What about getting a bike?

With the weather warming up and summer round the corner, many families will be spending more time out and about enjoying the wonderful outdoor space we have in neighbourhood parks and beaches. Great outdoor activities would include bike riding and swimming. So when I first spoke to Miss A’s mum, I naturally thought what about getting a bike for her? Miss A is a lovely 6 year old girl, who has cerebral palsy. She is able to walk independently on a simple Nimbo walker. Her mother was surprised at the thought that Miss A could ride a bike, as she has been attending early intervention for many years now, and no one has suggested that she would possibly be able to ride a bike. This made me wonder, why do we think that our children with special needs would not be able to participate in the recreational activities which most typically developing children would expect to participate in?

Getting a bike or trike is often the rite of passage as children turn 2 or 3 years old. Many families are not aware of the services available for modified bikes to suit their child with special needs. As a Paediatric Physiotherapist, one of my goals is to ensure that children with special needs are able to participate fully in the social activities in the community. To be able to ride a modified bike, children require a minimal level of trunk and head control; otherwise it would not be safe for a child to a ride a bike. So when appropriate I recommend and refer families to the TAD -Freedom Wheels Program for the assessment of a modified bike. I also assist with funding applications to make the purchase of the modified bike possible for families.

What about soccer? Many children enjoy kicking a ball and being part of a team. Football4All programs operate within affiliated clubs and associations and offer skills, drills, activities and modified games designed especially for players with special needs. Programs focus on participation through physical activity, player interaction, activities and social enjoyment of the game. There are usually no training nights and games are organised on an inter-club basis or as a regular inter-club gala day with no structured competition. Skills and activities are designed to be both interesting and challenging but without exceeding player ability.

What about horse riding? Horse riding is a unique form of exercise and rehabilitation. The complex movement of the horse helps to improve coordination, balance, muscular development and fitness. Horse riding and horse related activities assist greatly and often dramatically in the development and restoration of personal confidence, self-esteem, communication skills, leadership and trust. For people with challenging behaviours for example horses offer a powerful medium for restoring a sense of personal control, which significantly improves behaviours towards family, teachers and friends.

What about swimming? We know the benefits and freedom that water-based programs can offer to children with physical disabilities, with gravity eliminated arms and legs seem to come alive with joyous kicking and movement. Often parents are on waiting lists trying to get into hydrotherapy programs at various organizations. So it’s brilliant to see innovative programs such as MATE by AUSTSWIM. MATE which stands for Making Aquatics a Terrific Experience is an interactive community seminar aimed at optimising health and wellness opportunities for people with medical conditions and/or disabilities. The MATE seminar provides participants with the information, skills and confidence to take a person with a medical condition and/or disability to the pool for recreational activities. The MATE seminar is not about swimming strokes; it is a guide to encouraging and facilitating physical activity in an aquatic environment for people who do not always have the opportunity to participate in aquatic activity.

There are many more sporting and recreational activities available out there for children with special needs that range from social participation to competitive national and international levels. So what is stopping us from offering our children these opportunities? I think we need to stop asking “Can my child do this?” and instead start to ask “What activities would my child like to do?” This would then be a starting point to look for organisations that provide specialized services to support the participation of sports for children with special needs.

If you have found the information useful or have specific questions about what recreational activities might be suitable for your child, please contact our Paediatric Physiotherapist for an assessment today!