Adapting sport for children with disabilities


With a few accommodations, children with disabilities can benefit just as much from sport as their peers. Emma McKinney takes a look

Sport and activity participation is important for all children, including children with disabilities. It is important for developing self-esteem, social skills, fitness, improved co-ordination, gross and fine motor skills, and building strength and other skills.

However, some children with disabilities experience challenges or are completely excluded from participating in sport and other activities. Although some may have limited mobility, difficulty with co-ordination, strength or balance, or tire more easily, there are many accommodations that can be made to include them.

To what is your child drawn

As a parent or caregiver, you know your child best. Focus on what the child can do; what their interests are; what sport or activity they are drawn to. Are they drawn to dancing and enjoy rhythm and singing? Do they love football and support a team?

Do your homework

Speak to your friends, the parents of children in your child’s class, teachers and therapists such as occupational or physical therapists. Ask them whether they know of any good clubs, teams, studios, coaches, instructors, or teachers that they could recommend (or avoid!).

Find out what, if any, equipment, apparatus, accommodations or adaptations are needed in order to best accommodate your child. Get their buy-in and let them choose colours.

Get to know the coach

It is important that both you and your child feel comfortable and happy. If you feel it is needed or would be beneficial, you might want to make contact with the club, studio etc., and share some background about your child’s disability.

It would be really useful if you could share not just their challenges, but also what accommodations work well and what your child’s strengths are.

Depending on the age and ability of your child, you might want to ask them if you can watch a class, or give it a trial to see if you and your child feel it is suitable and something they might want to try. The better equipped the coach, teacher or instructor is, the safer and more fun your child will have.

Accommodating that they might need

Have an honest discussion with the coach, teacher or instructor about what accommodations your child might need. This might include using assistive devices or adapting equipment, but could also mean that they take the pressure off and just let your child participate and have fun.

Some children might find that having a sibling, friend or allocated ‘buddy’ helpful. Another child who is accommodating and kind can really help to build a child’s self-confidence, especially when they start.

The most important thing is that your child should have fun, socialise and be active!

Dr Emma McKinney is a lecturer at the University of the Western Cape. She is also the owner of Disability Included, a company specialising in disability research, children, and employment of adults with disabilities. email:

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