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Daniel Stein working with client, photo courtesy of Special Strong

Helping Your Child with Special Needs Exercise

Top tips for motivating your child, from a trainer for kids and adults with special needs.

No matter what your child’s abilities, some form of physical activity is important to their well-being. Some kids, though, require extra support and encouragement to make exercise (adaptive or otherwise) a part of their routine. We connected with Daniel Stein, CEO and founder of Special Strong—local gyms providing fitness training for kids and adults with special needs—to get recommendations for parents.

1. Use positive reinforcement

Find out what motivates your child and use it to encourage another desired activity. “If your child likes jumping jacks, you could say, ‘If you run for 30 seconds, you can do jumping jacks when you finish,’” suggests Stein. “Or, ‘If you do 10 arm circles, I’ll give you a high-five.’”

2. Be specific in your praise

Skip generic phrases like “Good job!” Instead, tell your child exactly what they did well. Stein offers this example: “I really liked how you walked around the block today for 15 minutes without complaining. You have strong legs to be able to do that.”

RELATED: The Right (and Wrong) Ways to Praise Your Child

3. Implement rewards 

“Children with special needs often benefit from a very specific reward,” Stein says. “Try creating a sticker or point system. If they walk around the block, for example, they get one sticker, and 10 stickers equates to $10 they can spend on Amazon.”

4. Show examples of physical activity

“So many children with special needs are visual learners,” notes Stein. “One of the best things you can do to help motivate them is to show them pictures or videos of other children with special needs doing the activity you want them to do.” For instance, you could find Special Olympics basketball clips on YouTube or Instagram.

5. Practice the fitness you preach

Time for you to get moving, too, Mom and Dad. “Children with special needs are always watching, even when it seems like they’re not paying attention,” says Stein. “If we are asking them to be active but we as parents aren’t doing that ourselves, it reduces the buy-in from the child.” Plus, participating in an activity with your child is a great way to bond.

Special Strong, adaptive fitness and exercise program for those with special needs, photo courtesy of Special Strong

You can find information at specialstrong.com about Special Strong’s exercise programs and classes available at seven DFW-area locations.

RELATED: 6 Places for Energetic Kids with Special Needs


Photo courtesy of Special Strong