THE FITNESS PRIORITY BY KRISTIN MCNEALUS, PT, DPT
If you have a gait trainer, the museum floors are flat and hard, and may be a great place to use the device!
Summer is a great time to get outside and do more activities! The weather is warm, the days are long, and many children have more time off from school. Time can be spent learning and doing things that may not be opportunities offered in school.
Consider heading to your local park, and playing some games! Be creative with some of the original favorites – if tag is difficult, maybe there is a nerf toy that can be used. If playing catch is difficult, maybe volleying a beach ball can be fun. It is a nice way to get some family time, work on coordination, and even teach the principles of sportsmanship. Maybe your children can take turns designing the game that the whole family plays!
Go to a museum. This is generally affordable even for groups. It involves a fair amount of walking or rolling, so you and your children can get some endurance training without that being the focus. If you have a gait trainer, the museum floors are flat and hard, and may be a great place to use the device! It would be a good opportunity for your child to push his/her own wheelchair, or drive while avoiding people. It is also obviously a learning opportunity about whatever the museum is offering. I always loved science museums, but natural history, and local history can be interesting even for young minds. A bonus is that museums tend to be air-conditioned for those hot days when being outside is not an option!
Look for the local accessible beach or lake. This idyllic setting can allow for some physical activity that does not feel like exercise. You may want to try swimming since floaties, or life jackets, can make this safe and fun for many kids. Swimming has many benefits beyond strength and endurance – it can decrease spasticity, it can help those with anxiety, and kids with decreased balance can benefit from the buoyancy. If your child has any sensory processing dysfunctions, you may want to start water activities in the bathtub, and you may want to go to water areas at off hours when there are less other children who can be overwhelming. Swimming is not for everyone. How about kayaking? There are two person kayaks, so your child can sit and enjoy looking in the water if s/he is unable to help row. Again, life jackets would increase safety because there is always the risk of falling into the water. And fishing can be therapeutic – and catching something is always fun. even if it gets thrown back into the water.
See if there is anywhere to go horseback riding locally. There are centers that are equipped to accommodate people with disabilities, so call and ask. Horseback riding has many therapeutic benefits, and children can also learn about how to be around large animals.
Look for opportunities to play sports! If there are local wheelchair sports camps or festivals, check them out. Even if participating is not physically possible, or maybe your child is not willing to try playing, then make it a family activity to follow the local team. Go cheer on the players and support them.
A word of caution: obviously the summer temperatures can get quite hot. If your child has difficulty regulating body temperature, or has any autonomic dysfunction that makes sweating difficult, plan ahead on how to manage this. Have ice packs and cold drinks on hand. Know where there is shade or an air-conditioned building nearby, should you need respite. If your child has a sun sensitivity, look for umbrella and awning options that can provide that shield that may be enough to allow you to be outside.
I hope everyone enjoys their summer and can find ways to be active. Seek out the activities you can do, rather than all the activities that you cannot. •
THE FITNESS PRIORITY
Kristin McNealus, PT, DPT, ATP received her Masters in Physical Therapy from Boston University then went on to earn her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from MGH Institute of Health Professions. She has been a staff physical therapist on inpatient rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injuries at a number of hospitals in Southern California, as well as Director of a community adaptive gym for people with neurological injuries. She is a member of the International Network Spinal Cord Injury Physiotherapists, and has contributed to the APTA Guidelines for Exercising with a SCI. She has completed 3 marathons, and 25 triathlons, including the Ironman! SCI Total Fitness is designed to promote health and wellness for people with physical disabilities.