Introduction to Program Considerations
Often tucked away in institutions, children with disabilities at one time grew, learned, and played in segregated environments (Fiorini, Stanton & Reid, 1996). A few children with disabilities are still institutionalized (approximately 2%) (Hogan et al., as cited in Mudrick, 2002); and some children with disabilities attend separate schools from their non-disabled peers (Modell, 1997) despite the success of the inclusion movement and legal mandates such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA] (1990). Ninety-five percent of students with disabilities do attend classes with their non-disabled peers, according to a 1998 U.S. Department of Education report (Winnick, 2000). It seems clear that children with disabilities have been elevated in society, are able to claim a place as members of their families, communities (Fiorini, Stanton & Reid, 1996) and educational settings.
Despite this positive progression in the acceptance and inclusion of children with disabilities in American society; children with disabilities are still sometimes considered second-class citizens when it comes to opportunities to maintain their health through exercise and community recreation programs. Within the pediatric population, children with disabilities are often not encouraged to lead active lives, while recommendations for exercise and physical activity are given to their nondisabled siblings and peers (Wilson, 2002).
Much is at stake when children with disabilities are not encouraged to be physically active. It is thought that physical activity patterns established in childhood form a foundation for lifelong physical activity (Ayyangar, 2002) and, therefore, subsequent health. As reviewed by Wilson (2002), studies have shown that children with disabilities who exercise can increase strength, bone mineral density, vital capacity, and mobility. Those gains are critical when it comes to the prevention or attenuation of secondary conditions or disabilities. As noted by Steele et al. (1996), children with physical disabilities are at great risk for secondary conditions such as heart disease, stroke, respiratory problems, and emotional disorders. To offset the secondary conditions associated with disability, children with disabilities need outlets to be active.
Finding appropriate exercise or sport programs for children with disabilities is easier than ever, especially with the advocacy of groups such as the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs (AAASP) , but the number of choices does not mirror the breadth and range of opportunities afforded to nondisabled children. This paper will explore program considerations for the implementation of sport programs for children with disabilities. However, any approach to incorporating the traditional sports model, or elements of that model, should be approached with trepidation. The professional (and even college) sports world is on many days a chauvinistic, hyper-competitive one riddled with violence, drugs, and vulgar words and gestures (Nelson, 1994). None of these aspects of professional or college sports should be emulated or perpetuated in the creation of sporting opportunities for any child, disabled or nondisabled. Nonetheless, a well-thought out, carefully designed school-based or community recreational sports program that takes into consideration the stressors and barriers faced by families who raise children with disabilities, can pay great dividends in the overall health and well-being of children with a variety of disabilities.