by Brittany A.
Youth with intellectual disabilities are often stigmatized as being incapable of participating in sport and recreational activities, as many individuals do not take the time to understand their diverse needs. Many of my experiences with youth have been with children who have intellectual disabilities. For anyone who has not had exposure to this kind of work, these children have the most energy, passion for life, and love, then any other people I have ever met. Through these experiences, I have come to learn that much like other children, youth with intellectual disabilities also love participating in sports and recreation and can excel physically in such activities. I find it incredibly important to allow youth who have an intellectual disability of any kind, to have the opportunity to be physically active. Even more importantly, I believe that communities must promote social inclusion for these individuals through sport and recreation to allow for feelings of importance in not only the lives of youth who have a disability, but in the lives of their peers.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (2017), an intellectual disability affects one’s mental abilities in two areas of functioning: intellectual functioning (troubles learning or impaired judgement) and adaptive functioning (activities needed for daily life such as communication). Because of these delays in learning and their social skills being underdeveloped, youth with intellectual disabilities are often times excluded from sport and recreation organizations or programs. This being said, sport, as discussed many times in class, is a great way for youth to build and improve on elements such as self-esteem, positive identity, social skills, physical competency, and much more. By allowing the inclusion of youth with intellectual disabilities to participate in sport and recreational activities with peers their age, they can also develop these skills through physical activity whether it be structured or unstructured.
Another reason I find it so crucial to include youth with intellectual disabilities to participate in sport and recreation is because of their many negative health problems caused by sedentary lifestyles. A large amount of literature on physical activity and health suggests that individuals with intellectual disabilities tend to be very sedentary because there is a lack of opportunities and support for these individuals. As a result of this, compared to the general population, these individuals tend to be very unfit physically (Draheim, Williams, & McCubbin, 2002).
Over the past several decades this information has been taken into consideration and some amazing organizations have been created to increase sport participation in youth with intellectual disabilities. The Special Olympics (SO) is an organization that encourages physical activity for individuals with any type of disability and is potentially the most well-known organization of its type. SO is an organization that provides sport training and competitions through Olympic-type sports for youth (and adults) with intellectual and physical disabilities. Youth who have participated in this program claim that their self-esteem has been increased, that they feel support from adults in various roles, and that they have created friendships with their peers (Weiss, Diamond, Demark, & Lovald, 2003).
Organizations such as the SO have created a platform which allows children with intellectual disabilities to learn about and participate in sport and recreation. It has also positively shaped many children’s internal and external developmental assets such as their positive values, their social competencies, and support from others. This baseline has demonstrated that youth with intellectual disabilities are capable individuals who need to participate in sport and recreation just like anyone else. My wish is that in the future, is that these children, who have the physical ability no matter their intellectual depth, will be able to participate on sport teams and engage in recreational activities with the general public. From direct personal experiences working with youth with downs syndrome and autism, I have seen inclusion continue to be more accepted and I can only hope that this trend continues.
Class notes and personal experiences
Draheim, Christopher C., Williams, Daniel P. and McCubbin, Jeffrey A. 2002. Prevalence of Physical Inactivity and Recommended Physical Activity in Community-Based Adults with Mental Retardation. Mental Retardation, 40: 436–44.
Weiss J., Diamond T., Demark J., Lovald B., (2003). Involvement in Special Olympics and its relations to self-concept and actual competency in participants with developmental disabilities. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 24(4), 281-305.