Physical Activity—Any Time Is a Good Time to Get Kids with Cerebral Palsy Moving

Child Development, Patient Care, Tips for Parents

Young girl with cerebral palsy in wheelchair on basketball court

By Lee Vander Loop
CP Family Network Editor

We’re all aware of the physical and psychological health benefits of keeping children physically active, but for parents and caregivers of children with cerebral palsy, this can often be a challenge.

Medical research and personal experience show that people with disabilities benefit greatly when they participate in community recreation programs and settings. For children with cerebral palsy, sports participation can help enhance self confidence, balance, coordination, agility, and flexibility. It can help strengthen muscles and improve circulation and oxygenation.

All children love sports, play, and recreational activities, but for children with CP who experience mobility limitations finding the right sport or recreational activity can be difficult. Fortunately, the large variety of organizations offering adaptive sports make it possible for children of all abilities to find a sport activity they can enjoy. The following is information about the importance of physical activity for children with physical impairment and links to organizations that offer adaptive sports, recreation activities and adaptive equipment resources.

Importance of Physical Activity

  • The U.S. Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities report indicated that all people can benefit from physical activity. People with disabilities and chronic illnesses have a tendency to be less active due to their physical limitations, which can lead to decreased cardio-respiratory fitness, osteoporosis, increased dependence on others, a decrease in social interactions, and secondary complications.
  • The primary physical activity goals for individuals with disabilities are to increase physical functioning and enhance health and well being.
  • Sports, social events, nature, camaraderie, friendship, and overcoming physical and psychological challenges are vital building blocks of early childhood development. Sports, activities, and social interactions and events offer children of all abilities avenues for growth.

Accessible Recreation

Communities across the nation offer numerous opportunities through schools, park districts, and clubs for children, teens, and adults to participate in nearly unlimited recreational and sporting activities.

Many states throughout the country have made efforts to accommodate the special needs populations of their communities with adaptive and accessible recreational and sporting activities. Many of our National Forests provide accessible recreation such as wheelchair accessible campsites, restrooms, and trails. Contact any state Department of Natural Resources or Parks and Recreation for brochures and information on accessible parks, adaptive and accessible sports, and recreation programs in that state.

The American Association of Adapted Sports Programs, The National Center on Accessibility (NCA) and the Adaptive Sports Foundation are all examples of national efforts to promote access and inclusion for people with disabilities in parks, recreation, and tourism. Established in 1992 through a cooperative agreement with the National Park Service, the Indiana University-based NCA has emerged as a leading authority on access issues unique to park and recreation programs and facilities.

Adaptive Sports and Recreation

Many times adaptive equipment is made available or can be purchased from a variety of manufacturers and suppliers to provide for a safe, enjoyable experience.

  • A large variety of sporting activities have been made available as a result of adaptive equipment and instruction.
  • Skiing, bowling, archery, hunting, fishing, and sailing are just a few recreational activities that offer adaptive participation.
  • Playgrounds are being constructed with accessibility being the focus in architectural design.
  • Move United serves over 70,000 youth, wounded warriors and adults through a nationwide network of over 150 community-based chapters in more than 40 states nationwide. Over 50 different sports are offered, including alpine and Nordic skiing, snowboarding, biathlon, kayaking, water skiing, sailing, scuba, surfing, rafting, outrigger canoeing, fishing, hiking, golf, athletics, archery, cycling, running/wheeling, rock climbing, equestrian, and others.
  • The Adaptive Sports Foundation boasts the largest adaptive sporting program on the East Coast and is considered among the top adaptive programs in the country. The Foundation offers both winter and summer sporting events and programs.
  • Special Olympics programs can be found in every state and many communities around the country. Today Special Olympics consist of almost 3 million athletes in more than 180 countries around the world.
  • BlazeSports America provides a variety of sport and recreation programs for kids and teens with physical challenges in Georgia. They provide athletes with training, support and the opportunity to increase independence and improve health.
  • Challenged Athletes Foundation provides a list of adapted sports organizations throughout the country.

Many nonprofit organizations such as United Cerebral Palsy, YMCA, Arc of the United States and Easterseals offer a variety of year round adaptive and accessible recreational programs for youth and adults with disabilities in many states and locations.

Information, Publications, and Resources

Online information such as Gimp on the Go provides publications and information for a large variety of accessible destinations and recreational opportunities. The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) is an information center concerned with physical activity and disability.


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, The 2005 Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities: Calling You to Action. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General, 2005
American Association of Adapted Sports Programs
National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability(NCHPAD), Sports for Children and Youth with Disabilities
Adaptive Sports Foundation
National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) Exercise and Fitness
NSCD National Sports Center for Disabled – Adaptive Sports
Special Olympics

Was Your Child's CP Preventable?