Is a bicycle a definite no-no for a partially sighted child?
June 29, 2018 8:46 AM   Subscribe

Put like that it sounds obvious but I want to make sure I'm not being too pessimistic.

Our little boy was born with a sight problem and is effectively blind in one eye. His eyesight in his other eye is perfect so we haven't noticed any real problems so far, although his doctor says he will of course lack some peripheral vision and depth perception. Once or twice he's veered into people coming up behind him in a way which might point to the sight problem (or might just be typical for an exuberant toddler).

A lot of children his age are starting on balance bikes and in the usual run of things we would have liked to get one for him, but is this too dangerous? Or just pointless because he'll never be able to ride a bike safely, so we should focus on developing other skills instead? He has a scooter but, having had a couple of tries on it, is not interested, which seems unusual as most children seem to love them. We're not sure if this is down to the sight problem.

We haven't asked him about this because he doesn't yet know there's something 'wrong' with him and we don't want to worry him or make him feel bad when honestly, in day to day life he is completely fine.

We will mention it to the doctor, but we don't have another appointment scheduled until February (we're in the UK, on the NHS).

So - do you or a child you know have a similar problem, and ride a bike happily? Or would you advise against it?

NB we are only talking here about riding in the park - riding on the road would be out of the question even if his sight was perfect (too many cycling fatalities where we live to risk it).

Thank you for any experiences you can share.
posted by prune to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Lots of one-eyed people ride bikes. There are at least two in my cycle club. Put a mirror on his helmet or on the temple of his glasses or sunglasses for a little wider field of view.
You mentioned him veering into people as an exuberant toddler. This has little to do with blindness. Lots of careless adults veer into people all the time.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:55 AM on June 29, 2018 [30 favorites]

I'm totally blind, not visually impaired, but I just wanted to mention that tandem biking is totally a cool thing and a very fun way to have a social connection, too. It's not the same as doing it on your own, but it's most definitely accessible and worth the investigation.
posted by Alensin at 8:55 AM on June 29, 2018 [19 favorites]

Let him ride a bike! People drive and do all kinds of other things with sight in only one eye, and I'm sure he's way more used to it at this point than you or I could imagine.
posted by papayaninja at 8:55 AM on June 29, 2018 [6 favorites]

we are only talking here about riding in the park

With full good vision in one eye? Of course kiddo can/should ride!

Have a talk anout checking blind spots, yielding right of way etc., but I personally would not hesitate one bit.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:56 AM on June 29, 2018 [12 favorites]

There's no real downside (and plenty of benefits) to learning the motor skills required to balance on a bicycle, if your child is interested. A balance bike would certainly be the best way to give him the chance to try it, and isn't much of a safety risk when used with supervision.

It is possible to ride a bicycle without sight. Tandem bicycles could be an option if his sight isn't sufficient to ride solo, and having some experience early on of how balancing on two wheels works may make that a lot easier later on. (Though it's never too late to learn!)
posted by asperity at 8:59 AM on June 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

My cousin lost one of his eyes as a teenager and still rides a bike. I don't think this will be an issue.
posted by mjcon at 8:59 AM on June 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

When it comes time to get a driver's license, poor vision in one eye won't stop your kid from getting a license, so there's no reason for it to stop kid from riding a bike. There's quite a bit of literature on partially-sighted driving and how to make it safer (e.g., how best to train drivers to look where they wouldn't see things otherwise due to a lack of visual field). If it'd be useful, MeMail me and I'll see if I can dig up some papers.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 9:00 AM on June 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm kinda shocked to read this. Depth perception is important of course but plenty of people have terrible depth perception and get around just fine.

I learned as a child, well after learning to ride a bike, that one of my eyes was "lazy" and not doing anything when both eyes were open (it eventually fixed itself, don't know the medical cause). So in a functional sense I was only seeing from one eye. I also didn't get glasses until many years after learning to bike, despite being severely near-sighted. So your son has a big leg up on me. I rode my bike everywhere and didn't have any more scrapes than any other child. And I still ride my bike everywhere - I might not if I hadn't learned to love biking as a child.

You don't need perfect vision to ride a bike. If you shelter your child from all possible harm, he will miss out on extremely valuable experiences. Physical activity is also hugely important for people of all ages. Please, please don't try to wrap your child in a bubble.
posted by randomnity at 9:01 AM on June 29, 2018 [6 favorites]

Daniel Kish is blind, and can ride a bike. I think he's also a big proponent of letting blind and visually impaired kids out into the world on their own to explore--the more practice they have being independent, the more they'll be able to be independent.
posted by damayanti at 9:02 AM on June 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

To add to the anecdata, one of my best friends in college was blind in one eye, from a very early childhood accident. He rode bikes, skateboarded, drove, swam, played in bands, and when I last heard from him, he was taking flying lessons.

So yeah, get that kid a bike! :)
posted by cooker girl at 9:08 AM on June 29, 2018

I have quite poor vision in one eye and it affects my depth perception, but mainly only around small fast moving objects coming toward me (I can catch a football but I'm bad a tennis and I'd be a bad outfielder).

My understanding is that you don't need two eyes for depth perception, because the micro adjustments you make with your eye and head provide the depth perception for you and your brain processes it very quickly. (Look up 'monocular depth perception'.)

My toddler loves her balance bike, I think you'll be fine. If he doesn't take to it, also know that it may not be his vision. Lots of kids don't take them up right away, sometimes because the bike is too heavy or too big or the design isn't quite right, sometimes for other kid reasons.
posted by vunder at 9:24 AM on June 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Rather than make the decision for him, I would err on the side of giving him the opportunity to try and letting him make the decision for himself.

Fwiw, my kids don't care one whit about balance bikes. They learned how to ride trikes at preschool. We have loads of bikes in barying sizes at home but they never ride them. Point being, if you aren't sure, borrow equipment from another family before buying, and before having to store stuff that doesn't get used. Dollars to donuts you know someone that's got equipment that they would be thrilled to pass along to you. You wont feel too bad about it if kiddo decides he's not ready.
posted by vignettist at 9:29 AM on June 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Lifelong cyclist and blind in one eye since birth person here. As far as I can tell, there are almost no issues with riding a bike while being sighted in one eye. To be clear, as a 45 year old man, I still bump into people walking, especially in crowded places like NYC sidewalks because half my periphery is unavailable to me, and almost anyone can steal a basketball from me if they drive up from behind on my right side, but on a bike, things are almost exactly what I'd expect a fully sighted person to experience. Cycling as far as I can tell, isn't something where people are within 10 feet of you regularly.

I learned to ride a bike around age 5 and basically never stopped. I was a BMX kid and did flatland freestyle, rode ramps and jumps too. As a teen into my late 20s I was into mountain biking and did that a bunch, and eventually started racing bikes on dirt and the road and at this point, I still go out on 20-30 mile rides for fun a couple times a week.

I had to strain for examples from the last 40 years of riding where my vision was a problem, but I'd say maybe pulling up to a new bmx jump spot, I have trouble figuring out how far a double jump is and how much speed I'd need to clear it. And when I'm racing in a pack of riders, I tend to start on the extreme right side of the field so I don't have to worry about someone slamming into me in the first turn. But those are really a stretch for any normal bike riding activities.

My wife is a brain researcher and says people with vision in one eye constantly amaze her with how they estimate distances when on paper, they shouldn't be able to do. I use shadows and other objects to estimate distances and figured out a way to make it work where it really doesn't affect my life, and just rarely, like once a year or two, I realize I'm trying to do something difficult for only me, like put a straw into a glass that's at eye level and arm's length away in a dark room where I can't estimate distance based on shadow.

I've never randomly ridden into a tree, or hit a curb or car, or bumped into another rider while on a bike in a city. I've probably ridden over 50,000 miles in my lifetime on bikes and can safely say it's really not an issue.
posted by mathowie at 9:43 AM on June 29, 2018 [46 favorites]

So - do you or a child you know have a similar problem, and ride a bike happily?

I am blind in one eye and have some issues with vision in the other. I ride a bike quite happily - learned as a child, used to cycle commute to work as an adult. (Kept away from the busier roads and had a handlebar mirror on the blind side.)

At his age he will very, very quickly learn to compensate for the loss of vision in one eye. It is likely to affect him very little in his life other than having trouble with some sports (ugh, rounders) and not being able to see 3D films and Magic Eye pictures. He'll learn plenty of other ways to manage depth perception.
posted by Catseye at 9:48 AM on June 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

I am your son - blind in one eye since birth. I ride a bike fine but I can't hit a curveball. I wasn't allowed to play sports w/out something protecting my eyes - (I played football and lacrosse through high school), until I lied to my parents and played rugby at university. You can sneak up on my right side a bit easily. I squint in the direct sun with my blind eye
Other than that as an adult no one knows.
posted by JPD at 9:58 AM on June 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am effectively blind in one eye since birth, ride bikes in childhood and drive a car now. No problem. (I’m kind of bad at parallel parking though.)
posted by matildaben at 10:02 AM on June 29, 2018

Hi, I'm blind in one eye, always have been... and I drive a car!

Brains are amazing things, they will render depth, so to speak, in the absence of true 3-D vision.

FWIW, the only thing my eye doctor said I couldn't do was fly a plane.... though cooker girl's anecdote tells me that maybe technology has progressed far enough that even flight isn't off the table.

Edited to add on non-preview: jinx, matildaben! Though I can parallel park just fine so that might not be vision-related. ;)
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:02 AM on June 29, 2018

At his age he will very, very quickly learn to compensate for the loss of vision in one eye.

I agree with Catseye, and I think the more opportunities you give him to challenge himself and build skills, the greater his ability to compensate in any necessary ways will be. And yes, it will be really beneficial for him to work on those gross motor skills needed for riding a bike. Also, don't be surprised if his interest in scooters and bikes waxes and wanes over time. My son loved his bike until he didn't, so I got him a basket to carry a stuffy and that rekindled his interest again but now he's back to preferring the scooter. It's good to give him access to these things and encourage him to try them.
posted by JenMarie at 10:29 AM on June 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Absolutely. One reason we didn't realize my son was going blind was that he was able to balance on a balance bike. Go for it! Daniel Kish is mentioned above and here's a fascinating This American Life podcast about ability and limitation featuring him.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:31 AM on June 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

I continued to use a bike as my only mode of transport after a different sort of vision problem made it so that I had to close one eye in order to see more than a few feet in front of me. I just rode around with one eye closed. Get that kid a bike!
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:23 AM on June 29, 2018

Response by poster: Wow, this is brilliantly encouraging. Thank you all so much. We will get the bike!
posted by prune at 11:50 AM on June 29, 2018 [8 favorites]

I’m so excited for your little guy, getting to ride a bike!! What fun!!

I have a friend that has optic nerve damage from when he “died” for a while as a result of SIDS when he was a baby. For as long as he can remember, he has always seen everything upside down and can only see out of one eye at a time. He also happens to be a kick-ass bike racer. He’s in his 50s now and it’s always been a non issue.
posted by chuke at 12:30 PM on June 29, 2018

I have a good friend who is legally blind, unable to drive a car, and for many years a bicycle was his primary means of transportation.
posted by jferg at 12:31 PM on June 29, 2018

My sister only has vision in one eye due to some problem with her retina (I think she can maybe see a bit of light but that’s it) and rides a bike just fine.
posted by leahwrenn at 1:43 PM on June 29, 2018

A friend of mine has a glass eye and is a long-time motorcyclist.
posted by mbrubeck at 2:15 PM on June 29, 2018

Riding in the park, especially with supervision, is definitely okay. I'm cross-eyed in a way which means I can see out of either eye but not both at once. When I'm not actively thinking about it, I favor one eye and ignore the other. I've commuted and toured on bicycles.

It's probably easier to sneak up on me, but that hasn't been a problem for cycling. Usually things make enough noise that I know I have to turn my head.

The only part of cycling that gets a little dicey for me is riding in pacelines. I can't really get closer than 3 ft or so, and even that's kind of nerve-wracking. But pacelining is a relatively specialized skill and he's at least years away from cycling seriously enough to care, if he ever does.

Bottom line: This is way too early to worry about how his visual disability is going to affect his cycling.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 6:08 PM on June 29, 2018

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