The benefits of physical exercise are universal for children in all developmental stages of life regardless of their neurological, cognitive, or physical ability. It only makes sense then that regular sports participation would provide significant benefits to children with disabilities or an Intellectual or Developmental Disability (IDD).
According to the current estimates, 2% to 3% of children in the United States live with some form of intellectual disability. Additionally, these kids tend to be less physically active and are at higher risk for inactivity complications. Engaging them in sports and other exercises is a perfect way to optimize physical functioning, minimize deconditioning, promote inclusion, and enhance overall well-being.
This article further explores how playing sports can benefit children with IDD and how to engage them.
Benefits of Sports for Children With IDD
Encouraging children with intellectual disabilities to participate in physical exercise can positively impact their physical, emotional, and social development. Here is how!
1. Better Physical Development
Children with IDD may have additional physical disabilities that result in decreased performance in typical motor activities. When encouraged to participate in frequent physical activity and sports, they experience improvements in their hand-eye coordination, flexibility, and even cardiovascular efficiency.
In addition, a recent study examined the impact of well-designed exercise programs on the physical ﬁtness of children with IDD. Researchers reported visible improvements in the successful performance of motor tasks, specifically, improved muscle tone and strength, better movement control, limb coordination, and spatial orientation.
Proper motor skills development in a child means that basic tasks such as bathing, dressing, and feeding oneself can be attained much faster. Further, playing sports and exercising can also help these individuals to fight back against obesity and other health complications that follow.
2. Social Skills Development
Oftentimes, children with special needs are secluded, leading to loneliness and the inability to create relationships. Allowing them to participate in physical exercise helps to develop and nurture their social skills. It enables them to excel in social environments. It provides a valuable opportunity to make new friends and develop strong relationships.
Through continuous interaction and engagement with other children, they hone essential communication skills. These include reading non-verbal cues and engaging in meaningful conversations. Team sports and organized activities can also help kids with IDD learn how to work together to win a game or accomplish a task. They learn how to celebrate victories and support each other in times of defeat.
3. Increased Confidence and Self-Esteem
Developing high self-esteem can be particularly crucial for children with intellectual disabilities, who may often feel isolated and unfit to join a group. One way to elevate their esteem is by encouraging them to participate regularly in sports and other physical activities.
This can foster physical competence, satisfying body image, and more flexible attitudes. This gives them a sense of accomplishment and confidence. They’re also able to learn and master new sets of skills with the help of supportive teammates and coaches, helping them develop a positive self-image.
4. Better Emotional Health
Children with IDD and those who play sports are at a lower risk of developing emotional distress. This includes anxiety and depression. Their mental and emotional health becomes better than those less involved in sports.
Often, these kids are full of energy and happy about life and are less likely to feel sad about their condition. Team sports aid in the battle against feelings of hopelessness.
5. Improved Academic Performance
Participating in sports and athletics has been known to improve the brain’s cognitive functions. It improves a child’s performance in tests and academics. Usually, children with IDD tend to take longer to grasp things others find simple. But it’s possible to enhance their ability to think, learn, reason, remember and solve problems by introducing them to routine exercises.
Interacting with their peers in sports and physical activities promotes strong friendships. It helps them make the classroom a positive space for learning. This builds a positive attitude towards academics while improving their overall performance.
6. Learning How to Lead
The preparation and practice involved in sports help children with intellectual disabilities stick to a commitment and learn how to listen and understand others. They also gain other traits, such as goal-setting, discipline, and confidence which are critical to leadership.
Great leaders understand the value of accountability, hard work, competition, and being part of a team. Your child can learn all these traits by participating in team sports.
Best Sports and Exercise for Children With IDD
Many children with special needs can quickly adapt to a variety of sports since they have a natural tendency to enjoy exercise. Here are some sports and activities that are especially good for kids with IDD:
Some sports do not need any changes, but others will need a few modifications to make them a good fit. For instance, therapeutic riding programs can help children learn horse riding with proper instructions. Such programs utilize special devices to ensure that children are safe regardless of the intellectual disability they have.
How to Get Your Child Involved
Before you sign your child up, it’s advisable to ask what activities they’re interested in. You want to steer them to activities that will help them have fun and perform well. It’s also important to consider specific characteristics associated with intellectual disabilities when facilitating safe exercise participation.
These could be heart conditions and atlantoaxial instability in Down Syndrome or epilepsy and pain in cerebral palsy. In these instances, seeking advice from exercise professionals may be vital. Note that children with these conditions often engage with structure and routine. Create a consistent exercise routine, such as swimming every Monday after school.
Sports and other physical exercises have significant developmental benefits for children with IDD. Despite what some may believe, these kids can demonstrate improved physical, social, and emotional health by adding regular exercise to their routines.
Venture Foundation understands the challenges facing children living with intellectual disabilities. We work to help create public awareness about individuals with developmental disabilities and we rely on fundraising events and donations to effectively raise this awareness. If you’d wish to extend a hand of support, feel free to make a donation or contact us any time to learn about the available opportunities.