Active bodies, healthy minds
Research looks at factors that promote participation in kids with disabilities
About 420 Ontario children with physical disabilities aged six to 15, and a comparison group of about 350 able-bodied children.
Recreation activities help children develop skills, interests and friendships and be physically active. But research shows that children with physical disabilities are less likely than peers to play sports, visit friends, go to the mall, or just hang out.
With a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Bloorview scientist Gillian King and researchers at CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research and the University of Western Ontario are studying the patterns of participation in children with and without physical disabilities. The goal is to identify what hinders and promotes participation.
Children with physical disabilities are as active as their peers in formal lessons like swimming and piano and activities like chores or homework. However, they generally take part less frequently in social, recreation and physical activities; tend to be involved in informal activities closer to home; and enjoy certain activities less than peers. The teenage years were identified as particularly difficult. While peers become involved in a growing array of activities that widens their social network, teens with disabilities tend to stick with the same activities, often with family members. Factors associated with higher activity levels in children with disabilities include supportive families, teachers and classmates; higher levels of functioning; and family and child preferences for activities.
The research points to the vital role parents and health-care professionals play in promoting activity. Parents can support their children by helping them identify what they’re interested in, ensuring they can pursue these activities and encouraging them. Parents need to get their children involved at a young age to try to prevent their world from narrowing in the teen years. Service providers can assess what activities a child and family will most enjoy, make programs available and work with the community to adapt programs so all kids can participate.