What you need to know
Physical activity is important to overall health and wellbeing. Practitioners play an important role by helping youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) engage in physical activity programs. The surveyed practitioners reported that physical activity programs are important for youth with IDD and outlined specific skills required for individuals with IDD to participate.
What is this research about?
Physical activity is an important part of many people’s lives, but some youth with IDD do not exercise enough. As a result, they may experience related health problems, such as obesity. There has been little research about interventions to improve this problem. Previous studies have found a host of benefits including enhanced social skills, health, self-esteem, inclusion, and happiness. This study fills a gap in research by focusing on the attitudes and beliefs of practitioners on increasing the physical activity of youth with IDD. The purpose of this study was to survey practitioners working with youth with IDD to document their attitudes and beliefs about exercise, athletics, and recreational activities.
What did the researchers do?
The researchers surveyed 75 practitioners (e.g., teachers, teaching assistants, nursing staff, case managers) who worked at a residential school for children and youth with IDD. Participants completed a questionnaire that aimed to (1) identify 10 physical activities available to students at the school, (2) select 7 benefits of exercise, (3) identify specific skills that they judged as necessary for students to engage in physical activities (e.g., physical movement, eye contact, communication), (4) rate the possible negative outcomes of physical activity, and (5) rate listed barriers to physical activity.
What did the researchers find?
Most participants said that physical education classes and gross motor activities were available to students at the school. Fewer mentioned other activities, such as dance or team sports for students with IDD. Participation in athletic and recreational activities consistently correlated with having high health, social, and learning benefits for the student. There were several skills that the participants believed the youth should have in order to participate, including the ability to respond to verbal/physical prompts and to follow simple commands. School practitioners were also concerned about injuries and safety risks for youth with IDD. Staff availability and lack of student interest were rated as the most common barriers to physical activity. The current study is limited by its small sample size.
Participation in athletic and recreational activities consistently correlated with having high health, social, and learning benefits for the student.
How can you use this research?
Practitioners who work with youth with IDD play an important role in supporting youth with IDD participate in physical activities. Further efforts should be made to increase the variety of activities available to youth with IDD, in addition to raising staff awareness of these opportunities.
About the Researchers
The researchers are affiliated with the May Institute, a nonprofit organization that provides educational, rehabilitative, and behavioral healthcare services to individuals with ASD and other developmental disabilities.
Luiselli, J.K., Woods, K.E., Keary, P., & Parenteau, R.E. (2013). Practitioner attitudes and beliefs about exercise, athletic, and recreational activities for children and youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 25(5), 485-492.
This research summary was written by Jordan Cleland for the Chair in Autism Spectrum Disorders Treatment and Care Research. This research summary, along with other summaries, can be found at asdmentalhealth.ca/research-summaries
Reproduced with the permission of Dr. Jonathan Weiss (York University). This research summary was developed with funding from the Chair in ASD Treatment and Care Research. The Chair was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in partnership with Autism Speaks Canada, the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance, Health Canada, Kids Brain Health Network (formerly NeuroDevNet) and the Sinneave Family Foundation. This information appeared originally in the Autism Mental Health Blog ().