Adapting / Modifying Activities

In many situations you will find that adaptations must be made to allow a child with a developmental disability to fully participate in a recreation or leisure activity. The general idea is to make only those adaptations that are necessary to facilitate participation. 

Finding that balance between challenge and frustration is the key. For example, it will not be challenging for the child who wants to learn to ride a bike to be pushed in a wagon. On the other hand, if the child lacks the physical skills neces¬sary to ride a bike, some adaptations will have to be made. There are four areas of adaptations that we will explore in this section:  compensatory techniques, adapted equipment, method, and rules.

Compensatory techniques:
Think about ways that a person can compensate for a lack of skill or ability in recreation and leisure. Have you ever had your hands full and carried your car keys in your mouth? A child who is unable to use one or both hands may be able to perform a task using his or her mouth.  When one body part doesn't function completely, the child may use that body part as a functional assist. For example, try picking up a large playground ball with just one hand. You will find that you can pick the ball up by assisting with your foot, your chest, and your chin. The child with impaired vision or hearing may need you to provide them with additional cues or physical contact to perform a task. Blind skiers use sighted guides to call out position and direction so that they may ski safely. People with impaired mobility may perform skills that are usually done standing up, while seated in a chair, such as bowling.

Adapted Equipment:
There are many kinds of adapted equipment available, ranging from expensive complicated pieces of equipment to the very simple and inexpensive. Adapted recreation and leisure equipment can be found in catalogs, some sporting goods stores, and at a few recreational areas/facilities. One handed fishing rods, pool cue supports, one handed knitting and embroidery aids, playing card holders and shufflers, large print books and cards, books on cassette tape, mouthsticks, batting tees, bowling ball ramps, and quick release bowling balls are just some of the equipment that is available. There are a few easy and inexpensive things that you can adapt yourself. For children with limited grip strength, it is often helpful to build up the handle of a piece of equipment.  By using tape or foam tubing, you can enlarge the grip on a tennis racquet, ping pong paddle, baseball bat, golf club, paint brush, and writing or eating utensils. Velcro strapping can be used to help secure equipment to a child. Playing card holders can be made by cutting slots in a tissue box, to help the child with limited grip strength or arm function. You can make a mouthstick by taping a pencil, brush, crayon, or marker to a chopstick. Page turning is made easy by simply using the eraser on the end of a pencil.  For the child with impaired reaction time and coordination, use large objects.  For example, use balloons, large playground balls, or beach balls for throwing, catching, and kicking. There is a terrific non-skid material called "Dycem" that can be used to keep coloring books from sliding around on the table, secure a wood project when sanding, and facilitate holding just about anything. It can be cut into strips or shapes and affixed to materials; it is very helpful to persons with tremors or limited hand or arm function.

By changing the way a skill or activity is performed, a child can have the opportunity to participate. Usually ice-skating is done with regular ice skates or even double runner skates. By pushing a folding chair around on the ice, a child with impaired balance may be able to skate. In many schools and leagues, the batting tee is used to help teach batting skills.  Basketball can be played from a wheelchair? If a child cannot throw a ball with one hand, try using two hands. Think about simple changes like using an overhead or underhand toss, trying the activity while seated, or using a different kind of ball, bat, glove, or racquet.


One of the simplest adaptations you can make is to change the rules of the game. Change the scoring, the size of the playing field, the distance between bases, and the hoop height. Allow more chances at bat, eliminate strikeouts, allow more than one bounce of the ball for tennis or ping-pong, and give an extra turn.  Encourage participation for the sake of enjoying the game. There are many non-traditional games and activities where there is no winner or loser. Remember that participation in any activity is for fun, to learn and demonstrate a new skill, to build self-esteem, and to learn how to play with others.


Funding for this program provided by the Department of Health and Human Services