Special Olympics New Zealand trials new way to include kids with disabilities in sport

A trial of a Special Olympics course for intellectually disabled children has finished in Wellington today, with young athletes showing improvements in under two months.

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Those with intellectual disabilities are less likely to play, so the initiative aims to change that. Source: 1 NEWS

Nyah Hopkins, 4 years old, has improved her jumping, balance and coordination during the programme, according to her mother Julie Hopkins.

“We've just seen her grow in confidence, and more and more every week she joins in, listens to the coaches heaps more,” Ms Hopkins said.

Sport New Zealand reports disabled children are less likely to participate in a range of sports and play-related activities.

The Young Athletes course aims to address that, with research from Special Olympics showing intellectually-disabled children that participate in the programme develop motor skills more than twice as fast as those who didn’t take part.

The programme is already in place in 175 countries.

“The parents have told us about how it’s just all the fundamental movements and coordination that they’re gaining will help them keep up with their peers in mainstream schooling,” Special Olympics New Zealand chief executive Carolyn Young said.

Ms Young said the pilot was useful for parents who are told about the abilities their disabled child will not have when they’re diagnosed.

“At Special Olympics we’re about ability and what someone can do and how we can grow them from here to here and you know take the family on the journey with them, and so a programme like this, they can take a lot of the learnings at home and they can play with balloons and balls and practise their walking in a straight line… and then when they come back the next week they’re so much better,” she said.

Sport and Recreation Minister Grant Robertson said the pilot was “magnificent,” but could not commit funding to help extend the programme to other parts of the country until the pilot had been assessed.

Special Olympics New Zealand will provide an evaluation report by the end of next month, Ms Young said.

In October, it was announced Sport New Zealand will invest an extra $7 million over the next four years to help address inequalities in play, recreation and sport opportunities for disabled New Zealanders.