Why Sports Programs Are Important for Children With Special Needs

Playing sports is an integral part of childhood. Every child should experience the thrill of hitting a ball, making a goal, or crossing the finish line. Sporting programs foster independence and help give kids a sense of accomplishment. From soccer and baseball to swimming and ice skating, many sports offer adaptive programs to accommodate just about any special need.

In this week’s episode of The UpBeat Podcast powered by CoachArt, our co-hosts Greg and Roxanne are joined by Denise, an ice skating instructor who’s been giving lessons to children with special needs for 22 years at the Oakland Ice Center in Oakland, California. 

A competitive figure skater growing up, when Denise was 16 she saw Olympic champion Dorothy Hamill conduct a skating program for children with blindness and immediately knew her life had changed. Denise started the adaptive skating program in Oakland and has gone on to help children with special needs in many ways — she’s now even an official school inclusion assistant and a certified autism movement therapist. 

Listen to Denise’s interview here.

Denise shares her many experiences helping the lives of kids and adults on and off the ice, including the wonderful story of an autistic child’s 5-year journey to learn to skate.  She has a unique perspective on the benefits of ice skating for special needs children, which we found instructive here at CoachArt, as we strive to provide a range of athletics programs for children in the same situations. 

Some of those benefits as explained by Denise include:

It’s a unique environment. The cool air rushing around your body, your feet gliding over the smooth surface… the concrete physical sensations of ice skating can be hard to find anywhere else (especially in sunny places like California!) and provide new feelings and stimulations. 

It’s independent. Once they’ve learned the basics, many children are able to skate without physical assistance; a freeing feeling that builds confidence. 

…But also social. Kids can also play collaborative games together or skate in a group. Skating is a rewarding activity for children who want to have some space or participate with others.

It’s great exercise. Ice skating can be a leisurely stroll or a strenuous workout and uses many various parts of the body. This is particularly helpful to children with physical challenges who may need alternative solutions to build and maintain strength.

For more information on how you can get your child involved with ice skating, check with your local skating rink. You can also visit Learn to Skate, a wonderful resource to help locate classes in a variety of ice activities such as hockey, ice dancing, and adaptive skating.

Here are a few of our other favorite organizations that offer athletic activities for kids with special needs:

AYSO VIP Program provides soccer experiences for individuals with physical or mental disabilities. Players and their families enjoy the complete AYSO experience – team uniforms, scoring goals, cheering from the sidelines, and beyond! The vision of the AYSO VIP Program is to create teams in every AYSO Region to maximize opportunities for VIP player participation.

The Little League Challenger Division is an adaptive baseball program for individuals with physical and intellectual challenges. This league accommodates players ages 4 to 18; or up to age 22 if still enrolled in school. The Senior League Challenger Division accommodates players ages 15 and above (no maximum age).

Sunsational Swim School matches swim instructors with families who have physical limitations. They work with autistic children as well as kids with cerebral palsy, down syndrome and more. Their goal is to help students move past their personal obstacles and learn to swim, improve their confidence, better their fitness, and practice water safety.

If your child isn’t quite ready for organized sports but you’d like to expose them more to the outdoors, check out 10 Fun Outdoor Activities for Kids Who Need Different Accommodations, posted on CoachArt.org.

Do you have an organization, athletic activity or online resource you love? Feel free to comment below.

The UpBeat podcast is powered by CoachArt, a nonprofit organization that provides FREE art and athletic activities to families impacted by any childhood chronic illness – such as arthritis, asthma, diabetes, cancer, cerebral palsy and more.

If you have a child that may qualify for CoachArt programs, visit: CoachArt.org.

CoachArt Programs Button

Leave a Comment