Physical Disability

What is physical disability?

Physical disability is a broad term that can include any condition that has a lifelong impact on a person’s ability to move or control their body movements. Physical disability may impact a child’s ability to complete everyday tasks independently and participate in activities.

There are many different types and causes of physical disability. Physical disability can include things like paralysis (e.g. inability to move one or more limbs), problems with muscle tone, reduced balance or steadiness, reduced gross motor control (e.g. challenges with walking, running), and reduced fine motor control (e.g. challenges with writing, doing up shoe laces). Common causes of physical disability include acquired brain injury (e.g. after a stroke), spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, loss of limbs and muscular dystrophy.

What might be some challenges in the dance class?

  • Kids with physical disability will differ in the type and severity of their movement challenges. Some kids might walk independently but have challenges with balance and coordination, making it difficult to complete multiple movements at once.
  • They may be slower to complete tasks that involve physical activity, and they may need extra time and practice to learn new skills.
  • Some kids with a physical disability will use mobility aids, such as ankle or leg supports, crutches, walking frames, or wheelchairs.
  • Some days will differ to others for kids, for example, on some days there might be more spasms than other days.

Quick tips

  • Change the activity, not the child: If a child is struggling with a dance movement don’t attribute the problem to the child, instead attribute it to the strategy. E.g. “You seem to have difficulty doing this movement. Let’s try it a different way by just using our arms.”
  • Modify and adapt: If a child finds skipping or jumping difficult, seated movement focussing on actions of the torso, head and arms can be a focus. Explorations of floor-based actions such as rolling can also be included.
  • Give enough time to warm up and cool down: Give kids more time to warm up and cool down. It can take them longer sometimes.
  • Allow more time to learn skills: Some kids might not be able to balance or coordinate their actions as well as other kids and may need more time than others to learn these skills.
  • Use props to enhance the pleasure of the movement: Use props to add tactile or visual pleasure and to support movement qualities, rhythm, and freedom of expression. Common props include scarves, elastic bands, ‘parachute silk’ and other fabrics and balls.
  • Break the steps down: Break the moves down. Teach one step at a time.
  • Slow down the speed of instruction: Teach students at slower speeds first. Use repetition, before including more complex coordination.
  • Make eye contact at the kid’s level: Think about how to have good eye contact for kids who may sit at a lower height. For example, if a child uses a wheelchair, you could kneel down or sit on a bench.
  • Let parents or siblings help: Parents and siblings know the child best. Letting them help, even dancing alongside the child might encourage the child to be more involved and feel safe dancing.
  • Consider different roles: Dancing may sometimes be difficult for some kids. They might prefer to do another role (e.g. music helper, prop coordinator, choreographer).
  • If unsure, ask the child: If you’re not sure how to modify a dance movement for a child ask the child for the best way for him/her to be successful. All children have their own unique strengths and abilities. Focus on what they can do, not what they can’t.

Things to consider

Sometimes people may assume that kids with physical disabilities have difficulties with thinking and understanding. This is often not the case. Teachers should speak with the child’s parents or guardians if they are unsure about how much they say is being understood.

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