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Helping Children With Disabilities Stay Active

Topic Overview

Like all children, those with disabilities need to be as active as possible.

But children with disabilities are less likely to be physically active than other children. An inactive lifestyle for these children can lead to other problems, including:

  • Reduced fitness.
  • Bone loss.
  • Poor circulation that leads to blood clots.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Relying more on others for daily living.
  • Fewer normal social interactions.

What are the benefits of regular exercise?

Studies of children with various disabling diseases and conditions show that being active on a routine basis gives these children:

  • Stronger muscles.
  • More endurance.
  • Better overall health.
  • Better self-esteem.
  • Better social skills.
  • More independence.

What are the barriers to physical activity?

No matter what your child's limitations are, you can find ways to help him or her be as active as possible.

It is important for children with disabilities to be active and to get involved in sports or recreation programs if they are able.

If your child is not physically active, it's important to look at the things, or barriers, that are getting in the way. Barriers may include one or more of the following:

  • The child's physical or mental limitations.
  • Cost of recreation and sports programs.
  • Lack of recreation and sports facilities.
  • Lack of time.
  • The child's lack of confidence that he or she can do anything active.
  • Lack of social support from school, neighborhood, and family.
  • Lack of role models. (If you are not physically active, your child is less likely to be active.)
  • Fear of injury.

Think about the barriers that are keeping your child from being more active. Look for solutions. Talk to your child's doctor to find out what your child can safely do.

How do you motivate a child who has disabilities?

Some children with disabilities just may not have the desire to be physically active. If that's the case for your child, try these tips:

  • Encourage your child to try different activities until he or she finds one that's really enjoyable.
  • Set short-term goals that let your child succeed quickly.
  • Consider a program like Special Olympics, which emphasizes participation over skill and competition.
  • Let your child see his or her improvement by regularly measuring improvement or keeping a progress chart.
  • Praise your child for every small accomplishment.

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Rice SG, Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, American Academy of Pediatrics (2008). Medical conditions affecting sports participation. Pediatrics, 121(4): 841–848.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Louis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics
Current as of July 1, 2013

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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