Physical activity is highly beneficial for all humans regardless of their age, but it’s particularly so when it comes to children. Physical exercise has a positive impact not only on children’s health and well-being but also plays a key part in their learning and development. It can help them improve their self-esteem, develop social skills and learn to overcome their fears and barriers. All of these are instrumental in helping children lead an independent life, which is especially important for children with special needs.
Generally, physical activity isn’t seen as a priority for children with disabilities as they already experience many limitations in their daily lives, so participating in activities that are physically or cognitively demanding may seem off-putting for some parents.
However, many research studies have proven that children with special needs have lower levels of physical fitness in general and their sedentary lives are directly linked to shorter attention spans, limitations in motor and mental development, and lack of motivation to do one’s best.
For all of these reasons, children living with disabilities have a lot more to gain from participating in regular physical exercise than their able-bodied peers.
Moving at their own pace
Social, cultural, recreational and sports opportunities for children with disabilities have become a norm, particularly a lot of adapted physical activities that are safe and easily accessible. Today, most equipment can be modified, safety devices installed, and rules altered, all with the same goal of making physical exercise more approachable and convenient.
Parents take the lead here in encouraging their children to exercise from an early age. Naturally, such activities should be customized individually to the child’s needs and conditions, and the choice is quite large – from using special needs toys for the youngest to therapeutic riding programs, swimming that helps children with chronic pain, handball which builds hand-eye coordination in children with proprioception problems, and soccer and basketball as low-contact sports that improve cardiovascular fitness. In addition to cardiovascular activity, muscle-strengthening activities should also be considered, such as adapted yoga or exercises with resistance bands.
An important aspect here is to have children recognise all these activities not as an obligation but rather as an integral part of their free time, and they should be given a certain amount of independence in choosing the activity. This is what is meant by allowing them to move at their own pace.
Benefits of physical activity
In the first place, physical exercise increases balance, both physically and mentally. It allows children to release extra energy, channel that energy and learn self-control, which is instrumental in their development as it can also boost their school performance and academic results. It also develops their perseverance and determination.
Playing sports helps children feel more integrated and sociable putting them in a situation where they meet a lot of new people, with or without disabilities, and connect with them based either on age or preference.
Since playing sports generally involves interaction with other children, regular physical exercise promotes teamwork and helps children learn how to work together to reach a common goal.
In general, physical activity positively affects children’s daily lives as it pushes them outside the conventional frame of what children with special needs can do. Because of continuous learning through exercise, children with disabilities become better at developing cooperation skills, taking initiative and overcoming their daily obstacles and anxieties.
Encouraging and enabling children with special needs to participate in physical activity programmes has numerous benefits – it helps them improve strength, endurance and balance, it also improves their ability to focus, promotes their socialization with peers and increases their circle of friends. All of these benefits permeate every aspect of their daily lives, teaching them that with practice and perseverance, they can overcome their apprehensions and physical limitations. Furthermore, as they grow and mature, regular physical exercise and an active lifestyle can boost their confidence and provide them larger independence.