We Need More Gyms for Children with Disabilities: Here Are 10 Reasons Why

In the United States, gyms for children with disabilities are popping up more and more. However, there still aren’t nearly enough exercise opportunities for children with disabilities.

To meet the mental, emotional, and physical needs of all children, we need more gyms for children with disabilities. Below, we’ll outline 10 of the top reasons why that is.

1. All Children Need Exercise

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Our modern culture is obsessed with working out and getting fit—and there’s a very good reason for that. The CDC recommends that we get at least an hour of physical activity each day to stay healthy, starting as young children.

Regular exercise benefits children, just as it does adults. Physical activity helps a child control stress, improve their self-esteem, maintain a healthy weight, and sleep through the night.

Many children easily achieve their prescribed hour of exercise with play breaks throughout an average day. However, children with disabilities may need help reaching that goal. That’s where gyms for children with disabilities play an essential role.

2. Exercise is Even More Beneficial for Children with Disabilities

Children with disabilities reap the same rewards from exercise that all children do. However, a child with a chronic condition or disability may get even more benefits from physical activity.

Exercise for children with disabilities promotes optimal physical function and minimizes deconditioning. Even more importantly, physical activity can boost a child’s sense of wellbeing when it may be lacking.

Gyms for children with disabilities also offer a sense of inclusion and participation that they might not otherwise get. Often, children with disabilities don’t participate in school-sponsored group exercise, so inclusion in outside group activities is an essential tool for emotional growth.  

3. Children with Disabilities May Not Be Getting the Exercise They Need

Getting the recommended amount of exercise as a child is often achieved through regular play breaks throughout the day. And, as they reach the ages of 5 to 6, many children begin participating in more structured exercise activities at school.

While exercise is essential for all children, those with special needs may miss out. A report by the American Academy of Pediatrics tells us that children with disabilities participate less in physical exercise, have lower fitness levels overall, and have higher obesity levels than their peers without disabilities.

4. There Aren’t Enough Gyms for Children with Disabilities

In the United States, 18% of children and adolescents have a chronic condition or disability. However, gyms for children with disabilities are still a relatively unusual sight.

Many gyms offer programs for children, but exercise programs for children with disabilities remain few and far between.

One way we can help close that gap is through specialized training. While parents might not have access to gyms for children with disabilities, they may have access to a personal trainer who understands their child’s needs.

Personal trainers who want to expand their services to children with disabilities can gain Special Strong Certification.

5. Gyms for Children with Disabilities Encourage Participation

For many children with disabilities and their parents, participation in team sports and other activities with peers is a primary goal. It may also be a goal that seems unattainable, either due to physical limitations or social ones.

Gyms for children with disabilities help children gain the skills—physically, mentally, and emotionally—that they need to participate in group athletics and other social activities. If the barrier to participation is an emotional or social one, it can help to build their confidence in a sheltered setting first.

6. Home Exercise Often Just Isn’t Enough

There are numerous exercises that you can do with your child at home to help them stay active. However, children often need more than just at-home exercise to achieve their fitness needs. While children without disabilities often join group sports and programs to fulfill this need, children with disabilities may or may not have that option.

Gyms for children with disabilities eliminate that issue by offering a full range of exercise options. Children can work on strength, agility, or endurance, build motor skills and hand-eye coordination, and meet new people all at the same time.

7. Gyms for Children with Disabilities Provide Personalized Exercise

One of the primary reasons that children with disabilities don’t always get the exercise they need is because of their physical limitations. Another common deterrent is a child’s perceived physical limitations.

Parents—and even pediatricians—may overestimate a child’s inability to perform physically. They may, understandably, not want to push them beyond their capabilities. However, a child is often ready and waiting to break through those perceived limitations. They should be encouraged to push themselves when it is safe.

For example, perceived limitations are often a factor in the care of children with Down syndrome. It is recommended that children with Down syndrome (after they’ve been screened for atlantoaxial instability) participate in sports that they enjoy while avoiding those that involve physical contact or collision.

Parents of children with Down syndrome may note the physical limitations of their child and conclude that very few physical activities are safe. However, there are many activities—including many team sports—that a child with Down syndrome can participate in, benefit from, and enjoy.

One of the many pluses of gyms for children with disabilities is that they offer support in finding the right activities for your child. With the participation of your pediatrician, you and a trainer can find highly rewarding physical activities for your child, even if they’re limited.

8. Children Find Support and Understanding

Children with disabilities are more prone to feelings of isolation and the sense that others don’t understand them.

Gyms for children with disabilities remedy this issue by bringing together children who may be facing similar issues, as well as carefully trained professionals who can address those problems with them.

Crucially, meltdowns and challenging behaviors are addressed in a manner that doesn’t make the child feel singled out or penalized but understands and assists in overcoming their obstacles. 

9. Parents Find Support and Understanding Too

Making sure children with disabilities feel heard as they work to overcome emotional and physical limitations is essential. Just as critical is ensuring that the parents of children with disabilities feel welcomed and understood.

Gyms for children with disabilities bring together families that might not have otherwise met and give them an outlet for discussion and emotional support. In addition to other parents and families, you have the support of  

10. Education About Children with Disabilities

Finally, gyms for children with disabilities help families and the general public learn about disability and what it means for a child.

Even though 18% of children and teens have a chronic condition or disability that limits them in some way, we have very few educational opportunities to learn about their needs.

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Special Strong offers continuing education for fitness professionals and anyone else who is interested in understanding exercise for people with special needs, including children.

How to Find Gyms for Children with Disabilities

Gyms for children with disabilities still aren’t very common. Unfortunately, not everyone will have access to one in their local area.

To find out, search for local gyms for children with disabilities or local gyms for people with disabilities. Look for gyms suited to people with disabilities of all ages, like Special Strong. These gyms are likelier to have designated programs, equipment, and trainers for children with disabilities.

Things to Consider in Choosing Gyms for Children with Disabilities

Physical fitness is essential for the holistic development of every child, including those with disabilities. When selecting a gym for children with special needs, certain considerations can ensure a positive and supportive environment.

1. Accessibility: Prioritize gyms with wheelchair ramps, elevators, and accessible bathrooms. Ensure the facility has a layout that accommodates mobility aids and provides easy access for all children.

2. Trained Staff: Look for gyms with staff trained in inclusive practices. Qualified trainers who understand various disabilities can tailor exercise programs to meet individual needs and provide a safe and enjoyable experience.

3. Specialized Equipment: Check if the gym offers adaptive equipment suitable for different abilities. This could include modified exercise machines, sensory-friendly spaces, and tools designed for children with diverse needs.

4. Flexible Programs: Opt for gyms with flexible and adaptable fitness programs. The ability to modify routines based on each child’s capabilities ensures that every participant can engage in activities that promote their well-being.

5. Social Support: Consider gyms that foster a sense of community and inclusion. Environments, where children can interact, form friendships, and support one another, contribute to a positive overall experience.

6. Safety Measures: Ensure that the gym has appropriate safety measures in place. Trained staff should be equipped to handle emergencies and have knowledge of any medical considerations related to the children in their care.

7. Parental Involvement: Look for gyms that encourage parental involvement. Understanding a child’s progress and being part of their fitness journey can be crucial for both the child and their parents.

By considering these factors, parents and caregivers can make informed decisions when choosing a gym for children with disabilities, creating an environment that promotes physical well-being, social engagement, and overall inclusivity.


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