Cerebral palsy and sport

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Cerebral palsy and sport

People living with cerebral palsy and their families may feel that sport and other physical activities are closed off to them, because of the significant challenges their disabilities bring. However, the truth is that participating in sports is not only possible for many people with cerebral palsy, but is in fact a recommended and hugely beneficial way of staying fit and healthy.

Many individuals with cerebral palsy, even those who use a wheelchair full-time, can and do participate in a wide range of sports. This is made possible by the many organisations in the UK that offer adaptive sports sessions designed specifically to be inclusive for disabled people, helping them to build their physical strength and expand their social horizons at the same time.

At JMW Solicitors, several clients with cerebral palsy that we secured compensation for have engaged with sports, with the help of organisations such as Cerebral Palsy Sport. In this guide, we will explain how sports can be beneficial for people with cerebral palsy, and highlight the various support measures offered by our partners at CP Sport.

What challenges might individuals with cerebral palsy face when participating in sport?

Typically, people with cerebral palsy find it difficult to get involved in sport due to the impact their condition has on their physical capabilities. These challenges vary greatly depending on the severity and type of cerebral palsy, but may include:

  • Mobility issues - individuals with cerebral palsy often experience difficulty with balance, coordination, and movement, making it difficult to get involved in sports that involve precise coordination or quick changes in direction.
  • Muscle strength and spasticity - many individuals with cerebral palsy experience muscle spasticity, limiting their range of motion. They may also lack muscle strength, posing a challenge in performing physical tasks.
  • Fatigue - due to the extra effort required to move and coordinate their muscles, individuals with cerebral palsy may tire more easily than their peers.
  • Communication difficulties - some individuals with cerebral palsy may have difficulty communicating, which could impact their ability to understand instructions or work with teammates.
  • Accessibility and inclusion - not all sports facilities and programs are accessible or inclusive for individuals with disabilities, creating additional barriers to participation. For example, the buildings in which games are played may lack accessibility, or they may be unable to provide the adaptive equipment that people with cerebral palsy need to participate in sport.

However, as the success of the Paralympic Games has shown, individuals with cerebral palsy and other disabilities are absolutely able to participate and thrive in a wide range of sports with the right support and adaptations. The key is to make sure that the individual in question has everything they need to get involved.

What kind of sport can people with cerebral palsy get involved in?

There is a wide range of sport that people with cerebral palsy can participate in, thanks to organisations like CP Sport, which collaborate with local, regional, and national partners to provide sessions that are accessible and enjoyable for people with specific needs. This includes variations on many of the most popular sports, as well as specially designed activities that allow people of varying levels of disability to fairly compete in the same activities.

CP Sport offers the following activities:

  • Athletics
  • Badminton
  • Boccia
  • Cricket
  • Cycling
  • Equestrian (Horse Riding)
  • Football
  • Frame Football
  • Frame Running
  • Golf
  • Gymnastics
  • Netball
  • Snooker
  • Swimming
  • Table Cricket
  • Tennis
  • Triathlon
  • Wheelchair Basketball
  • Wheelchair Rugby

You can find out more about the activities offered by CP Sport here.

What steps must be taken to help individuals with cerebral palsy get involved in sport?

Helping individuals with cerebral palsy get involved in sport requires a thoughtful and inclusive approach. Here are the factors that carers and providers will need to consider to deliver the best possible experience for people with cerebral palsy:

  1. Understand the individual's interests and abilities - start by getting to know the person's interests, abilities and limitations. What sports do they enjoy watching or participating in? What are their physical abilities and limitations?
  2. Choose the right sport - not all sports may be suitable for every individual with cerebral palsy. Consider the physical demands of the sport and the person's specific medical needs, as well as their particular skills. Some people may do better in individual sports like swimming or athletics, for example, while others may prefer the teamwork and strategy involved in team sports like football or basketball.
  3. Adaptations and modifications - sports may need to be adapted or modified to accommodate individuals with cerebral palsy. This could involve using different equipment, changing the rules or altering the way the sport is played - for example, a game of basketball could be adapted by lowering the hoop, using a lighter ball, or allowing a player to take two shots at the basket.
  4. Professional guidance - seek guidance from physiotherapists, occupational therapists and sports coaches who have experience of working with individuals with cerebral palsy. They can provide valuable advice on safe and effective ways to adapt sports and physical activities to accommodate particular physical limitations.
  5. Safety measures - ensure the individual has the necessary safety equipment and that it fits properly. Regular breaks should be encouraged during sports activities to prevent fatigue and overheating. It is also important to ensure that the sports environment is safe and accessible.
  6. Promote positive attitudes - encourage a positive attitude towards sport and physical activity. Celebrate achievements, no matter how small, and focus on the fun and enjoyment of participation, rather than just competition and winning.

By taking these steps, parents, caregivers and coaches can help individuals with cerebral palsy get involved in sport, and get the most out of their experiences.

What are the benefits of sport for individuals with cerebral palsy?

Getting involved in sport can offer numerous benefits for adults and children with cerebral palsy. These benefits can positively impact their physical and emotional wellbeing in various ways:

  • Physical health - playing sport works as a form of physical therapy or core strength training, helping the person to exercise their muscles, improve flexibility and enhance their overall wellbeing. It can also help improve motor skills, balance and hand-eye coordination, and contribute to better cardiovascular health, improved respiratory function and healthier body weight.
  • Confidence and self-esteem - participating in sport can provide a significant boost to confidence and self-esteem, giving the person an opportunity to master new skills, overcome challenges and achieve their personal goals. In turn, this also helps to improve mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Social interaction - sport also offers an invaluable opportunity for social interaction, helping to reduce feelings of isolation and build friendships. This is particularly impactful for children with cerebral palsy, who will be given a chance to develop social skills such as teamwork, communication and cooperation by interacting with other children, while furthering their cognitive development.
  • Independence - for many individuals with cerebral palsy, sport can provide an opportunity to develop a greater sense of independence. Learning to control their movements, make decisions on the field, and manage their own equipment can all contribute to a greater sense of autonomy, helping them to stay balanced and feel more confident in how they interact with the world.

Because sport can benefit people with cerebral palsy in so many different ways, it is highly recommended for anyone with this condition to consider the support options available to them that can help them to get involved in disability sport.

It is also important to recognise that there is legislation in place to ensure that people with cerebral palsy have equal opportunities to get involved in sport. Under the Equality Act 2010, individuals with disabilities, including cerebral palsy, are protected from discrimination, which means that sports clubs, schools and other organisations must make reasonable adjustments to ensure individuals with cerebral palsy can participate in sport and physical education.

This means that individuals with cerebral palsy should not be excluded from participating in sport due to their disability, and that facilities should provide additional support, adaptive activities and accessibility options to ensure that everyone has access to the same opportunities. Individuals with cerebral palsy also have the right to be treated fairly and with respect in a sports setting, in a way that upholds their dignity and privacy.

What support is available to help people with cerebral palsy get into sport?

If you have cerebral palsy and want to see how you can get involved in sport, we recommend you seek advice from CP Sport, the UK's leading national disability sports charity supporting people with cerebral palsy. The organisation works to encourage people to stay active and reach their sporting potential, putting people with cerebral palsy and their families at the heart of everything they do.

The charity’s services and adapted sports sessions are specifically designed to help children, young people and adults with cerebral palsy and related neurological conditions to enjoy all of the benefits of physical activity, as well as offering expert support to parents, support workers, teachers, coaches, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, sport providers and other professionals on how to adapt sports for people with cerebral palsy.

In recent years, JMW has worked with CP Sport to help promote these sessions. Here are a few quotes from attendees of the events we supported in 2019:

  • "Today was an amazing day and it's lovely to be able to compete with people who are like me."
  • “I feel achievement and I have new friends.”
  • "Fabulous opportunity and great to see my daughter meet other kids with CP."
  • "RaceRunning offered a new challenge for my daughter, who hasn't walked for ten years."
  • "This was such an excellent and valuable experience for our daughter as she took part in activities that she would usually find daunting. She loved the event, made friends which she usually finds difficult and her confidence grew.”
  • "My family have really enjoyed the day. My daughter enjoyed trying new sports and I'm sure she is leaving with more self-confidence."

While there will always be challenges to overcome, this testimony shows the level of positive impact that participation in sports can offer for individuals with cerebral palsy. With the right support, adaptations and safety measures, sports can be a rewarding part of life for these individuals, and organisations like CP Sport are dedicated to ensuring that as many people as possible are able to enjoy it.

If you or a loved one would like to try one of the many sports CP Sport has to offer, or would like to find out more information, please see their website at cpsport.org, or email info@cpsport.org.

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