Recent research from La Trobe University in Melbourne shows that when compared to children without disabilities, children with disabilities not only have lower participation rates in sport and recreation, but they also have less variety in their activities and tend to engage more in home-based activities. The study found that children took part in recreational activities about once a week, but took part in physical and skill-based activities (which could include dancing or swimming) about once a month. Furthermore, most of the activities that they were involved in were undertaken by family members.
The study also shows that children with disabilities are keen to be involved in more activities if given the opportunity. It showed that very few children took part in physical activities that they did not like, and many were not involved in physical activities they said they would really like to try. Some examples given were gymnastics, horseback riding and athletics.
Researchers also conducted focus group discussions to better understand the barriers and facilitators for participation. This is what they found.
People Make All The Difference
- Access barriers can be overcome; it is the attitudes and support of others that counts. Societal attitudes towards disability are often negative, and this needs to be changed
- Parental support is vital. Parents provide encouragement, transport and money
- Parents need to be proactive in order to get their child involved in an activity
- Instructors, coaches and PE teachers need to be understanding and skilled in teaching children with disabilities
- Children with disabilities enjoy activities with their peers.
One Size Does Not Fit All - It Is About Choice
- What is a meaningful and appropriate physical activity is different for each child
- Local activities make it easier to participate because transport can be a barrier
- There are limited numbers of activities for children with disabilities and sometimes these activities run at inconvenient times or have long waiting lists
- 'Come And Try' days do not work but inclusive pathways that allow a progression through a sport, do
- Asking children with disabilities and their parents about what, how and when they would like to participate, is important.
Sport Can Be Expensive But Flexible Pay Options Help
- Cost is a barrier for many families that have children with disabilities
- Offering flexible payment schemes (such as pay-as-you-play) or subsidised programs can often help.
There Are Similarities And Differences Between Children With Disabilities And Children With Typical Development
- Children with and without disabilities face many of the same barriers and facilitators to physical activity, but it is harder for children with disabilities because there are extra costs, medical appointments and sometimes poor motivation and behavioural issues
- It is harder for children with disabilities to get involved as they get older. Other children tease them, the physical gap widens and sport becomes more competitive.
Communications And Connections Between Parents And Organisations
- Parents often do not know about the local physical activity opportunities that surround them. Word of mouth and special schools often provide the best sources of information
- Some physical activity providers have trouble engaging sufficient numbers of children with disabilities in their programs
- Partnerships between the sport and recreation sector, disability groups, local councils and local schools are important to help promote programs and to share expertise and resources.