Study Aims to Understand How Children with Disabilities Perceive Inclusion

In a study to understand the perspectives of children with disabilities around inclusion in physical activities during free play, recreational sports and recess, Nancy Spencer-Cavaliere, MD, an adapted physical activity expert in the faculty of physical education and recreation at the University of Alberta, interviewed children with a range of disabilities about their thoughts on what made them feel included or rejected during these activities.

Three themes emerged from the data: gaining entry to play, feeling like a legitimate participant and having friends, according to a press release.

“Many children spoke about initiating play and either being invited to play or asking to play and being rejected or not being invited or not being allowed,” Spencer-Cavaliere stated. “Making that initial step into a play environment is really a critical step for children.”

Children frequently expressed the need to feel valued, evolving the second major theme: feeling like a legitimate participant.

“For the children this meant that once within a physical activity or play environment, taking on roles that were meaningful, feeling a part of the game: feeling important, as though you had a valued role,” Spencer-Cavaliere stated.

One boy talked about being sent onto the field during the closing minutes of a soccer match when the team was losing badly.

“The child was told to go in,” Spencer-Cavaliere said, “but with little time left and the team about to lose anyway, he said, ‘I know it’s being included but you just don’t feel like you’re included.’ Being in the game isn’t the same as feeling as though you’re part of it.”

In the third theme, having friends, children stressed the value of true friendships, having someone they could depend on and trust.

“That allowed children to be less concerned about their performance and more invested in being part of the game and having a good time because they were in a safe place with people who accepted and valued them.”

Spencer-Cavaliere encourages teachers, coaches and parents to talk to children.

“You get valuable information and it gives them a say. There is no one solution. All children need to be in places where they feel included, whether they experience disability or not,” Spencer-Cavaliere stated. “Children need to have legitimate choices to have meaningful experiences in a variety of physical activity settings, and we should not be limiting the type of setting.”

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