Intellectual Disability

What is intellectual disability?

Kids with intellectual disability have challenges with thinking skills, such as reasoning, problem solving, planning, and judgement (e.g. understanding and predicting risks). They can also have difficulties with academic and everyday skills (e.g. reading, writing, telling the time, doing maths, and handling money). They find it harder to learn, which means they need additional time and support to learn new skills.

Kids with intellectual disability often experience communication and social challenges. They may appear to be socially immature for their age, they are likely to be more easily overwhelmed when given instructions with multiple steps, and they may find it challenging to understand body language (e.g. facial expression, gestures). Kids with intellectual disability can find it more challenging to regulate and control their emotions and behaviour. They may tire easily. A number of kids may also have challenges with emotions and behaviour such as anxiety (worry and fearfulness), sadness and irritability (doesn’t want to try and participate) and attention problems such as being restless, over-active, distractible, disorganised and difficulties with concentrating.

What might be some challenges on the footy field?

  • Children with intellectual disability can experience some challenges with how quickly they can think and their ability to understand. On the footy field, they could misunderstand instructions if they are given a lot of information at once.
  • Kids with intellectual disability may take longer to learn new skills. They are likely to benefit from clearly structured sessions with consistent routines.
  • They can be very social and friendly, and like talking and spending time with other people. However, sometimes, they might stand too close or be overfamiliar with people. It can be helpful to be clear about what is and isn’t appropriate when talking and interacting with others.

Develop routines and use visual aids

  • Have a consistent routine: Provide predictability by having a consistent routine at each session.
  • Have a visual schedule: Use a visual schedule for each session that kids can see at all times so they know what’s coming up and can easily transition from one activity to the next.
  • Use visual instructions: Visual instructions about how to do a skill might be needed for some kids. Consider using a flip chart to show the visual instructions when you teach.

Think about how you communicate

  • Reduce background noise when giving instructions: Minimising background noise and distractions while giving instructions can help all kids hear and focus on the coach. You might need to face the group away from distractions behind you (like another game or people).
  • Simplify instructions and limit the information given at once: Use simple words and repeat. Some kids might need simple instructions which may need to be repeated multiple times. Learning a skill might require coaches to break it down into smaller explicit parts to learn individually and then eventually put it all together.
  • Repeat instructions: Instructions may need to be repeated multiple times.
  • Slow things down: Slow down an activity the first few times it is played so kids have time to learn.
  • Use extra repetitions when learning skills: Some kids might need extra practice for skills. Allow them to do more repetitions to learn the skill if needed.
  • Allow more time to learn skills: Some kids might not be able to kick, catch or run as well as other kids and may need more time to learn these skills.
  • Praise and reward effort: Give lots of positive feedback to kids.
  • Ask parents what they would do to help: No matter how much you know about a particular disability, parents know their child the best. It’s always a good idea to talk to parents to find out the best way to communicate and work with their child. Parents can help you understand a child’s unique strengths and areas they need more help.

You could ask questions like: What activities does your child enjoy the most? Are there any things they find particularly challenging? Are there things I can do to support his/her participation as much as possible? Are there situations that he/she finds stressful? Are there things that I can do to help your child understand or learn a new skill? What is the best way to communicate?

  • Notice any other challenges: Observe for any signs of emotional or behaviour challenges such as anxiety or attention problems and refer to and use the strategies suggested for these areas.

Adapt activities to be as inclusive as possible

  • Shorten activities: Some kids might not be able to focus for a long time on one activity. Shortening activities might be needed.
  • Use small groups: Some kids might need to work in smaller groups so they feel safe.
  • Match groups on skill level: Matching kids at the same skill level in small groups may help kids feel at ease and confident that they fit in.
  • Joining in may take time: A child might not be able to join in with the group right away. They may need to join the group in their own time.
  • Allow alternate ways to play: If a child with coordination difficulties can’t do a punt kick, allow them to soccer kick the ball, or practice kicking it off a stand.
  • Kids can use their own gear: Allow kids to use their own or their preferred equipment if they wish to. This may be a particular colour football that they feel attached to.
  • Kids can wear gloves: Some kids won’t like getting wet and muddy. Let them wear gloves, for example, and gradually become confident touching the football.
  • Consider different roles: Game play may sometimes be difficult for some kids. If they prefer to do another role (e.g. umpire) or have a favourite NAB AFL Auskick activity instead they should be supported in this preference.
  • Consider playing indoors if bad weather: Bad weather (rain, too hot, too cold, stormy) might make it hard for some kids to play outside. Consider finding a place indoors like in the clubroom to run the sessions.

Things to consider

Just because a child faces challenges with talking or communicating does not mean that they are not smart or that they have difficulties with thinking or learning. As a coach, learning how to communicate most effectively with a child is important so that everyone has the same opportunities to participate and have fun.

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