Helping Children With Disabilities Stay Active

Topic Overview

Like all children, those with disabilities need to be as active as possible.

But children with disabilities are less likely to be physically active than other children. An inactive lifestyle for these children can lead to other problems, including:

  • Reduced fitness.
  • Bone loss.
  • Poor circulation that leads to blood clots.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Relying more on others for daily living.
  • Fewer normal social interactions.

What are the benefits of regular exercise?

Studies of children with various disabling diseases and conditions show that being active on a routine basis gives these children:

  • Stronger muscles.
  • More endurance.
  • Better overall health.
  • Better self-esteem.
  • Better social skills.
  • More independence.

What are the barriers to physical activity?

No matter what your child's limitations are, you can find ways to help him or her be as active as possible.

If your child is not physically active, it's important to look at the things, or barriers, that are getting in the way. Barriers may include one or more of the following:

  • The child's physical or mental limitations.
  • Cost of recreation and sports programs.
  • Lack of recreation and sports facilities.
  • Lack of time.
  • The child's lack of confidence that he or she can do anything active.
  • Lack of social support from school, neighborhood, and family.
  • Lack of role models. (If you are not physically active, your child is less likely to be active.)
  • Fear of injury.

Think about the barriers that are keeping your child from being more active. Look for solutions. Your child's doctor can tell you what and how much exercise your child should be able to do.

How do you motivate a child who has disabilities?

Some children with disabilities just may not have the desire to be physically active. If that's the case for your child, try these tips:

  • Encourage your child to try different activities until he or she finds one that's really enjoyable.
  • Set short-term goals that let your child succeed quickly.
  • Consider a program like Special Olympics, which emphasizes participation over skill and competition.
  • Let your child see his or her improvement by regularly measuring improvement or keeping a progress chart.
  • Praise your child for every small accomplishment.

What are the risks of physical activity?

Many parents think that children with disabilities are more likely to get hurt if they get involved in sports or recreation programs. This is not true.

These children have the same risk as other children when it comes to physical activity. But they are not more likely to get hurt.

If your worry about injuries is keeping your child from taking part in sports or other recreation, talk to your doctor. He or she can reassure you and tell you which sports or activities would be best for your child.

Credits

Author Cynthia Tank
Editor Katy E. Magee, MA
Associate Editor Michele Cronen
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Primary Medical Reviewer Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Chuck Norlin, MD - Pediatrics
Last Updated February 10, 2010

Last Updated: February 10, 2010

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