By: Christa Costas- Bradstreet

This post was written by Jason Dunkerley from The Active Living Alliance for Canadians With Disability.

In an era where screen time trumps outdoor time, and where unstructured activity and coming home only after dark or for dinner is being replaced by supervised play dates and healthy snacks, the spontaneous play which flavoured our childhood and that of our parents is increasingly a thing of the past. Efforts to promote improvised playtime carry a sad irony of course; after all we can not force spontaneity. This is particularly true for kids with disabilities who very often, find themselves at the fringes of a childhood which so many of us wear like a warm blanket of nostalgia.

Perhaps there is no place as visceral in the experiences of a young Canadian than the playground. It is where teeth are cut, where social contracts are made and broken, where confidences are tried and tested, and where personalities emerge and begin to be defined. Yet the realism of this landscape very often excludes the 5 % of Canadian children and youth who have a disability who stand at its edges, vestiges of a lost generation.

We know that kids in general fall far short of meeting Canada’s Physical Activity Guidelines prescribing 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous daily physical activity. The picture is even bleaker for children and youth with disabilities. A 2012 Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights report indicated that 24% of children with disabilities never take part in unstructured activities compared to just 2% of able-bodied kids. Further, research from the National Centre for Biotechnology Information reveals that children with disabilities are nearly twice as likely to be overweight or obese.

But let’s forget for a moment about physical determinants of health: let’s examine a truth that cuts even deeper. In January, 2012, the Globe and Mail ran an article stating that one in two kids with disabilities reported having no friends. Additionally, youth with disabilities are more likely to abuse alcohol, drugs and tobacco. HRSDC statistics further state that 28.1% of children and youth with a disability have seen a psychologist or psychotherapist.

While it may not be fair to single out play as the root cause of the dysfunction which so many young people with disabilities are obliged to navigate, it is the human interaction and process of self-discovery attained through play which does so much to build character and resiliency to deal with life’s challenges. Its time that we pull our heads out of the sandbox and recognize what play offers all kids, but particularly those who face an inherent physical, sensory or cognitive disadvantage.
We cannot turn back the clock to invoke the heady days of our own childhood, just as we will never succeed in manufacturing spontaneity. What we can do, however, is to open the minds of young people to the diversity of individuals who comprise our rich human tapestry. It is a human tendency to differentiate ourselves from the “other” – we have politicians in Canada who are trying to redefine our social conscience in this respect. Yet, we need to give our children the emotional tools to recognize the differences within themselves which make them unique; we need to engender compassion in our children in relating to the differences which make others stand out. This type of consciousness-raising will not in and of itself redress sedentary behavior among young people generally, but in so far as the breeding ground for personal development is the playing field, it may help to make this playing field more level.

Here are a number of simple modification ideas which can assist in accommodating participants/players of all abilities:
  • Use balls of varying size or weight. A bell inside will accommodate participants who are blind;
  • Use sticks of varying lengths; adjust the height of nets, use elastics or a lanyard to link participants requiring additional support.
  • A participant who uses crutches designated to take the throw-ins during soccer games;
  • participants who are blind partnered with a guide during running activities.
Playing Space
  • Participant in a wheelchair covers a specified area for basketball;
  • Participants with a cognitive impairment who are goal-tending may play in a smaller net.
Teaching Tips
  • Learn about the participant. Do not be afraid to ask questions
  • Promote independence by focusing on what the participant can do!
  • Develop an educational climate of respect and encourage others to consider their own unique “differences”
  • Be creative in adjusting equipment or rules to promote success
  • For complex activities, provide one-on-one support where possible
  • To maintain interest, change the activity frequently or periodically change the participant’s  role in the activity
  • Encourage realistic goal achievement at each step 

Source: Steve Nash Youth Basketball Blog
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