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30 Reasons Why Play is Important for Children With Disabilities

30 Reasons Why Play is Important for Children With Disabilities - PlaygroundEquipment.com - Infographic

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Children of all abilities have a right to play. That includes children with physical, developmental, learning, psychiatric, and neurological disabilities.

The UNCRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) is a legally binding international agreement that establishes the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of every child, no matter their race, religion, or abilities. Article 31 of this agreement protects a child’s right to play and engage in recreational, cultural, and artistic activities.

The International Play Association believes that “every child must be afforded equal opportunities to enjoy his or her right to play in their everyday lives. Disabled children have the same right as other children to sufficient time and space to play freely, in the ways they choose, without being unduly overprotected.”

Parks and playgrounds can be designed to be inclusive, welcoming children of all abilities to experience the vital, enriching benefits of play. Inclusive and accessible playgrounds can also help the community as a whole, cultivating more empathy, diversity, and joy.

 

Here are 30 ways that play benefits children with disabilities:

 

  1. "Play matters because it creates an opportunity to bring out the best in every kid, and it’s an opportunity for kids to really see the best in themselves.” — Jill Vialet, founder of Playworks
  2. “Rather than traditional ‘talk therapy,’ play therapy can be a more developmentally appropriate approach for addressing the needs of your child. Play becomes the avenue for healing, growing, exploring, and communicating.” — ExceptionalLives.org
  3. When children of all abilities play together, they learn “person-first language,” which honors the individual before their disability.
  4. Outdoor play is scientifically proven to alleviate stress, reduce anxiety, improve mood, and boost feelings of happiness and well-being. Nature is for everyone!
  5. “Sensory play is essential for all kids to learn how their bodies work and how to process and interpret the world around them.” — Ellen Metrick
  6. “Play is the natural environment where social interactions occur, contributing to greater acceptance, the breaking down of barriers, and the fostering of friendships.” — PlayCore
  7. Sensory play helps children who are visually impaired learn from and have fun with a variety of textures and shapes. Even without seeing colors, they can enjoy playing with crayons on textured paper.
  8. Sensory play can help children develop fine motor skills as they use the small muscles in their hands and fingers.
  9. Through sensory play, children can discover what materials and textures they like and dislike in a safe, fun play environment.
  10. “Many children with disabilities have few areas in their lives in which they feel able to exercise real choice and control. Play can be a process through which they can regain a sense of control or work through difficult or challenging experiences.” — Theresa Casey, former president of the International Play Association
  11. “Play supplies the brain with what it needs for learning later in life, maximizing the child’s chance of being a happy and healthy member of society.” — Kris Allen
  12. “Play is how we are made, how we develop and adjust to change. It allows us to express our joy and connect most deeply with the best in ourselves and in others.” — Stuart Brown, M.D.
  13. Some children may approach play differently than others, and that’s OK. Play is all about discovering forms of fun and self-expression that are unique to the individual.
  14. “Play contains all developmental tendencies in a condensed form and is itself a major source of development.” — Lev Vygotsky
  15. “Free play gives children an outlet to express their emotions and feelings and helps them develop a sense of who they are.” — KaBOOM!
  16. Natural outdoor light provides relief from the harsh artificial light and electric buzzing that some children find distracting and distressing.
  17. “Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.” — Diane Ackerman
  18. “Children’s play culture can have its own language, fads and phases, values, even its own history and geography,” says Theresa Casey. Inclusive play invites children to feel united with their community.
  19. Playground equipment that can be enjoyed by more than one child, like a tire swing, encourages social development in children of all abilities. Play helps bridge the gap in communication. Having fun together promotes unity and inclusion!
  20. “Just about any sport or activity can be altered to give special-needs children the cardiovascular, flexibility, and strength-training benefits that allow kids to stay healthy and fit.” — University of Rochester Medical Center
  21. Research shows that the decline in free play among children correlates with a decline in empathy. Through inclusive play, children of all abilities develop social skills and embrace the unique qualities of their peers.
  22. “It energizes and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities.” — Stuart Brown, M.D.
  23. Play areas with special, calming places (like a sound-insulated cave area with neutral colors and soft surfaces) can help children with autism and sensory integration disorders find comfort, relax, and re-focus when they need breaks.
  24. “If your child has a hearing or visual impairment, play can help strengthen their other senses to help them navigate and explore the world.” — Anna Taylor
  25. In the past few years, vitamin D deficiency has increased by 200% in children. This sunshine nutrient is vital for fighting infection, preventing some autoimmune diseases, boosting happiness, and building strong bones and teeth.
  26. “The joy that otherwise immobile children can get from simple physical stimulation should never be underestimated.” — Sam Flatman
  27. Many children with autism are soothed by vestibular sensory input (sense of movement), which swings and hammocks can provide.
  28. Color-coded pathways can help children with cognitive impairments memorize the route to their favorite play areas, building confidence and focus.
  29. Studies show that outdoor play may be deeply effective in easing ADHD symptoms, promoting a sense of calm and focus.
  30. Through inclusive play, children gain a positive sense of self, self-esteem, and positive reinforcement of their identity.