Let’s Play! Part 3: Adapted Fitness

Being active not only helps maintain a level of physical health and wellness, but can have a significant impact on mental health and wellness.

I am not a psychologist and I don’t play one on television, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that when we get to actively participate in activities and positively engage with people, our mental health improves.  Lack of and access to options play a large role in isolation and declining mental health for individuals with disabilities and their families.

In this blog there may be some overlap from Let’s Play! Part 2: High tech and adapted Outdoor sporting, but there is also lots of new AT options to explore.

Adaptive Bikes are a great therapeutic tool often used in a rehab therapy setting, but these same bikes are available for consumer use and can open doors for engagement previously not accessible.  Having an adapted bike allows an individual who may typically be excluded from traditional bike riding activities to participate. This could mean a family can now ALL go together for a bike outing. Or a child now has a means to play with the other kids in the neighborhood.

Additionally, here in Omaha, there is the Wheel Club through the Monroe Meyer Institute that provides tandem bikes and a buddy to do most of the work, giving individuals with disabilities another great opportunity to experience bike riding.

It is true, these bikes are expensive.  The Friendship Circle does an annual event called Great Adapted Bike Give Away where they give away dozens of adaptive bikes every year.  The event happens in the Spring so now is a great time to start exploring the options!

Not all solutions to exercise equipment have to be high tech.  For example, you can use cuff weights as an alternative to traditional dumbbells or use resistance bands on a rod system for increased ease of use and safety.

If you have access to a gym or professional recreation facility you may find higher tech options like the FES indoor rowing machine or the ICARE motorized elliptical (developed right here in our home state at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital’s Research Institute in Lincoln, NE) that offer additional points of support to allow individuals with limited strength or balance to successfully use the equipment.

There are several companies who offer adaptive aquatics classes, but there are also adaptive equipment you can purchase for use in a pool independent of a paid program. Foam pool “noodles” can be used in a variety of innovative ways to create a buoy system to help support swimmers of many ages and abilities.

There are more things out there than I can cover.  A blog “Teaching Learners with Multiple Special Needs” provides an expansive list of equipment and supplies.  I mean, check out the floating pool mat!

Blog: http://teachinglearnerswithmultipleneeds.blogspot.com/2008/06/swimming-with-special-needs.html

Many dance, music, theater and gymnastics programs and working to create programs that are more inclusive and accessible for participants of all abilities.  Some of these programs are designed specifically for individuals with special needs, others are designed with an inclusive model where children with and without special needs participate together.  There are also programs that offer adaptive dance where the entire class participates from a seated position, making the activity even more accessible for persons of any age and ability.

Here are a few options in the Omaha/Lincoln area:

  1. Metro Stars Gymnastics offers a “Special Starts” program, gymnastics taught by Occupational Therapists.
  2. Rennae’s School of Dance offers “Special Expressions Dance,” classes for children with special needs.
  3. X-treme Dance Force offers a special needs dance class.
  4. The Rose Theater has theater classes adapted for children with Autism, Down Syndrome and American Sign Language Interpreted.

And while this program is not in the Omaha area, this video is so feel good I had to share!

When kids with special needs get ‘A Chance To Dance,’ just watch them shine

With the right coach and determination champion athletes are developed.  Check out this inspiring story of Chelsea Werner’s rise to an USA Olympics team!


If you are looking for a well established program with dedicated coaches, I suggest exploring opportunities with Special Olympics Nebraska.  If your child is under 8 check out the Young Athletes program within Special Olympics .

To close, I want to share one of the most inspiring adaptive fitness stories I have ever followed has been the journey of Team Hoyt.  Dick Hoyt (father) has made it his life practice to participate in high level competitions in tandem with his son, Rick.  They have not let anything stop them from running, biking and swimming together. It just goes to show that truly, if there is a will, there is a way.

“Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not disabled.” ~ Rick Hoyt


Moral of the story? Don’t be afraid to DREAM BIG and get out there and PLAY!

Be on the watch for Let’s Play! Part 4 where we explore Assistive Technology options for arts and music!

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