Physical Activities for Children with Disabilities

This article was developed through a collaborative effort between NCPAD and BlazeSports.


Happiness is not achieved by the conscious pursuit of happiness; it is generally the by-product of other activities.
-Aldous Huxley

The number-one factor in choosing appropriate activities for children with disabilities should be fun. Any activity chosen for your child, either by you, your child, or as a group, should offer varying degrees of fun. The primary reason that children participate in sports is fun, and the key reason they quit is a lack of fun. Community-based programs that offer activities for children with disabilities can provide suggestions to help both you and your child select the most appropriate activities for your child’s interests and goals. NCPAD offers a programs database that lists physical activity-related programs throughout the nation that offer opportunities for people with disabilities.

Then the question becomes, “How do I ensure that an activity that my child is interested in will be fun?” There are no guarantees, but listed are some guidelines that you can follow to help make each experience the best that it can be. To be successful in helping your child create a healthy lifestyle, activities must be selected that will help your child achieve feelings of:

  • belonging/acceptance
  • success
  • accomplishment
  • growth
  • competence

Once you have communicated with your child and selected appropriate activities that will allow sufficient opportunity for your child to have fun, you must determine measurable outcomes for defining belonging, success, accomplishment, growth, and competence. To do this, it is important to set goals.

Goal Setting

Goal setting can be done before and after selecting appropriate activities. Goal-setting can be used before selecting activities in order to help determine what activities may best serve the health, fitness, athletic, recreational, and social goals of the family and the child. Goals to consider prior to selecting activities include:

  • making new friends
  • developing specific motor skills
  • learning independence
  • participating individually (recreationally or competitively)
  • participating on a team (recreationally or competitively)
  • increasing aerobic or anaerobic activity
  • interacting with peers who may or may not have a disability

Once you and your child have determined the goals you have for a specific activity, together you can determine what activities will best serve the attainment of those goals.

After selecting an activity, you and your child need to decide specific outcomes and goals that you want to achieve as a result of participating in that activity. These outcomes and goals should be measurable and achievable. Each goal should also be written down and put in a place that is typically visible, such as the refrigerator or bedroom door. Additionally, once a goal is achieved, a new goal should be set.

As an example, let’s say that the appropriate activity that was chosen was recreational basketball. This can apply to either ambulatory or wheelchair basketball. Assuming that the child is 10 years old, somewhat active, enjoys basketball, but has never played it, here are some goals that may be established for this activity:

  • learn the rules of the game
  • make two new friends
  • write down what you enjoyed most during each practice/session
  • write down one thing that you learned during each practice/session
  • lose 5 pounds by being more active
  • successfully perform a lay-up

These are just some examples that offer some insight as to how you can set measurable and attainable goals for each activity that is chosen.

Find Support

Do you have questions about letting your child participate in organized physical activities?

Ask other parents how they found safe and fun activities for their children in the My Child Without Limits support community. We’ll be monitoring the community regularly and adding the best ideas to our caregiver notebook.

Find Resources:

National Center on Physical Activity and Disability (NCPAD)
1640 W. Roosevelt Road, Suite 711
Chicago, IL 60608
Phone: 800-900-8086
Fax: 312-355-4058
Email: ncpad@uic.edu
Web: www.ncpad.org

BlazeSports America (U.S. Disabled Athletes Fund)
280 Interstate North Circle Suite 450
Atlanta, Georgia 30339
Phone 1: 770-850-8199
Fax: 770-850-8179
Email: blazesports@blazesports.com
URL: http://www.blazesports.com

Disabled Sports USA (DSUSA)
451 Hungerford Dr., Suite 100
Rockville, Maryland 20850
Phone 1: 301-217-0960
TTY: 301-217-0963
Fax: 301-217-0968
Email: dsusa@dsusa.org
Web: http://www.dsusa.org/

National Recreation and Parks Association
22377 Belmont Ridge Road
Ashburn, Virginia 20148-4501
Phone 1: 703-858-0784
Fax: 703-858-0794
Email: membership@nrpa.org
Web: http://www.nrpa.org/

National Disability Sports Alliance (NDSA)
25 West Independence Way
Kingston, Rhode Island 02882
Phone 1: (401) 792-7130
Fax: (401) 792-7132
Email: info@ndsaonline.org
Web: www.nationaldisabilitysportsalliance.webs.com/

National Sports Center for the Disabled
P.O. Box 1290
Winter Park, Colorado 80482
Phone 1: 970-726-1540
Phone 2: 303-316-1540
Email: info@nscd.org
URL: www.nscd.org/

National Ability Center
P.O. Box 682799
Park City, Utah 84068
Phone 1: 435-649-3991
TTY: 435-649-3991
Fax: 435-658-3992
Email: info@nac1985.org
Web: www.discovernac.org/