The Benefits of Sports and Exercise for Kids with Special Needs
In order to be healthy and to form positive life-long habits, children benefit from athletic activities. This is as true for children with special needs for many of the usual reasons. Physical activity engages large muscle groups, provides social interaction, teaches teamwork and healthy competition.
Children who have special needs, according to Erin Kizzar, occupational therapy clinic manager at TherapyWorks in Tulsa, “have decreased tone, strength and coordination, which actually require a greater amount of physical activity.”
The Tulsa area offers plenty of opportunities for these children to find an activity that is fun and challenging.
By participating in yoga, swimming, gymnastics, horseback riding and cheer, children with special needs can “become more independent and [have] higher self-esteem and a greater sense of accomplishment,” Kizzar said.
Students can participate in classes exclusively for kids with special needs, or they can register for integrated classes. The classes they choose depend on the need of the child. But Kizzar said that the long-term goals of the child and parents, as well as the cognitions and coordination of the child, need to be taken into consideration when they are choosing an activity.
At TherapyWorks, the first step in the process is evaluation. The staff identifies strengths and weakness in the child and discusses parental concerns. After the evaluation, the staff creates a customized plan to address each child’s specific needs and goals. TherapyWorks uses a “team approach to collaborate with other disciplines such as physical, occupational, dietary and speech therapy,” and can call in outside resources if necessary.
When looking for a class, parents need to look at “class size and teacher experience,” Kizzar said. Often classes offer a chance to observe prior to enrolling, which can give both the parent and the child an idea of how the students interact and what opportunities there are for one-on-one moments with the teacher.
Linda Bradshaw at Tulsa World of Gymnastics said that her gym has made a major change after 35 years in business. They dropped competitive gymnastics because “it gives us the ability to do more and have more fun.” According to Bradshaw, “all kids are special,” so there is no “special needs program” at her gym. All activity that uses “motor skills stimulate the brain,” Bradshaw said, so “no one is set aside.” Many of her students are autistic or have Down syndrome.
It isn’t easy to provide an integrated class, though. Bradshaw said that she assigns additional teachers to those classes in order to provide more one-on-one attention. Often, parents are asked to join a class to assist children. Bradshaw’s interest in providing activities for kids with special needs stemmed from her involvement in Special Olympics, which changed her perspective.
“[The children] can grow into skills they can use,” she said.
These Tulsa businesses offer activities for children with special needs:
- TherapyWorks holds summer groups called Couch to Out and a yoga group, www.Therapyworkstulsa.com
- SSB Kids, www.ssbkids.com
- Tulsa World of Gymnastics, www.tulsagymnastics.com
- YMCA, www.ymcatulsa.org
- Little Gym, especially for younger children, www.thelittlegym.com/SETulsaOK
- St. Francis offers a Shape Down program, heatlhzone.saintfrancis.com
- Bouncy Barn has special bounce times, www.bouncybarn.com
- Miller Swim School, www.millerswimschool.com
- American Therapeutic Riding Center, Sand Springs, www.atrcok.org
- Miss Shelley’s School of Dance, www.missshellyschoolofdance.com
- BA Challenger Sports, www.bachallengersports.com
- Special Olympics Oklahoma, www.sook.org
- TOPSoccer Program, Metro Tulsa Soccer Club, www.metrotulsasoccer.com
- TOPSoccer Program, Owasso Soccer Club, 918.272.6557