Children and teens with disabilities (CWD) often face obstacles when engaging in sports and physical activities. Bullied by peers or classmates that they are not considered “fit” makes them capable of suffering from low self-esteem, limited social interactions, a higher percentage of loneliness, depression, and less social-emotional adjustments.
This is why they are more likely to rely on screen games to help them distract themselves.
Change of Mentality
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center Health Encyclopedia, 9 in 50 children in the U.S. have a disability or chronic health problem.
A child diagnosed with a disability at a young age or teen years is a shock for families. Finding the necessary treatment comes first, and physical activity is last. When a conversation about physical activity happens, the toxic negative thought is activated- “what if there’s an injury?” Why don’t we shift the negative thoughts and change it to this way: treatment + physical activity= increased social skills and dealing with everyday life?
What should family members of children with disabilities do?
If your plan as a parent involves your child or teen in sports, consult with a doctor about whether adaptive equipment might be needed or if a special recreational program needs to be created to minimize risks of illness or injuries. Try and find what your child likes. It can take months or maybe years.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be basketball or baseball. It can be swimming, softball, golf, a fitness or dance class, theater, or even ice skating. The most important thing is to have them join a community, which allows them to improve social interactions and even deal with ordinary tasks.
According to an article from the American Academy of Pediatrics, moderate to high-quality activity shows that children improve their locomotor performance and skills, object control, better social skills and relationships, and self-confidence, but most importantly, progressively slowing the disease.
CWD faces functional limitations, negative self-perceptions, high cost, lack of accessible facilities, lack of nearby facilities or programs, and lack of providers with adaptive recreation expertise.
What if primary care providers have a trusting relationship with CWD and families and are positive role models? That can ensure that whenever nonjudgemental language is used, they focus instead on providing motivational language and identifying short-term goals and strategies related to eating and physical activity.
If more attention is given, doctors, nurses, and physical therapists can assist in giving lessons or workshops to coaches, teachers, and physical education teachers on how to improve their approach to CWD and stop weight-bias stigmatization during classes or in hallways and instead favor competitiveness and winning over participation for the sake of fun, enjoyment, and inclusion. We want to make the change of inclusion, not exclusion.
Examples of Cases and Improvements Due to Physical Activity
The American Academy of Pediatrics revealed the following:
- A trial of 8 months where children with cerebral palsy participated in physical activity showed improvements in bone mineral density. In some cases, exercise interventions may even slow disease progression.
- 2 random trials of assisted bicycle and upper extremity training slowed functional motor deterioration in boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
- Ambulatory children with spina bifida can also increase their walking speed and cardiorespiratory fitness with treadmill training programs.
- Adolescents and adults with Down syndrome who receive individualized progressive resistance training over ten weeks have increased muscular strength and become more physically active.
We teach them to engage in physical activities and look at these statistics:
- Children with autism with higher levels of participation in organized activities, including sports, have better social-emotional adjustment and reduced loneliness and depression.
- Physically active individuals with cerebral palsy experience a higher quality of life and happiness than less active individuals.
- Parents found children with hearing impairment who participated in a 3-month ice skating program to have improvements in self-esteem, behavior, and sleep quality.
- Children with muscular dystrophies who participate in physical activities, such as swimming, benefit from the cultivation of friendships, increased self-confidence, and enjoyment.
Science has shown us examples that if they are added to physical activity, it can benefit them; why do we continue with the mentality that their physical well-being comes last?
Working on projects to promote conversations
This topic reminded me of when I was part of the editorial department in a project about a non-profit organization that promotes the philosophy of independent living and develops skills in people with disabilities so that they can take control in making decisions about their lives. 70% of the individuals who work there are people with disabilities.
I joined this project to help viewers engage in conversations on this topic. People with disabilities have the same rights of independence, equality, productivity, empowerment, integration, and inclusion without barriers in all aspects of society. I wanted to make viewers pay attention that if they see someone who is blind and alone, to ask if they wouldn’t mind if you helped them. This small action makes the change.
Inclusivity in Movies and TV
I have noticed the lack of inclusivity in movies and TV shows regarding characters with a disability. Sure, there might be athletes who compete in the Paralympics or adaptive Crossfit, but this could help children and teens with disabilities as this can have a huge influence if they’re feeling low or are passing through a rough moment due to bullying; they can use a character or an athlete as a motivator.
Andy Murray is not a Paralympic athlete, but ever since he underwent a hip operation, he was told by his doctor that there was no way he could make a comeback in the sport. Ever since having his operation, he used that as a motivation to prove him wrong. Now he is having breakthroughs at the 2023 Australian Open and being called “the athlete with the metal hip.” Amy Bream was born with a congenital disability called proximal femoral focal deficiency (PFFD). While that was a shock for her, she adapted and can be seen modifying certain exercises, but has competed in the Crossfit Games and can be seen in the Nike Training app. It teaches us that although this can happen, we adapt and use that as a motivator and motivate people to join and do the same.
If we move to the entertainment world, I am a big fan of the series “The Good Doctor,” where the main character Shaun Murphy, a young surgeon doctor who is autistic and has savant syndrome, joins a prestigious hospital’s surgical unit. While the show based on the Japanese series of the same name, the American version shows us the struggle that Shaun went through when he was young, up to the present day as he works at the hospital and his everyday life in improving his relationships. Still, audience viewers have managed to connect with the character and its message. Hollywood should be able to take that as notes and produce more content.
I wanted to share Apple’s TV ad about inclusivity and how technology allows us to connect. Let’s stop the hate and spread more love on social media.
An upcoming trailer for “Champions,” starring Woody Harrelson, where he plays a former minor-league basketball coach ordered by the court to manage a team of players with intellectual disabilities.
And lastly, in FOX series 9-1-1, from season 2 and recent, Eddie (Ryan Guzman) is a proud dad of Christopher, his son with cerebral palsy. Often we see the two of them in the most heartfelt and heartwarming scenes and scenes between Christopher and Buck (Oliver Stark) where you can see big brother-little brother scenes.
I would love to continue seeing more material on the big screen and the big screen with children and teens with disabilities. They deserve their chance too.
*Chat GPT did not write this.