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 9 in 50 children in the U.S. have a disability or chronic health problem. Special
needs children are sometimes not encouraged to exercise. Their parents or guardians
may fear they'll get hurt. But physical activity is as important for special needs
children as it is for any child.
Participating in sports can help boost self-confidence. It can also improve skills
in relationship building and working as part of a team. And it can help in managing
weight. 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 health
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 altered to give special needs children 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 are:
Some sports don't need any changes. For instance, the buoyancy felt in the water while
swimming offers a sense of freedom for wheelchair-bound children. Other activities
can be changed 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, too. There are a variety of wheelchair
sports teams and leagues. A child can also take part in the Special Olympics.
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. Rather, guide
them toward taking part in sports in which they can succeed and have fun doing so.
See to it that your child gets a complete physical exam. It helps make sure your child
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 talk and
work with your child to make sports participation the positive, safe, and healthy
experience it should be.