Physical Health in students with Developmental Disabilities

If you have a student in your class this year with a Developmental Disability, I’d like to share some statistics today to help you make some decisions about their programming. Students with a DD have a different set of needs than the rest of the students that goes beyond academic programming.

Here are a few statistics taken from the Journal of Intellectual Disability Research:

Adolescents with autism and Down syndrome are two to three times more likely to be obese than adolescents in the general population.

Secondary health condition are higher in obese adolescents with IDD including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, depression, fatigue and low self esteem.

Obesity presents a higher incidence of health problems including decreased social and physical functioning, reduced quality of life, difficulty forming peer relationships and increased likelihood of depression.

Clearly some of our students with Developmental Disabilities are more vulnerable to becoming overweight or obese. Much of the time they have so many things working against them like a disability that has obesity as a symptom, greater medication uses or altered eating habits related to their disability. However, that does not mean that as educators we cannot support students and families to manage their fitness levels.

As educators, we can:

  • Have an excellent relationship with the family of the student. You will NEED their help to ensure the wellness of their child.
  • Ensure that parents know how to access community programs that offer activities that include physical fitness. In addition, help connect parents with community supports that offer funding for these programs. (During Covid, many of these programs are not running as the requirements for physical distancing can’t be maintained with makes the next two points really important)
  • Talk about and model physical activity often. When we meet online, we speak almost every day about activities that we are doing at home.
  • Most importantly, include physical activity into the daily routine of your class. The government of Canada recommends 60 minutes of physical activity every day. During a pandemic, that is tough but encourage your student(s) with a Developmental Disability to move during class. You need to get their heartrate up and a good sweat going on!
  • When you go back to school, prioritize physical fitness for these students. Walking, running, biking, stairs, games, dancing. Put it ahead of many other programming goals to help get these students get back to daily activity.

Anecdotally, when some of my students returned to school in September their physical fitness had dropped significantly. As mentioned above, organized sports for these students did NOT open back up during the summer and my athletic group of students who used to run circles around me struggled to move for 5 minutes at a time. From September to December, I added a segmet of the daily routine that focused only on physical fitness and by December they were back to being very active for an hour at a time.

For many of us beginning any kind of physical program can be tough and motivation can be VERY low. Make sure you have a solid reward program based on anything the student likes (that hopefully is not food). For some of my students it was stickers, for others it was hot wheel cars and my other student was obsessed with Baby Shark colouring pages. Find whatever works and reward them for movement. Start with a couple of minutes at a time and keep increasing from there.  As our students begin to return to learning at school, this is going to need to be a priority for these students to protect their long-term physical health as well as their mental health.

As Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod used to say “KEEP FIT AND HAVE FUN!”

Facebooktwitterredditpinteresttumblrmail

The Author

Tammy Axt

I am a teacher of students with special needs in the Peel District School Board. This is my third year in the role and I am in the middle of a steep learning curve! I am loving every minute of this new experience with my amazing and awesome students.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

© 2019 The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario | ETFO Website | RSS Feed | Login