When it comes to selecting a new activity for your child with
developmental differences, it can be hard to know where to start.
According to Lorell Marin, director of LEEP Forward, and Ellen
Sternweiler, owner of The Sensory Kids Store at Bellybum, here are
some inclusive and supportive activities for children of various
Getting out of the house with your children can be quite an
Yet, experiences outside of the home are important to a child's
growth and social development. For children with developmental
differences, trying new activities requires a completely different
According to Lorell Marin, director and founder of LEEP Forward,
families of children with special needs often feel isolated or
trapped at home because of the fear of meltdowns or having to
explain their child's differences.
"It can be very isolating for these families, and they often are
not participating in as many community activities," Marin says.
"But in reality, these families need a sense of community and just
have to take some extra steps to find the right activities for
Ellen Sternweiler, a Chicago mom of three children with
developmental differences, knows first-hand the challenges of
feeling included and part of everyday society.
In response to her own inability to find resources and items for
her children, Sternweiler opened The Sensory Kids Store at
Bellybum, where parents of kids with developmental differences can
find what they need in a typical and inviting store environment and
"Considering that one in six families has a child diagnosed with
developmental disabilities, there is no such thing as typical
anymore," says Sternweiler. "It's about time inclusion extends
beyond classrooms and becomes a part of everyday life activities.
Differences are beautiful and need to be supported."
When looking for new activities or classes for your child, Marin
suggests focusing on how to set your child up for success.
"Think about your child's sensory needs prior to picking
activities and know their sensitivities when searching for
programs," Marin says. "If they are sensitive to noise, look for
smaller groups. If they are easily distracted, avoid activities
where multiple classes are spaced closely together. If they are
upset by unexpected events, choose classes inside rather than
outside to eliminate the element of surprise."
Marin also suggests once you select an activity, visit the space
with your child beforehand and even try to meet the instructor in
advance to start building a relationship.
"You can walk through step by step and see what distractions or
issue there may be."
She says watching videos online or creating a social story about
the activity helps.
For children with developmental differences, parents' goals may
not be about their child playing the sport or creating the art, but
rather about socializing with peers in an inclusive
"Inclusion may take time and a few extra steps, but stay
positive," Marin says. "It builds a sense of belonging for the
child and family to be part of a community and it helps the child's
sense of self-esteem grow when they are included."
If a new activity doesn't work out the first time, Sternweiler
recommends parents don't get too frustrated or disappointed.
"We all have hits and misses as parents of special needs kids.
Just because an activity didn't work right away doesn't mean it
never will," Sternweiler says. "For example, our first attempt at a
water park was a complete disaster and now our kids love them."
Sternweiler emphasizes that your child will never learn to
acclimate if you don't try inclusive activities.
"If it's possible to be in an inclusive environment, it benefits
the kids with developmental differences and the children without
challenges," she says. "Kids need to be exposed to the differences
among us because it makes them better people and benefits everyone
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