Special Needs

A message to: Children with special needs

Anastasios Rodis/ Exercise Physiologist, Exercise is Medicine
Aspetar
08 June, 2016

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Take a deep breath, close your eyes and visualize one of your ordinary days as if in a Movie. Most of us visualizing one regular day of our life will see quite an ordinary scenario. Some people however live their lives in a way that is completely unknown to most of us. I am talking about people with disabilities, who live next to us, share the same fears, expectations, and ambitions in life, as we do. In this article I want to show that the benefits of physical activity and exercise are universal for all children, including those with disabilities.

The first international effort targeting the promotion of personal and social well-being of children with disabilities began with the first competitive sporting event back in 1948, followed by the inaugural Paralympics competition in 1960. Since then, the Special Olympics have remained the largest recreational program for children with disabilities, targeting more than one million athletes in 125 countries. However, despite these international efforts, children with disabilities have lower levels of cardiorespiratory fitness, lower levels of muscular endurance, and higher rates of obesity than typical children. In addition, the rates for depression, low self-esteem and lack of confidence are higher in children with disabilities compared to their non-disabled peers. Children with disabilities are often not encouraged to have active lives and in fact they tend to follow sedentary lives with greater health problems, leading to more physical activity barriers often resulting in complete social withdrawal.

By now a large body of scientific studies serve as evidence for the beneficial role of physical activity, exercise and sport participation in children with disabilities. And some of the benefits are:

  • Adequate levels of muscular strength and endurance are associated with increased bone mass, reduction in injury from falls, and a greater ability of children with disabilities to complete activities of daily living
  • Sports participation also enhances the psychological well-being of children with disabilities through the provision of opportunities to form friendships, express creativity, develop a self-identity, and foster meaning and purpose in life
  • Moreover, Special Olympics athletes have showed heightened self-esteem, perceived physical competence and peer acceptance when compared with non-participants
  • Participation in regular physical activity can foster independence, coping abilities, competitiveness and teamwork among children with disabilities

A few months ago I had the opportunity to watch the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletics World Championships hosted in Doha, Qatar. I had the chance to watch individuals with different disabilities from all around the world competing at a high level. I felt proud for them and I admired their effort, as I usually do when I watch people performing their best either physically or mentally. I also had the chance to speak with some of the athletes. They took me back in time, since their concerns and goals were very similar to my own when I was competing at a high level as a track and field athlete. Their approach to life showed me that despite their disabilities they have learned to set goals, work hard to achieve them and above all to remain positive, whatever life brings them.

My final message to children with disabilities must be strong and very clear. Physical activity, exercise and social interaction are parts of life that belong to all of us despite our current or future condition. Find your own unique way to stay physically active and be around people who appreciate and respect you as a person. Take examples from other individuals who, despite their disabilities have achieved great things in life.  Try to give of your best in life and you will surely get something amazing in return.  

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