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Physical Fitness Options for Special Needs Kids

Pictured above, Sara “Happy” Waterman running the 4 X 4 baton race at the Special Olympics regional track meet.

by Lisa A. Beach

When it comes to staying physically active, special needs kids can be just like the rest of us. Some days, they just don’t want to work out. But kids with mental or physical disabilities also face unique challenges, such as behavioral difficulties, cognitive issues and mobility limitations.

Ryan does chest presses at Crull Fitness where he has been training for more than five years.

That’s why it’s so important to find a special needs trainer or fitness program to accommodate these unique challenges. That’s what Kelly Waterman of Highland Park did for her daughter Sara, who earned the nickname “Happy” because of her cheerful personality.

“It’s a challenge to find facilities that can work with these special kids,” explains Kelly. “They’ve got to find the right staff who understand how to challenge, encourage and engage a child with special needs, regardless of disability. Plus, the staff needs to have that special talent of incorporating fun into fitness and having a passion to work with special needs kids.”

Kelly turned to Leslie Pattinson, who teaches special education at Happy’s former middle school in Plano. Leslie, who earned certifications in physical training, nutrition, First Aid, and CPR from the International Sports Sciences Association, also offers one-on-one fitness training to special needs kids.

“Because Happy was having health issues, I helped Kelly research nutrition plans and started training with Happy three times a week,” says Leslie. “The results were amazing! Happy lost over 30 pounds!”

Baseball players from the Miracle League gets an assist from a running buddy.

A proper nutrition plan and regular physical activity really help improve many of the challenges faced by special needs kids. The diet-exercise combo enhances the ability to sleep and focus, increases energy, boosts mood, builds fine motor skills and helps with balance and flexibility.

But what if parents can’t afford a personal trainer? 

Kelly suggests starting with the local YMCA or parks and recreation department, and if they don’t have a special needs fitness program, “advocate and get one.” Locally, a lot of opportunities exist to get these kids active, from yoga and martial arts to cheerleading and the Special Olympics.


Special Needs Fitness Programs

• RISE Adaptive Sports provides an array of free athletic opportunities (all ages), including basketball, boating, indoor soccer, swimming and more. 

P.O. Box 141122, Irving

(469) 762-5075 | riseadaptivesports.org

• My Yogi Kids offers special needs yoga classes, including music, games and more, modified for all ages and abilities. Certified teachers will work on fine and gross motor skills with a variety of different yoga poses and stations.

3051 Churchill Drive, Suite 250, Flower Mound 

214-325-2547 | myyogikids.com

• Crull Fitness offers personal and group training. Their all-ages special needs program, called Champions Challenge, gives every individual a chance to compete and train like an elite athlete.

2701 Custer Pkwy. #801, Richardson

972-497-9900 | crullfitness.com

The Miracle League of DFW offers a baseball league adaptable for all ages and ability levels. The league is free if players register by the deadline, otherwise participants pay a $30 late fee.

PO Box 14528, Arlington 

817-501-1942 | mldfw.org 

• Sacred Ground Dance offers special needs hip hop & yoga to kids and teens (ages 7-18). The monthly fee for this weekly, 45-minute class is $20.

3301 Long Prairie Rd. Ste. 135, Flower Mound

972-537-5721 | sgdance.org

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