It’s only natural to fill some of those long days of summer with active pursuits. But children with intellectual or physical disabilities aren’t always encouraged to jump right into the sports arena. This is changing, though, and for good reason. Summer sports offer all kinds of benefits—from gaining fitness and increasing confidence to making friends and learning teamwork.
There’s something fun and rewarding out there for every interest and ability. Not sure where to start? We’ve rounded up some ideas to help children of all abilities hit the field, pool or trail—the sky’s the limit! (Except, well, we might be a little afraid of skydiving.)
Backyard Sports + Family Adventures
Being active doesn’t always require an organized team or lessons. The easiest way to bring your child into the fold is getting the whole family moving. We’re thinking basketball in the driveway, T-ball in the backyard or investing in a Slip ‘n Slide for hot July days.
When you’re ready to take it up a notch, look for nearby family adventures. Hiking can be a great activity for the whole family, and many parks even offer wheelchair accessible trails. Make it a family goal to explore a different park every week or two. Paddling on a lake or stream is another great family activity. Many places rent canoes and tandem kayaks, so you can learn new skills together.
Sports Leagues Geared to All Needs
If you’re near a medium or large city, there’s likely one or more sports leagues in the area designed just for kids with physical or intellectual disabilities. And some leagues even allow you to start your own division or team if there isn’t already one nearby. These are leagues ready and willing to remove barriers and adapt to a range of needs, and they span most popular sports. A few to check out:
One of the great things about individual sports is that you’re often competing against yourself, so it can be easier to adapt or adjust a training program if needed. This is an opportunity to encourage your child to pursue a true passion. Maybe it’s taking karate lessons, learning to swim or swinging a golf club. These can all be pursued with structured classes, group lessons or private lessons. Sometimes kids and adults can even train together.
A key to success is finding a program or teacher that’s a good fit. This is as much about personality as anything else. Is the teacher open to your child’s goals? Those might be having fun and making friends. Or reaching a personal best. Has the coach worked with children with disabilities in the past? Is he or she willing to flex and adapt as needed? Does the program focus on emotional needs alongside physical ones? You may need to check out a few different options before discovering one that feels like home.
Inclusive Sports Programs
As the name implies, the emphasis here is on inclusion. Typically, inclusive sports programs group together children with typical abilities and disabilities on the same teams. A couple programs to check out include E-Sports and Unified Sports (part of the Special Olympics). Whether it’s basketball or dance, these programs help build strong social ties and allow kids to learn and grow together.
If there isn’t an inclusive sports program nearby, you might try approaching your local T-ball or rec soccer team about ways to become inclusive. A supportive coach and a little creativity—whether it’s adaptive equipment or a partner on the field—may be all it takes for a child with a disability to participate. It might even turn into a great opportunity to build independence, confidence and understanding for every kid on the team. Isn’t that what sports are all about?