Young children learn martial arts poses

Recreation for All: Serving Children with Disabilities

If communities build it, they will come. This may be quite the twist on the famous line from the movie “Field of Dreams,” but it can be true when it comes to communities providing recreational opportunities for children with special needs. Communities across the country have supported facilities that offer adapted classes ranging from dance and swimming to climbing and martial arts to increase children’s mobility, fitness, social skills, and self-confidence.

Recreation that makes a difference

For example, a martial arts studio in Fayetteville, North Carolina was created by founder and instructor Emma Shields to offer Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes to children with learning and intellectual disabilities. She considers her effort a way to help her community be more inclusive with activities for these children.

Parents of students enrolled at Shields’ Martial Arts of North Carolina say they’re noticing positive changes with their kids, such as improved social skills and better fitness. This is the case with Crystal Harrell’s 13 year-old son Bradley, who’s autistic. She says he’s become more confident and sociable since taking Jiu-Jitsu classes. Interestingly, Shields acknowledges that the repetitive nature of martial arts like this can be ideal for children with autism. Harrell wishes that there were more facilities like this in her town to let kids with special needs experience other types of activities like their siblings and peers enjoy. 

Expanding opportunities for children with special needs

Parents of children with special needs can do a lot to support the availability of adapted recreational activities in their communities. They can work with existing facilities and local pediatric physical therapists or clinics to develop new programs and classes. Some ambitious parents may even choose to create specialized studios or join forces to develop other inclusive recreational opportunities for children. After all, it doesn’t take a famous movie line to motivate communities to support adapted recreation. It’s all about the desire to improve the lives of children with special needs.

The Fayetteville Observer, North Carolina. Akira Kyles, Feb. 10, 2022.

Scroll to Top