Gymnastics and children with special needs

Do you think that gymnastics is only an elite level sport?

In reality, gymnastics is an activity that everyone can participate in and benefit from. And this includes children with special needs.

Watching events like the Olympics, may make this seem hard to believe. However, gymnastics provides a sensory experience unlike many sports and activities. And it provides an impressive variety of physical activities which impact both the body and mind.

There is a growing awareness of the need and importance of regular physical activity for children who have a mental or physical disability. Studies have shown that children with a disability need just as much, if not more, physical activity than children without a disability.

Benefits of physical activity

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “The benefits of physical activity are universal for all children, including those with disabilities.” (1) Sports like recreational gymnastics promote inclusion, minimize deconditioning, optimize physical functioning, and enhance overall well-being.

Through gymnastics, children experience the benefit of moving their bodies – climbing, reaching, grasping and even falling. For some children with special needs, the gymnastics environment becomes a therapeutic playground. (2) For all children, gymnastics teaches the fundamental movement skills, leading to physical literacy.

Learning movement skills helps all children, regardless of physical ability with

  • enhanced brain function in the early years;
  • improved motor skills, balance, strength, posture, coordination, and sleep patterns; and
  • enhanced confidence, social skills, and self-esteem.(3)

Lower levels of fitness

In spite of these benefits, “children with disabilities are more restricted in their participation, have lower levels of fitness, and have higher levels of obesity than their peers without disabilities,” says the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Pediatricians and parents may overestimate the risks or overlook the benefits of physical activity in children with disabilities.”(4)

PLAY Gymnastics BC programs

PLAY Gymnastics clubs are great places for children to learn to be active – there are lots of mats, fun and safe equipment and trained coaches.  Many offer special needs programming, either incorporating them into programming or offering private classes.

And most importantly gymnastics is fun! At PLAY Gymnastics clubs throughout B.C., children are PLAYing and having fun. At the same time they are learning about acceptable behaviour, social interaction and language.

Contact your local PLAY Gymnastics BC club to learn more about special needs programs.

References

Kids in motion: Enhancing movement skills in your child: http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/En/News/NewsAndFeatures/Pages/Kids-in-motion-enhancing-movement-skills-in-your-child.aspx
Promoting the Participation of Children With Disabilities in Sports, Recreation, and Physical Activities: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/121/5/1057.short, Nancy A. Murphy, MD, Paul S. Carbone, MD, and the Council on Children With Disabilities (American Academy of Pediatrics)
Gymnastics for Children with Special Needs: http://usagym.org/pages/home/publications/technique/2000/8/specialneeds.pdf, Gene M Hurwin, M.A. Occupational Therapy

Additional resources

Special Olympics Canada is a National Sport Organization dedicated to enriching the lives of Canadians with an intellectual disability through sport. It is a national not-for-profit grassroots organization that provides sport training and competitive opportunities for 30,000 athletes of all ages and abilities.

Special Olympics started in BC in 1980 and now has over 3,900 athletes and 2,600 volunteers working daily in 55 communities around the province to provide sport training and competitive opportunities for the athletes. 2014 will see BC host the Special Olympics Canada National Summer Games in Vancouver.

Special Olympics BC provides competition opportunities for athletes throughout the year. Visit their website to find out more information on taking part. http://www.specialolympics.bc.ca/what-we-do/sports-programs-13 or email Shawn Fevens at sfevens@specialolympics.bc.ca.

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