Color & Control:

Promoting an Active Lifestyle

For many people with disabilities, an active lifestyle may be elusive due to physical limitations, lack of accessibility, sensory issues and socioeconomic status. Elusive, but not impossible.

By Karen Wang

For many people with disabilities, an active lifestyle may be elusive due to physical limitations, lack of accessibility, sensory issues and socioeconomic status. Elusive, but not impossible.

Over the years, I’ve seen the cognitive and physical benefits of exercise in my son. Exercise is a tool for personal growth as well as an excellent way to learn more about the local community. These are some of the ways in which I have included my son with special needs in an active lifestyle.

1. Model and motor
When my son was younger, I had to model movements for him and physically guide his limbs through each movement, “motoring” him through a routine.

As he gradually developed body awareness, he was able to move more comfortably on his own. We both got a good work-out by stretching, hopping and crawling together.

2. Trampoline
Trampoline jumping strengthens several muscle groups, and most children do not consider it exercise. If you have safety concerns about a trampoline, consider getting a mini-trampoline with a handrail.

3. Play catch
A baseball and a couple of gloves can go a surprisingly long way toward promoting wellness and fitness. In addition to helping with gross motor skills, attention and hand-eye coordination, it’s a beautiful way to enjoy the outdoors.

4. Homemade boot camp
One of my friends became an inspiration to me when she created a customized boot camp at home for her child with special needs. My version consists of an obstacle course and instructions—run, hop, jump—written on the sidewalk in chalk.

An exercise routine can be adapted for any special needs, and YouTube has many videos for seated workouts.

5. High-interest field trips
My specialty as a parent is finding high-interest day trip destinations where my children can walk, run, stretch or climb until they are tired. I don’t tell them we are actually exercising!

In warm weather, we usually go to a park or zoo; in cold weather, we usually go to a museum. I discovered that even a quiet art museum can provide a great workout with its long corridors and stairs.

6. Neighbourhood bike ride
A bike ride after dinner is one of our favourite summer activities. If you think bike riding is not a possibility, look up some adaptive bikes in your local area.

7. Fly a kite
The destination for our neighbourhood bike rides is often an open field where we can fly a kite. This activity is ideal for children who are reluctant to exercise. The only way to get that kite up in the air is to get a good running start! Plus, winding and unwinding the kite string helps develop large muscles in the shoulders. An informal kite club meets every week at a very windy field near us, so kite flying can be a social experience, too.

8. Swimming
Water can provide calming sensory input, so the indoor pool at our local recreation centre is on our rotating list of field trip destinations, even in winter. Call ahead to find out if your local pool has a wheelchair lift or zero-depth entrance for easy access. The zero-depth entrance also works well for those who are fearful of water.

Reprinted with permission from Karen Wang, from the


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