I have always had a special heart for kids with special needs, especially those with Down syndrome. Never in my thirty years working with special needs has there been a Down’s child, teen, or adult who has not woven their way into my heart in a unique way. And it also seems like I am more tolerant of their smiles, hugs, flirting with others, and strong will. But this child was very different. He was morbidly obese, and I even noticed the year before when I observed his class that he was going to be one of those handfuls. For the first time in my special education career, I was going to have a child I would have to daily make the choice to love.
Approximately 14 million Americans have a self-reported visual impairment that affects their lifestyle and overall well-being. According to the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, individuals who are impaired have lower levels of physical fitness than their sighted companion does. In fact, following daily activities also tend to demand more energy, causing an increase in fatigue. The good news is that visual impairments do not affect the benefits they receive from physical activity.
Everyone is in need of physical activity for favorable health, including people with disabilities. According to the CDC, 53 million adults in the USA are living with a disability. However, nearly 50% of those who are capable of being physically active does not get nearly enough physical activity. As a fitness professional, it is always good to be armed with as many skills and certifications as possible as it will allow you to stand out in an intensely competitive field. Obtaining the necessary certifications that will enable you to provide all-inclusive training to the disabled will not only allow you to cater for a niche market but will see you render an invaluable service to the community as well.
What is a visual schedule?
A visual schedule is a plan that helps those students with limited abilities who cannot communicate, such as those children-through-adults limited speeches, sensory issues, and developmentally challenged as well as autism. They have trouble understanding and giving input to instructions. Persons with limited speech and autism often have difficulty following verbal directions and social cues. A schedule helps a person to see a plan of action for the exercise session order of events, as well as remain calm, reduce inappropriate behaviors, develop independence, and increase self-esteem. Even if the whole group does not need a schedule, working with a group of both special needs students and regular education students helps the whole group see a beginning and ending to an exercise session. A visual schedule is also helpful for breaking down a task that has multiple steps to ensure the teaching and compliance of those steps.
This is the last of our series. We will discuss learning disabilities, autism, and behavior differences.
A learning disability is a disorder in which spoken or written language, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, spelling, or mathematical calculations is a struggle. That learner is typically one or more grade levels below the average child, and for that individual, learning is quite difficult. Milestones in motor skills and memorization are inhibited. If a teacher or trainer can provide activities using the learner’s strengths, increased visual and verbal directions, and hands-on experiences, the learner can experience success. Many people misunderstand students with learning disabilities and mistakenly characterize them as lazy, weird, and socially impaired. These persons learn differently, and the attuned teacher or trainer must realize that learners should work in their own ways.
This is the third in the series on youth disabilities. This month we will focus on motor skill disabilities.
Children with motor skills disabilities often have another disability. They move slowly and have a hard time controlling their muscles. Some children suffer from lack of ability with large motor movements such as running, jumping, kicking and throwing, and catching, and others with small motor movements such as using their hands and fingers. Teachers and trainers must work together with an adaptive physical educator to find simplified ways to teach fitness skills. It is helpful to teach academic and physical skills by breaking the tasks down into small parts. Fine motor skills that should be integrated into academic and fitness activities include kneading with dough, working with modeling clay, using whole punchers, cutting with scissors, and writing in sand or shaving cream. Painting with a bucket of water on a chalkboard or driveway and writing words on a chalkboard or sidewalk are good activities to include in fine motor coordination. An occupational and physical therapist is helpful in the gym, classroom, and home.
Last month we talked about working with children with physical disabilities.
We will continue the discussion of physical impairments with visual, hearing and speech and language impairments.
A visual impairment is more than someone who wears eyes glasses. Their visual acuity is 20/70 or less, and they will struggle with vision, even when using a corrective prescription. A trainer or teacher may assist the student by using verbal directions and by asking the student for how the student learns best. Because of their limited vision, the student often has poor motor skills and displays easy fatigue. Ask them how they would feel comfortable being guided. Give students mental pictures and descriptive words. Simplifying the game or skill is also effective. Also, give a mental picture of the environment and have a student helper that can stay with the participant as they participate in the activity. If the child is partially sighted use reflective tape for visual guidance.
Teaching yoga for special needs can be a rewarding experience. But I have found that each class is as unique as the population you are teaching. Here are some great tips to use as you work for any fitness class with individuals with special needs.
First of all, I knew that I needed to be aware of the class I was teaching. One season it was filled with Special Olympics clients so I needed to do stretches and strengthening for the various sports. Another had a heavy autistic population so I knew I needed to have students do yoga games with the purpose of teaching social skills and interacting with one another. Another season it was stress relief since many of my participants suffered from anxiety and fear. I would always start class with an introduction of the class, a brief answer and question session about each person’s week, and sometimes things we were grateful for.
Inclusion is a term used quite frequently in our society. It means that as trainers and teachers, we will have students with disabilities in our classrooms and fitness facilities, and we must learn how to meet their unique needs in daily activities and welcome them in our schools, churches, and recreation/gyms, while striving to serve the general public as well. This is a daunting task even for those people who specialize in special education. I believe that this article is essential for anyone who works with children with disabilities. This series is divided into four categories addressing those students with physical, mental, learning and emotional/behavioral disabilities. Please read each of these sections since the person you may be working with will have a variety of disabilities and perhaps a combination of multiple diagnoses. This month we will explore physical disabilities.
Raynaud’s (ray-NOHZ) disease or Raynaud’s Phenomenon is a problem with blood flow. It is a condition that causes some areas of your body––such as your fingers, toes, and the tips of your nose and ears––to feel numb and cool in response to cold temperatures or stress. In most cases, this inconvenience and discomfort last only for a short time, while your body is reacting to the coldness or stress. In Raynaud’s disease, the smaller arteries that supply blood to your skin narrow, limiting blood circulation to affected areas. This is more prevalent in women and people living in cooler climates that are 60 degrees or colder. It also happens quite frequently as the weather suddenly turns from fall to winter and the temperature drops.