With childhood obesity on the rise, we are all charged with the task of ensuring that our children are living a healthier lifestyle. This is especially important for children with special needs, who sometimes face additional barriers to their health.
Children and adolescents can substantially improve their health and quality of life by making physical activity a part of their daily lives. Being physically active early in life has many physical, social and emotional benefits and can lead to a reduced incidence of chronic diseases in adulthood. Health professionals, families and communities need to make a concerted effort to increase the physical activity levels of children and adolescents.
Physical activity for children with special needs has numerous benefits including:
• Improved social interaction—When we think of goals for children with special needs, one of the biggest is successful social interaction. Physical fitness is a virtually untapped resource for setting up great social opportunities. From playing catch with two or three partners, to taking turns frog-hopping across the room, fitness activities can be as socially simple or complex as needed.
• Weight loss and enhancement of physical deficits—Many individuals with special needs also have physical deficits, such as low muscle tone, poor spatial awareness and limited endurance. Fitness programs will improve these deficits by providing structured exercise and toning protocols that are easy and fun.
• Increased self-esteem and reduced anxiety—Participating in regular physical activity appears to enhance self-esteem and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in children and adolescents with developmental disabilities.
The Adler Center for Special Needs is committed to offering programs that are designed to meet the social, emotional and physical needs of participants and their families. They offer swim programs, fitness classes and sports activities for children and teens with special needs.
Summer camp also plays a significant role in rounding out a child’s fitness routine. Programs are available for children of all ages and abilities. From self-contained to inclusion camps, travel camps and even specialty camps in all areas, there is something out there for everyone, all with a focus on wellness and socialization. The Adler Center for Special Needs Summer Program offers all these camp offerings and more. The goal is to create a fun, nurturing and supportive environment with typical day camp activities, both indoors and at their off-site facility at the Henry Kaufmann Campgrounds.
Always remember that parents must be role models for an active lifestyle as well. Lead by example: make it a family affair and best of all, have fun. Use your imagination and find fun, clever ways to get your child moving indoors or outdoors.
Sharon Hanover is director of the Adler Center for Special Needs. Learn more at miyjcc.org.