All children can benefit from the exercise, energy release, and pure enjoyment of playing sports. Special needs children are sometimes not encouraged to exercise because of the fear of injury by the parents and guardian. But physical activity is as important for special needs children, as it is for any other child.
Participating in sports can help instill a sense of self-confidence, improve skills, help to improve executive functioning of the brain, in relationship building and working as part of a team. It also helps in weight management.
The benefits of regular physical activity are many:
- Better overall fitness
- Improved cognitive benefits
- Better control of weight
- Healthier bone density
- Better emotional and psychological health
- Improved social skills
- Improved motor skills
- Improved self-esteem
- Reduced risk for diseases such as diabetes
- Reduced risk for some types of cancers
Any sport or activity can be modified to allow special needs children to get the cardiovascular, flexibility, and strength-training benefits that allows kids to stay healthy and fit. Children in a wheelchair, for instance, can play basketball or tennis. Children without the use of limbs or those with mental disabilities can enjoy the therapeutic benefits of horseback riding. Therapeutic riding programs, can help children learn to ride a horse with proper instruction.
Sports and activities especially good for special needs children are:
Swimming and aquatic therapy: The buoyancy felt in the water while swimming offers a sense of freedom for wheelchair-bound children. It helps the child in maintaining better posture, improved balance and coordination, reduces pain, greater flexibility, better range of motion, reduced joint strain.
Other sports therapy activities include: Bicycling, Skating, Football, Handball, Weightlifting.
Competition-level participation is available for children to participate in the Para-Olympics.