycle riding interventions may improve gross motor function, enhance lower-limb muscle strength, and promote physical activity. However, the certainty of evidence of effects was rated very low using grade.
The review also found that evidence about participation outcomes after adapted bicycle riding is limited, and further research is needed to understand the impact of adapted bicycle riding on the participation outcomes of children and adolescents with disabilities and on family-level participation in social and recreational activities. The study did not assess quality of life or family participation in social and recreational activities.
Despite the limitations, adapted bicycle riding interventions show promise for improving motor functions and physical activity in children with disabilities. Parents value bicycle riding as a skill for their children to participate in the community with family members and to support their interactions with their peers. Access to adapted bicycles can enable children with disabilities to participate in recreational activities and promote social inclusion.
Future research should focus on the impact of adapted bicycle riding on participation outcomes for children and adolescents with disabilities and on family-level participation in social and recreational activities. The findings of this systematic review suggest that adapted bicycle riding interventions may improve gross motor function and promote physical activity in children with disabilities, but more research is needed to understand the full impact of this intervention on the lives of children and families.