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sports for children with disabilities

A sport is a physical activity engaged in for pleasure, which generally involves competition. Sports benefit children and their families because sports provide not only fun but also:
  • helps build a child's self-image
  • connects people through competition
  • helps children to meet other children of like interests and situations
  • helps children with disabilities by teaching them independence as well as teamwork
  • helps improve health, discipline, and confidence
Sports help children with disabilities to be part of society. Sports help to promote a focus on the child's ability versus disability. A disability is the lack of ability or a restriction in ability to function normally -- physically or mentally.

What is the information for this topic? 
Who can participate?

Many children with varied disabilities can find a sport and level of sports that is right for them. There are sports for children with visual impairments or hearing impairments. There are sports for children with developmental delays or physical impairments. A sport is often modified for children who have differing and varying degrees of disability. It may be modified differently based on the physical or mental disabilities. For example, the same sport may be played differently for children who use a wheelchair versus children who use artificial limbs. The same sport would also be adapted for children with mental limits versus physical limits. There are often different levels of competition. Often an elite level, a competitive level, and a fun level are offered.

What kinds of sports are available?

A wide variety of sports are available to children with disabilities. The type of sport available and recommended level will vary based on the child's abilities, needs, and interests. Many sports are geared for participation in wheelchairs. Some of the elite and competitive sports levels use specialised adaptive equipment. For blind athletes, the sport may be completed with the guidance of a sighted companion.

Here are examples of different sports that children with disabilities may play:

Wheelchair basketball, for example, is one of the most popular sports for children with disabilities. It is a team sport played on a regulation basketball court. It can be rough because of the contact of the wheelchairs. The rules of the sport are modified for children who are in wheelchairs. Two pushes of the chair are allowed before the ball must be dribbled, passed, or shot.

Swimming is popular. Many children with disabilities enjoy this sport because they become weightless in the water. It gives some children a sense of physical freedom. Swimming can increase muscle strength and abilities. Games as well as organised competition can be part of swimming.

Wheelchair tennis is played on a typical tennis court. A player will need good arm strength to play this game. The rules of the sport are modified for children who are in wheelchairs. A player gets 2 bounces of the ball on his or her side of the court. It then has to be hit back to the other player.

Bowling is done in a typical bowling facility. Some children grip and throw the ball. Generally, a lighter bowling ball is used. Some children can use metal or wood ramps to send the ball down the lane. Some children can use a bowling stick. This is a pole with 4 prongs. It is used to give the ball a push to send it down the lane.

Some of the other sports that are available are archery, soccer, shooting, billiards, track events, field events, wheelchair racing, snow skiing, quad rugby, ping pong, racquetball, softball, and weight lifting.

Organised sports camps may also offer a variety of sports for children with disabilities. These camps usually have equipment to help accommodate different disabilities to allow for children to participate and enjoy a variety of activities.

Where to get more information?

The child and his or her parents should discuss sports options with the doctor. Hospitals, rehabilitation centres, and other organisations provide information on sports for children with disabilities. These organisations can help with choosing the best sport for the child. Associations such as the Special Olympics and the Paralympics Games provide sports opportunities for children with disabilities.

Author: Scott Salee, PT
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne

Last Updated: 15/02/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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