Recreation and Sports for Physically Challenged Children with Disabilies

Exercise. It’s important for physical development. It strengthens bones, ligaments and muscles. It increases cardiovascular endurance and flexibility. It effectively burns calories and fat while reducing appetite. It can even promote stress reduction.

Through our basic design, we were meant to be active. Though exercise has become less necessary for our survival, it remains a vital part of our overall well-being, both physically and mentally.

Kids are naturally active, and yet over 15.5% of children between the ages of 9 and 12 are considered obese -more than half of the 9-12 year olds are not as fit as they ought to be!

Physical activity should be a normal part of your everyday routine, whether your child is an athlete or not. But – what about those children with special needs?

Physically challenged children have the same basic needs and similar desires as any other child. Physical activity is just as necessary, if not more so, for the physically challenged child. It builds strength and endurance, develops coordination and control, and can help control weight. Plus it boosts self-esteem and helps teach copings skills necessary to conquer shortcomings.

Exercise through sports and recreation can actually significantly improve some physical movements, making it a useful adjunct to physical therapy. Traditional therapy improves range of motion, and develops strength and coordination, but can sometimes be perceived as laborious, boring and often painful. Being part of a team can inspire kids to focus on the activity rather than worrying about the disability. Physical activity becomes a challenge worth pursuing while having loads of fun!

Picking a Sport
All children, regardless of race, creed or disability, have different personalities and motivations. The physically challenged child should have the opportunity to try a number of different recreational activities to determine the best option.

Choice of activity should promote a feeling of accomplishment as well as self-worth. Is should never be stressful or negative. Activities don’t necessarily have to be limited to “special” kids – some sports teams are more than willing to mainstream physically challenged children into an able-bodied team. But, everyone, especially the disabled child, should feel comfortable.

But there are a few special considerations that must be taken into account for the physically disabled child. For example, the activity must be safe and offer opportunities for success to gain a positive experience. Extra supervision may be necessary – that’s where you can help! Offer your assistance in coaching or supervising activities. Unfortunately sports for the disabled often requires specialized equipment – never skimp on safety! There are plenty of activities available that will not break the bank with costly specialized equipment!

Medical clearance should be given by a qualified medical professional who knows your child. Different handicaps come with different challenges other than the obvious. For example, kids with multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy may be more susceptible to heat exhaustion, whereas kids with Downs Syndrome often have an unstable upper spine, which would predispose them to more serious injuries.

Don’t discount competitive sports – the urge to compete is basic human nature. There are many “wheelchair sports”, ranging from basketball, softball and football to archery, bowling, fencing, dancing and water polo. But make sure the experience is a positive one. A severely disable child or one lacking a competitive nature may respond better to a more recreational, leisure-oriented activity.

Leisure-oriented activities, ranging from water sports, such as rowing, fishing and swimming, to friendly games of softball, volleyball and golf, to horseback riding can provide just as much physical activity as competitive sports, but without the stress.
The important thing to remember, whether it’s a “play-to-win” sports team or a “friendly-neighborhood” game, getting your disabled child involved in physical activities is important – to build strength, endurance, coping strategies, self worth and friendships!

Modification Ideas
The physically challenged child may need some modifications. Here are some basic suggestions:
1.Substitute wheelchair for running
2.Have all players walk instead of run
3.Increase the number of children on the team
4.Shorten playing time
5.Slow down the speed of the game
6.Make the field smaller
7.Use a heavy balloon instead of a ball
8.Use a flag or tag system
9.Ease up on expectations
10.Liberalize rules

The key to any successful exercise routine for children is fun. Make it fun as well as appropriate. Get involved! Something as simple as kicking a ball around or wheeling around a track while enjoying some fresh air can promote healthy fitness while providing quality bonding time or socialization.

Broaden your horizons and think beyond traditional sports and recreational activities. Be open to try different things! For example, just because the term “adventure sports” makes your heart rate quicken doesn’t mean it should be cast aside. With proper instruction and supervision from a qualified professional, adventure sports may be just the thing you and you child have been searching for!

Be supportive. Encourage a variety of different activities. Regular physical activity is essential to maintain ease of movements required for everyday activities in the physically challenged child. The old saying “use it or lose it” pertains to all of us, regardless of our physical abilities – perhaps even more so to the child with already limited abilities!

Lead by example. If you lead a sedentary life, so will your child. Increasing your overall activity will help your child increase his own. If you discourage based on the disability, you subconsciously pass on feelings of inadequacy. Disabled children need to believe in themselves – they need to be as independent as possible to live a full, rich life.

Simply giving your child the opportunity to be a part of a team, meet new people and interact socially can make a world of difference in building confidence, while promoting the strength and endurance necessary for a healthier, happier child!

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