Staying in shape is a good idea for all kids (and parents, too) but may have a particularly beneficial effect on children with special needs, according to Connie Johnson.
Johnson, a school physical therapist in Virginia, conducted a review of 14 studies of physical activity on children with developmental disabilities and found that, in all but one, "there was a positive effect for all of the physical activities … social, psychological and emotional."
Agreeing with this finding is Dan Dubick, director of fitness at Right Fit, a Willowbrook fitness facility with several programs aimed at promoting physical activity for children with autism and other special needs. Dubick points to the improvement he has seen in such kids, progressing from quiet and reserved to brimming with self-confidence.
"It stimulates the brain; it gets everything going in their body," Dubick says. "It helps with mood and calms the children down if they're having a bad day. It helps them focus … to balance (their) body and to become a healthier person."
While the studies showed a positive trend, Johnson also stressed that more research is needed on the subject. One outlying study showed potentially dangerous heart levels in children participating in therapeutic horseback riding.
"We need more research to support the participation of youths with developmental disabilities in physical activity," Johnson says. For now, she adds, "you have to take into account what the child's physical abilities are and select activities based on those factors."