Experts recommend play to be crucial for a child’s mental and physical development. And it is true more so in the case of children with intellectual disabilities. One may mistakenly assume that special needs kids will not be able to participate in regular play, often excluding them from other groups. Early childhood intervention in the form of play, however, has proved to be an effective ‘cure’ for a special needs child’s development, Rebecca Ralston, Director, Young Athletes, Special Olympics International, said, while speaking at the International Conference on Early Childhood Development for People with Intellectual Disabilities by Special Olympics Bharat and Amity University.
Express Parenting spoke to Ralston to know more about how play can be beneficial for children with intellectual disabilities:
How is play related to early childhood development?
Play is a critical component for the development of a child. It sparks curiosity, helps children move their bodies and fosters social, emotional and cognitive skill development. The lessons that children learn in play translate to their adolescence and adulthood.
Why should children with intellectual disabilities be encouraged to play? Please elaborate.
Play is critical for children with intellectual disabilities, who need additional support to develop core skills. Play and physical activity can help children with intellectual disabilities advance in their development of gross motor, cognitive, social and emotional skills. Children with intellectual disabilities are often excluded for community play activities or early childhood intervention services due to stigma and misconceptions. This can lead to shame and isolation for families. But through play, children with intellectual disabilities can showcase their gifts and talents and truly be included in their schools and communities.
What happens if the child’s developmental issues are not addressed at an early age?
Early intervention is important for all children, but especially critical for children with intellectual disabilities. By accessing therapies, support and play at the earliest age, children with intellectual disabilities can harness their greatest potential by developing critical skills that can impact all areas of life. This can help them be more successful in the future and achieve their personal best in life. Without access to early intervention, some children with intellectual disabilities may not have the opportunities to develop valuable skills.
Any tips for parents raising children with intellectual disabilities?
1. There are a lot of areas of life that are going to be different with your child. It will take extra attention and effort. At the same time, so much of your life with your child will be the same as life with any child.
2. As you get to know your child, you will understand your child’s individual needs. Sometimes you’ll make a mistake, but for the most part, you’re going to do fine. In fact, you may be enriched by your child having an intellectual disability.
3. Include your child with intellectual disabilities in your family and community activities as much as possible. By bringing your child into the community, you can help to make your community more inclusive and supportive of people with intellectual disabilities, which will ultimately help your child in their future as they look to find a job, health care professional or community activity.