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
"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
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