Being physically active can present a challenge for children with special needs. But, just because it is challenging doesn’t mean that it is impossible. Incorporating sports and fitness activities into everyday routines is just (if not more!) important for children with special needs as it is for children and adults of all ages. There are many special needs sports options so that all kids have a chance to compete.
The many benefits of exercise are well known facts, but when applied to those with special needs the benefits become even more evident. Take these benefits of special needs sports activities for example.
Boosts the Immune System
Moving arms, legs, and muscles increases the number of white cells in the blood. White blood cells are the “infection fighters” that chase down germs and gobble them up. Running, playing, and moving muscles make the army of germ fighters in your body grow stronger. This is important because those with special needs often experience a weaker immune system.
Children with special needs, specifically those with autism, often experience poorly developed motor skills so learning to complete simple tasks such as picking up small objects or catching a ball can be major achievements. Playing games like catch and even swimming can help improve coordination to help them be successful doing all those little things that life demands.
Constipation can make you feel very uncomfortable and it can lead to very painful bowel movements. This can start a vicious cycle for someone who doesn’t understand their body’s natural rhythm. They refrain from having a bowel movement because it is painful, yet the longer they hold it, the more painful it becomes. Adding active play to the daily routine can help speed digestion and easily move the passage of food through the intestines.
Perks Up the Mood
Movement is a great way to calm the mind when anxious and cheer you up when you are sad. Having a clearer head can help children with special needs pause for a moment and really focus.
Ways to Move
Although your child’s abilities may not allow them to participate in a typical gym class in the same way as other kids, there are many adaptive sports and activities that are perfect special needs sports activities. Today, there are more special needs sports programs available than ever before due to the hard work and dedication of parents, physical therapists, teachers, and community members. Just about any sport can be modified to meet the needs of those with special needs. Here are just a few of the national special needs sports programs that are available.
- Special Olympics
- KEEN (Kids Enjoy Exercise Now)
- The National Center for Physical Activity and Disability
- Miracle League
- Little League Challenger Division
- Upward Sports
- The Sparkle Effect
- Pop Warner Challenger Division
- American Special Hockey
- American Hippotherapy Association
- Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International
- AYSO VIP Program
- US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer
The best way to find programs is to talk to other parents and follow special needs sports parenting blogs. You can also check with local schools, libraries, community groups, and research online to find events in your area. If you live in a very rural area and don’t have access to larger organizations and events, or if your child isn’t interested in sports, try some of these at home activities that individuals of all abilities and interests can participate in and enjoy.
- Video games such as Wii Sports and Dance Dance Revolution
- Going on nature walks and photographing or collecting rocks, leaves, flowers, bugs, etc.
- Playing catch with the dog or with a friend
- Running through the sprinkler
- Chasing huge soap bubbles outside
- Flying kites
- Arm wrestling
- Balancing on large exercise balls
- Spending time at the playground
- Bowling, tennis, ping pong, etc.
Whatever the activity you choose to do, just relax and enjoy doing it! Most of all, lead by example. Choose something that you enjoy doing as a family and start adding it to your daily schedule. The sky is the limit. Let your imagination soar as you find fun, innovative ideas to get the entire family moving.
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