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Case Study: Boulder, Colorado

Heatherwood Elementary School in Boulder, Colorado, hosts an Intensive Learning Center (ILC) for children with autism, and 60 of the school’s 370 students are on the autism spectrum or have other disabilities. To accompany a school-wide biking program, Heatherwood created a bicycling program tailored to the needs of the students in the ILC, and invited several students with autism to participate.

Heatherwood partnered with the local non-profit Assisted Cycling Tours and its founder Bob Matter, who has an autistic son. Matter shared his fleet of specially outfitted tandem bicycles to help Heatherwood’s autistic students practice and then participate in the district-wide Bike to School Day on April 22, 2011.

“Most of our students who participated in the assisted ride had never been on a bike before,” Amy Thompson, program coordinator, said. “The sheer joy that they experienced both in the practice session and on the day of the official ride was priceless.”

Seven of Heatherwood’s ILC students and their families met in a local park for a group ride that coincided with the school-wide ride on the morning of Bike to School Day. Local celebrity athlete Brandon Dwight, who is a national Cyclocross champion and owner of Boulder Cycle Sports, joined the ride, as did many teachers, staff members and the principal. The ILC children received special recognition and medals at an all-school assembly in the afternoon.

Community support and school commitment have enabled the program to continue. Boulder Cycle Sports helped the school purchase adult tricycles for students to ride, and Weehoo, a local manufacturer of a recumbent trailer for children, also gave the school a discount. The school now has an inventory of adaptive bikes for use by children with special needs with the help of the school’s occupational therapist.