|Barbara mirroring movement|
for a non-verbal student.
(Photo by J. Yurgel)
Inclusion is about providing a broad range of fun & engaging options to children of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. This means modifying an activity or sport to provide a more appropriate version for a particular group of participants. This can be done in such a way that the integrity and structure of the activity is maintained, while softening the rigidity of how one should participate.
When I was a child, I spent many hours outside playing in the yard and inside playing board games with my younger brother. There is nearly a 5 year difference in our ages & I would come up with ways to adapt & modify the activities so he could be included too. As we both got older, we still carried on the tradition of of "making it up" much to the dismay of my father who was trying to teach us to 'follow the rules."
The practice & skill of modifying and adapting games and activities has served me well in the early elementary & special education field. I always looking for ways to adapt common (and not-so-common) activities such as yoga, dance, storytelling, movement games & art to make them more accessible and inclusive to all children. So far, my efforts have been been successful.
|My daughter with a 'Buddy' |
at the Special Olympics, 2010
Statistics show that physical activity for children with disabilities as compared to children without disabilities is much lower. In recent years, there has been a call for more physical activity for kids. At the same time, there is awareness of the need for more adaptive recreational programming to address the growing population of children with a variety of physical, sensory and other adaptive challenges. While the idea of adapting for and including a variety of children with different abilities may overwhelm many coaches and educators, I think we need to see this instead as an incredible opportunity to expand existing programs, or create entirely new ones & step out of what is comfortable and predictable. The benefits far outweigh the little bit of extra preparation it takes.
Modifying the methods & rules of exercise, activities or even of competition structure of a sport is nothing new. In fact, most national sporting organizations provide modified versions of many sports for their junior programs. (Special Olympics, The Miracle League and others.) As the need for adaptive movement activities has increased, so has the interest in how exactly to do this in a meaningful and effective way. Here are 7 key points to keep in mind:
- The purpose of adapting and modifying movement activities & sports is to make them more accessible by minimizing or eliminating the disadvantage caused by the environment in which a sport or activity is played. There are as many ways to do this as ther are children who need it. Think of ways to break the activity down into its smallest most basic parts and build up from there. Don't be afraid to experiment with new ideas or to change something that is not working.
- Modifications can be minor - such as a change in rules (6 strikes to be 'out' instead of 3) or piece of equipment (lighter or shorter bats). Sometimes bigger modifications are necessary, that may require some planning in advance (using equipment that contrasts with the playing area: white markers on grass, bright balls or mats, sound/echo proofing a room, etc.)
- Know your students. Talk with their parents and other members of their education or therapy team to gain insight into the best way to structure your activity or program. Use common sense in determining what activities that child should avoid. (A survey form filled out by parents and therapists before an instructional program starts is very helpful.)
- Learn to view all modifications as temporary. Review them regularly for restructuring or to be phased out. Adaptations are just another step toward a program that is fully accessible. (In some cases, the changes may become a part of a regular program, such as those previously mentioned junior sport programs. ) The end goal is to allow participation with as much independence as possible.
- Teaching Style is important! The way an activity is communicated has significant impact on how inclusive it is. Use appropriate language for the group, speak clearly & keep instructions short and to the point. Using visual aids, (pictures) demonstrations and a buddy system are effective ways to support students as they learn & interact. Be sure the students understand rules, techniques and procedures before they begin. Keep it simple!
- Environments can be adapted in simple ways such as reducing the size of the playing area or using an indoor surface rather than grass or even using grass as an element of sensory integration or slight challenge when the student is ready. In any case, you also want to minimize distractions in the surrounding areas as much as possible.
- After an activity or game is played, assess it for the need for new or different modifications. There is always room for improvement, so ask yourself what worked, what did not and why. Get feedback from the participants. Their input will give you clues on what to keep and what to improve upon to make it more fun and inclusive for everyone.
* Are you an adaptive sports coach, a special education teacher or instructor? In what ways do you modify and adapt your program to make it more inclusive for children with special needs? We want to hear from you! Leave your comment below!
For More Information:
The Miracle League (Northampton, PA)
Special Olympics (PA)
B'More Abilites Special Arts Center
One World Karate
Horse Boy Method
American Association for Adaptive Sports