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Physical Therapy Gymnastics and People with Disabilities

Synopsis: Information relating an adaptation of mainstream gymnastics that can be recreational or lead to competitive opportunities for people with a disability.1

Author: Disabled World

Published: 2013-08-16 Updated: 2013-11-15

Main Digest

Gymnastics for people who experience forms of disabilities is an adaptation of more mainstream gymnastics that covers all disciplines and may be recreational or lead to competitive opportunities.

Gymnastics - A sport involving the performance of exercises requiring physical strength, flexibility, power, agility, coordination, and balance. Gymnastics can help facilitate movement, promote balance, promote an increase or decrease in muscle tone, promote relaxation, promote sensory integration, and improve fitness and exercise tolerance.

Gymnastics have been developing a program for gymnasts with disabilities beginning with motor activities for people who experience more severe mobility issues, leading to a foundation program for more able gymnasts. The disability groups may be split into four major categories including Physical, Learning, Visual, and Hearing disabilities. A motor activities program is being developed that will provide a framework through which even people with profound forms of disabilities may participate. People with disabilities can participate on competitive levels in Women's Artistic, Men's Artistic, Rhythmic Gymnastics, Trampoline Gymnastics, Aerobic Gymnastics, and Acrobatic Gymnastics.

Occupational Therapy and Gymnastics

Occupational Therapy involves the treatment of psychological and physical impairments from muscular, neurological, psychological, or disabilities via purposeful activities that develop and improve skills a person needs for everyday independence and quality of life. Occupational therapists work to provide a person with the skills they need for living. Children with or without forms of disabilities may use therapy to gain confidence while building the skills they need for demands related to school, work, self-care and life skills tasks, as well as recreational and leisure pursuits.

Occupational Therapy is helpful when there are concerns related to a person's sensory, fine motor, visual motor, or motor planning. Occupational Therapists use gymnastic activities and equipment to enhance a person's:

Chart showing things Enhanced Through Occupational Therapy and Gymnastics
Chart showing things Enhanced Through Occupational Therapy and Gymnastics

Physical Therapy and Gymnastics

Physical Therapy is designed to promote a person's strong gross motor, coordination, and balance skills and to address neurological and orthopedic issues. Physical Therapists work with people and their family members on running, walking, balancing, climbing, and the functional implications for stairs, swimming, riding a bike, playing at the park, and community and school safety. Physical Therapists help people with developmental, physical, musculoskeletal, neurological and cardiopulmonary diagnosis. They use gymnastic activities and equipment to improve a person's movement and physical skills that impact their function and improve the person's ability to:

The Potential of Gymnastics for People with Disabilities

Gymnastics is a sport that involves a number of different skills that assist in developing each gymnast. A person with disabilities grows up in a community that at times does not provide all of the needed tools in one location. The result is that the person has to piece together each skill from different settings. Gymnastics offers a network filled with opportunities to foster a person's motor skills, cognition, social skills and self-esteem.

Gymnastics is a sport that requires participation and is beneficial to people with disabilities. The sport allows people to improve cognition by uncovering strengths that cannot necessarily be addressed in a classroom. The sport is structured and has a framework involving rules, decision making, independent thinking, organization, self-monitoring, and commitment. The framework of gymnastics creates an atmosphere that stimulates a person's brain to continue absorbing new information and to organize the information accordingly.

Motor skills, both gross and fine, create the foundation in the sport of gymnastics. Gross motor skills such as walking or running, as well as fine motor skills are developed through gymnastics skills such as holding a rope while swinging on the bar, walking across a balance beam, jumping over the vault and so forth. A strength-training program for people with Cerebral Palsy demonstrated increases in their strength, improved mental well-being, and overall function. Children with Down syndrome demonstrated increased exercise endurance and work capacity after participating in an aerobic training program.

Gymnastics promotes an environment where a person's self-esteem may be developed through positive social interactions and team building. Interactions with people within their social network finds people with disabilities learning crucial skills related to reciprocal exchanges and the ability to offer support, as well as to receive it. Team building is used in gymnastics as the foundation for gymnasts in order to facilitate a support network among teammates. Positive social interactions between coaches and gymnasts are displayed through a number of approaches such as:

Chart showing Development of Positive Social Interaction Skills
Chart showing Development of Positive Social Interaction Skills

The positive components of social networks for people with physical forms of disabilities have been documented. People who were able to develop early relationships with their peers had higher self-esteem, greater levels of independence, better mental health, as well as better employment records.

Children with physical forms of disabilities have been found to experience a number of social deficits, to include limited participation in social and active play and increased dependence on others to make social arrangements, limited intrinsic motivation, poor social skills, decreased concentration, and lack of drive. Due to these deficits, it is helpful to note that social skills are fostered in gymnastics through development of skills which include problem solving, self-expression, and self-esteem.

Self-expression is a skill that is developed by a person learning to understand their own feelings and others, through dance movements, skills performed on a number of apparatuses, as well as through social experiences with others. Problem solving is an integral part of a gymnastics routine because gymnasts are regularly challenged by different obstacles such as a balancing beam or the choreography of a floor routine. Gymnastics is a sport that encourages physical activities that over time develop flexibility and coordination in a person's body, ultimately leading to higher self-esteem for people with disabilities.

Appropriately designed and implemented programs of sports and physical activities for people with disabilities should target cardiovascular endurance, balance, flexibility, muscular strength, agility and accessibility, safety and enjoyment. Gymnastics is an active sport that promotes all of these. Proper strategies should be implemented before a person with disabilities participates to reduce the risks of injuries. Gymnastics provides a rich environment filled with opportunities for people with disabilities, giving them the chance to flourish in a setting that targets developmental skills and educational goals in an environment that is both fun and engaging.

Resources and Citations:

Salford Community Sport - Gymnastics and Trampolining

We have an enthusiastic, dedicated and experienced team waiting to provide you with expert coaching and a wide variety of gymnastics activities. Whatever your age and ability there is something for you! Get started with Fun City Tots or recreational classes. Then progress into our advanced and team programs.

The Autism and Related Disabilities Gym Program, Inc.

The goal and/or mission of our program is to establish a center with recreational programs for individuals with autism and related disorders where innovative ideas come together to enhance the lives of individuals and their families. To build new friendships, promote learning, community involvement and disability awareness. Someplace where the body, mind and spirit are supported in attaining their full potential, allowing support for the family in healing and normalizing their lives to the highest degree possible.

Gymnastics therapy helps kids overcome challenges

Therapy for children with disabilities is becoming more creative and fun. Gymnastic programs that have been modified for occupational and physical therapy are helping children with different disabilities become strong and more social.

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Cite Page: Journal: Disabled World. Language: English (U.S.). Author: Disabled World. Electronic Publication Date: 2013-08-16. Last Revised Date: 2013-11-15. Reference Title: Physical Therapy Gymnastics and People with Disabilities, Source: <a href=>Physical Therapy Gymnastics and People with Disabilities</a>. Abstract: Information relating an adaptation of mainstream gymnastics that can be recreational or lead to competitive opportunities for people with a disability. Retrieved 2021-03-01, from - Reference Category Number: DW#232-9848.