Activity is Important especially for Children with Disabilities
Children with disabilities are at a greater risk for obesity and all the health concerns surrounding it, according to a Fact Sheet released by the University of Illinois at Chicago's Department of Disability and Human Development College of Applied Health Sciences.
The report states, “Childhood obesity has become an epidemic in the United States over the last generation. More children are overweight or obese today than ever before and the numbers continue to grow. Obesity is defined as 20% over the recommended weight for height or greater than 85 percentile for Body Mass Index (BMI). Childhood obesity is mainly caused by lack of physical activity.”
According to Dr. Stuart Brown President of The National Institute for Play, “Normally we play. When we do not, something has gone very, very wrong, and non-players will suffer a number of effects.”
Dr. Brown goes on to caution that, “Children with special needs are particularly vulnerable and therefore at higher risk of play deprivation.”
Play deprivation not only denies children all the benefits of play but researchers have now determined that it fosters
- aggressive behavior
- social isolation
- lowers quality of life
- decreases ability to read social cues
Also there is sometimes a tendency on the part of parents and family to protect and limit physical activities of children with disabilities because of the added risk factor. However, the University of Illinois Fact Sheet also points out that, “Children with disabilities are at an even great risk for obesity because of their sedentary lifestyles. Many parents believe that because of their disability, their children cannot be physically active, which is not the truth. This lack of physical activity may not only lead to obesity, but many other numerous health problems as well.”
Parents need to recognize the benefits of allowing and promoting an active lifestyle for children with disabilities. Risk is a natural part of life. Kids play because it is fun, but one of the elements that can make play fun is a little degree of risk. Riding a bike, or sled or swinging in a swing is a good example of this for a child.
“Kids climb trees not just for the view, but for the thrill,” adds Ellen Metrick, Chief Toy Evaluator at AblePlay, a website devoted to connecting children with special needs to play opportunities. “If we stop allowing children to experience risk, we may be stopping something very valuable from happening inside of them.”
Children with cerebral palsy, children with Down syndrome and kids with other physically limiting disabilities need to find creative ways to move, stretch, and push the physical aspects of their life.
The National Association for Sports and Physical Education has published recommendations for school-aged children which include:
- Getting 1 hour or more of moderate and vigorous physical activity on most or all days
- Participating in several bouts of physical activity of 15 minutes or more each day
- Avoiding periods of inactivity of 2 hours or more
Metrick suggests that parents of children with disabilities look for creative ways to build physical activities into the life of their child. “Fortunately, more and more manufactures are creating products that can accommodate kids with special needs, and parents just need to search them out.” Some of Metrick's favorites are trampolines and bikes that have increased stability factors and bar and handles that make balance and navigation easier for a child.