Childhood obesity is a rising problem in the United States, both for typically developing children and children with special needs. According to a Fact Sheet released by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Department of Disability and Human Development College of Applied Health Sciences, children with disabilities are at greater risk of becoming obese because of their less active lifestyles. The report states, “many parents believe that because of their disability, their children cannot be physically active, which is not the truth. This lack of physical activity may not only lead to obesity but other health problems as well.”
Play deprivation can also be responsible for depression due to social isolation, aggressive behavior, and even a lowered ability to recognize social cues. The solution may be as simple as finding the correct tools for burning energy and keeping active. Resources such as the website AblePlay help to inform parents about what products are available to fit their child’s special needs. One such product might be a safety trampoline that allows a child to jump at her own pace with the assistance of a safety bar to hold on to. Another could be a bowling set that can be used from a stationary position as long as a caregiver sets up the pins. A “buddy bike” with foldable foot pedals gives a rider with a disability the option of pedaling to keep up with his bike-riding friends or taking a break while another person pedals at a steady pace at the back of the bike.
Parents of children with special needs may need to be a bit more creative when finding ways for their kids to get the recommended one hour or more of daily physical activity. Fortunately, more and more toy manufacturers are doing just that.
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