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Physical Play "Barriers"

Today, children face many barriers in their play. These barriers may be physical, emotional, societal, or even psychological. What is interesting though is the actual barrier itself. Physical disabilities, for example, are not as large of a barrier as society would like us to think that they are. If society offers XYZ options for play and a person in a cast can’t play in that way, we are quick to assume they can not play. Instead, when we work with them to discover alternate avenues that reach true play potential, we discover there are many ways to play beyond the XYZ parameters.

Parasport Spokane demonstrated the power of the brain to create barriers after society has presumed them. Once society sees a child in a wheel chair, it is really hard for the child to see through all of the preconceived notions society has developed. However, if the young person can break through, the potential is immense. They too have the capacity to achieve greatness.

In our conversation about ability and its relationship with play, I had three primary takeaways. The first: not all disabilities are identical. In the United States, we have an undying desire to place things in boxes full of other things. The way we as a society view people with disabilities is no different. Unless we have the ability to talk to a professional, it is likely that we will group cognitive and physical disabilities in the same box. However, these disabilities are vastly different and deserve to be treated differently. All children need to experience inherently beneficial play. To support children in this journey, we need to be aware of their unique situation and the appropriate ways to uniquely support them.

The second takeaway from the conversation deals with standards. For me, this is a new vantage point on a topic I have considered for years. What are the advantages of standards? This conversation brings me back to societies expectations. When the collective looks at a person in a body cast or in a wheel chair, our expectations are immediately lowered. While an internal locus of control is powerful, it is important to be able to see the influence of the world around us. The 8-year-old in a wheel chair can only ignore the overwhelmingly low standards and focus on the inspiration within for so long. As soon as we start believing that disabilities are not reason to reduce standards and instead are reason to change standards, we will be one step closer to supporting the development of all children.

Finally, the last takeaway I had from the conversation focuses on the power we give labels in the field of child development. It may be a child with ADHD stamped across their forehead that we immediately disregard the second they enter the classroom enthused on the first day of school. Or it may be a child amputee that we engage in gentle conversation with for fear of discussing an activity they “can’t do”. Once we see a label on a child, we find ways to apply it to every single aspect of their life. However, we know that a physically altering surgery has no bearing on a child’s desire to succeed, and a behavior deficit has no influence on the intelligence of the toe-headed kid in the front row of our classrooms.

To conclude, societies level of influence in what our children are capable of is overwhelmingly disheartening. While every child experiences struggles, what really prohibits proper development are the barriers raised by society in the way of a child with a disability. We instantly lower standards when we see a child wheeling themselves down the road because we immediately give their disability power to run their lives. In fact, children are so much more than any one part of them. To promote proper development, we need to acknowledge the power of labels, thoughtfully raise standards, and afford unique support to each child.

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