Great Ways to Stay Active With A Special Needs Child
Our family is an active family. My daughter and her husband have always loved to ride bikes, swim, and go to the beach. They enjoy travel, working out—and dining out. These activities have always been a natural part of their lives.
When my grandson who has autism was very young, his parents were able to continue many of their activities when he would visit me for a weekend overnight. This respite afforded them the luxury of having a date night and a morning for active pursuits.
Although I am aware that not all special needs children are able to participate in certain activities physically, I strongly advise parents to be creative and find ways to stay active with their children. My heart has been touched each time I have attended a special needs baseball game at the Field of Dreams in my community. Some children come to bat in wheelchairs, while others are assisted by their own personal buddies. Regardless, they all seem to have smiles on their faces!
Here are some secrets for balancing your busy life with a child on the autism spectrum
1. Introduce your child to various activities
In our particular situation, it was important to introduce my grandson to new settings, but in a way that he felt safe and protected. For example, if we took him to a restaurant and he became uncomfortable with the level of visual or audio stimulation, we would lovingly remove him. Over time, he began to adapt, and now he is a child who can go almost anywhere. In fact, he loves to go to restaurants, kids’ gyms, and even to Disney.
At age 10, my grandson now rides three miles on bike trails with his parents on a Saturday morning and plays flag football on a team made up of neuro-typical children. It took some courage on his parents’ part for him to be the only special needs child on the team. But it works, and it is an inspiration to watch the other children welcome him with open arms.
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2. Create a sense of adventure in your child
This opens life up to him and instills confidence. I call it working in tandem. Doing an activity together first gives your child the confidence to try it on his own. My grandson went zip lining with his parents and cousins recently. He and his daddy went in tandem. When they got ready to do it again, he looked up at his father and said, “Go by myself.” And he did! On that same trip, he went white water rafting with the family—and held his own.
3. Help your child develop a sense of belonging through shared activities
These family experiences not only enhanced my grandson’s sense of adventure but also allowed him to participate in activities with cousins and other extended family members. It gave him a sense of belonging. My grandson and his parents will continue to enrich their family unity with snow skiing trips to the mountains and weekends at the beach learning to surf. At the same time, they are at their core, a special needs family who focus on special diets and supplements, doctor’s appointments, and therapies. They are active with their child’s school for autism and both work in their careers. But, they have found the secret to balancing their busy lives by staying active with their special needs child.
Stephanie Murphy, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Jacksonville, Florida. She is a member of Focus on the Family’s Christian Care Network and is the author of Strong and Courageous: Encouragement for Families Touched by Autism.
This article was featured in Issue 82 – Finding Peace This Season