Cycling for autistic young people at Alice Holt Forest
Cycling is a great way for anyone to engage with their environment, with other people and as a form of exercise. The young people and their teachers at Jigsaw School are no exception.
Jigsaw School is an independent day school for young people with autistic spectrum and related communication disorders set up by a group of parents. The school already has a structured curriculum and is keen to arrange off-site activities to enhance the experience of its pupils.
Cycling UK, the Forestry Commission and East Hampshire District Council have been working together at Alice Holt Forest, near Farnham to improve the cycling offer and encourage greater participation from diverse communities. By 2009, a fleet of adapted cycles had already been purchased and was being used on a regular basis in the forest. Subsequently, funding was obtained to build a small figure of eight cycle track within the woods within easy reach of the picnic area, a café, and toilet and parking facilities.
The first group of pupils from Jigsaw School was invited to Alice Holt in 2010. They had access to the full sensory experience of being outside in the woods and using the cycles.
Initially supported by the Cycling UK development officer, who was able to demonstrate how each cycle could be used and what adaptations could be made to accommodate all the participants' needs, the pupils also benefited from great support from the school staff, who were also thoroughly engaged with the activity. The staff were more than capable of learning to fully support their own sessions with initial guidance from Cycling UK.
The response from the cycling sessions was very positive from all parties. From one group initially, several groups began attending from the school and the organisation was set up as its own cycling group affiliated to Cycling UK, who provided the training for staff to be able to confidently run their own sessions with their pupils.
While many of the pupils find regular communication methods challenging, there is no doubt that they are able to communicate clearly their enjoyment for cycling - their faces that say it all, along with the noises that they make. The activity is familiar to them because it is part of their life - a very positive part.