Too often limits are placed on children with special needs or expectations for them are set lower than their peers. Exercise is no exception. I get asked frequently if children with special needs can workout. The answer is, ABSOLUTELY!
There is no denying that we are battling an obesity epidemic here in the United States. Did you know that 20% of American children are obese? Or that children with disabilities are 38% more likely to be obese compared to their peers? These stats are from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and unfortunately are reflected of data from 2015-2016. I can assure you that those numbers have only gotten worse since then, especially with the reduced amount of exercise in schools and general poor nutrition of the typical American diet.
We often get asked if a child is too young for our program. The answer is always, "No". Movement is vital during all stages of life, as is placing an emphasis on making fitness fun! Many of the workouts we do with our clients are not complex or different than the training programs for their neurotypical peers, rather they are very similar if not exactly the same. What is the difference then? Our approach.
Many of our clients have had a negative experience with exercise or sports in the past, but we make it a priority to create a fun and safe environment for them to be successful. A child can gain an invaluable amount of confidence from exercising that will transfer to all areas of their life, if done properly. Exercise has a very unique way of building self esteem and self confidence that is hard to find in other aspects of life. This is why I will always advocate for movement and exercise for ALL children and why we need to turn our thinking to changing our school structure to provide it.
The future is the children of our country, and they need more movement or our obesity numbers will continue on the upward trend. Children with special needs are no different and need to be included in the movement!
About the Author
Ryan Lockard, CSCS, CSPS is the founder and head trainer of Specialty Athletic Training and is accredited by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a Certified Special Populations Specialist. He is a member of the board of directors for the Autism Society of America and the Central Oregon Disability Support Network.