With back to school season on the horizon, many parents are busily scheduling their children’s extracurricular activities. Extracurriculars like sports, performing and fine arts classes, computer clubs and youth groups can do wonders for children’s self-esteem, social lives and skills development. Children with special needs can benefit from activities geared toward their strengths, talents and interests. Increasingly, recreational, arts-based and socialization programs adapted for children with disabilities, are cropping up across the country. Here is a sampling of some of the newest and most innovative extracurricular activities we’ve come across. While the programs mentioned here are not necessarily in your neck of the woods, most likely, you will find similar programs in your own community.
1. Adapted Dance
More and more cities are now offering adaptive dance classes for people with disabilities. Ballet for All Kids, with studios in New York City and Los Angeles offers classical ballet instruction for children with mobility challenges, autism spectrum disorders, blindness, deafness and ADHD using the Schlachte Method, developed by Bonnie Schlachte the program’s founder.
The Music in Motion program, part of the Maryland Youth Ballet in Silver Spring, Maryland offers two classes for children with disabilities, one for children who are able to walk and another for children who use wheelchairs and walkers.
According to Disability World, “the physical benefits of wheelchair dancing include the maintenance of physical balance, flexibility, range of motion, coordination and improved respiratory control. The psychological effects of ballroom dancing are social interaction and the development of relationships.”
In recent years, nonprofit organizations such as SkateMD based in Sacramento, California, The A.skate Foundation in Birmingham, Alabama and Get on Board in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania have raised awareness about the value of skateboarding for children with autism and physical disabilities. Jay Mandarino, founder of the C.J. Skateboard Park and School in Ontario, Canada, first discovered skateboarding’s therapeutic advantages when he was growing up. Mandarino who struggled with depression, anxiety, dyslexia and ADHD found refuge from his troubles in skateboarding. The sport helped him make friends, become physically fit and gave him self-confidence. Now, the park and school he founded offers individualized lessons for children with disabilities including deafness, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders and Down syndrome.
3. Adaptive Painting
Growing up with a foster brother with cerebral palsy who used a wheelchair inspired Dwayne Szot to found Zot Artz, Arts for All, a nonprofit based in Kalamazoo, Michigan that provides “services, programs, art tools and supplies that allow individuals with different levels of abilities to creatively express themselves.” One of Szot’s most amazing creations is the painting wheelchair. Click here, to check it out. Somehow, we think that Szot and Enabling Device’s founder, Steven Kanor would have really hit it off!
Simply ArtAble, a studio in Minneapolis, Minnesota offers classes, parties, special events and drop-in painting classes for people with all types of challenges, including physical disabilities, cognitive and developmental disorders, and mental illness. “The studio is completely wheelchair accessible, including automatic doors, ramps, and adjustable tables that accommodate large, motorized wheelchairs. A quiet area in the back of the studio offers calm for those who get overwhelmed with noise or lots of people.”
4. Musical theater
Musical theater classes and productions are a wonderful way for children with disabilities and interpersonal challenges to blossom. The Los Angeles-based Miracle Project puts children with autism and other special needs together for 22 weeks and culminates in a full-length performance. Similar programming, inspired by the Miracle Project, is offered by Actionplay in New York City.
Beginning next month, the Wolf Performing Arts Center in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania will launch its first-ever Quilt class. Quilt is “a multi-faceted program with both educational and performance opportunities that meets each child where they are.”
Special Gifts Theater in Northbrook, Illinois also offers classes and performance opportunities for children with special needs. According to the program’s website “Theatre arts provides an excellent opportunity for enhancing an individual’s self-esteem and self-confidence; encouraging problem-solving abilities; strengthening listening, focusing, and attention skills; improving communication and fostering cooperation.”
Horseback riding is both fun and therapeutic. According to the American Hippotherapy Association, “Hippotherapy may have positive effects on a patient’s posture, muscle tone, and balance. The movement of the horse engages muscles used for walking and encourages postural responses which can help to improve trunk control, core strength, motor planning, sensory processing and respiratory function for speech production.”
At Rocking Horse Rehab in Orange, New Jersey, occupational, speech/language and physical therapists use hippotherapy and developmental riding to help children with a variety of disabilities including cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorders, neuro-musculoskeletal disorders, traumatic brain injuries and sensory processing disorders.
To find a hippotherapy facility near you, visit the American Hippotherapy Inc. Association’s website.