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 on the footy field?

  • 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 harder to run or complete multiple movements at once (e.g. coordinating handballing while running, or kicking the footy on the run).
  • They may be slower to complete tasks that involve running or 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.

Quick tips

  • Change the activity, not the child: If a child is struggling with an activity don’t attribute the problem to the child, instead attribute it to the strategy. E.g. ‘You seem to have difficulty doing this drill. I think we chose the wrong size target to use, let’s try it with a larger target.’
  • Allow alternate ways to play: If a child can’t kick a drop punt, allow them to kick the ball off the ground, or practise kicking it off a stand.
  • 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 than others to learn these skills.
  • Change the rules so everyone can play: Make changes to the rules where appropriate so everyone can play. For example, a handball is equivalent to a kick and an underarm throw is equivalent to a handball.
  • Make eye contact at the kids 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 might encourage the child to be more involved and feel safe at play.
  • Consider different roles: Game play may sometimes be difficult for some kids. They might prefer to do another role (e.g. umpire) or activity.
  • If unsure, ask the child: If you’re not sure how to modify an activity 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. Coaches 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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