Sports and Children with Special Needs
All children can benefit from the exercise, energy release, and pure enjoyment of
playing sports. This includes children with special needs.
About 18% of children in the U.S. have a disability or chronic condition. Special
needs children are sometimes not encouraged to exercise because their parents or guardians
fear they'll be hurt. But physical activity is as important for special needs children
as it is for any child.
Participating in sports can help instill a sense of self-confidence and improve skills
in relationship building and working as part of a team. And it can help in weight
management. This is a common problem among today's kids.
The benefits of sports
The benefits of regular physical activity are many:
Better overall fitness
Improved cognitive benefits
Better control of weight
Healthier bone density
Better emotional and psychological health
Improved social skills
Improved motor skills
Reduced risk for diseases such as diabetes
Types of sports for special needs children
Just about any sport or activity can be modified to allow special needs children to
get the cardiovascular, flexibility, and strength-training benefits that allow kids
to stay healthy and fit. Children in a wheelchair, for instance, can play basketball
or tennis. Children without the use of limbs or those with mental disabilities can
enjoy the therapeutic benefits of horseback riding.
Sports and activities especially good for special needs children:
Some sports don't need any modification. For instance, the buoyancy felt in the water
while swimming offers a sense of freedom for wheelchair-bound children. Other activities
can be modified to make them a better fit. Therapeutic riding programs, for example,
can help children learn to ride a horse with proper instruction. Also, these programs
use special devices to keep children safe, whatever their special needs might be.
Competition-level participation is available, as well, with a variety of wheelchair
sports teams and leagues. Also, the Special Olympics is available.
Getting started with sports
Parents of special needs children should encourage participation in sports and physical
activity in general. Don't approach sports as something they can't do, but rather
guide them toward participating in sports in which they can succeed and have fun doing
See to it that your child gets a complete physical exam to be certain that he or she
is healthy enough to play the desired sport. Also make sure that the coach understands
your child's disability. He or she needs to know how it might affect the way your
child plays or takes instruction. The coach needs to know how to properly communicate
and work with your child to make sports participation the positive, safe, and healthy
experience it should be.