Director of Compliance and Customer Success
Circulo Health, Inc.
Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are characterized by the presence of a diagnosed disability, most often acquired at birth, that affects the person’s physical and/or cognitive growth. For many individuals with I/DD, symptoms of their diagnoses may result in extreme weight loss or obesity, muscle degeneration, loss of coordination or balance, and musculoskeletal/cardiological concerns. Support to complete daily activities or physical therapy may also be required. Some examples of developmental disabilities are:
● Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
● Down Syndrome
● Intellectual Disability
● Cerebral palsy
● Spina bifida
As the I/DD community continues to advocate for providing inclusive programs to support physical literacy and positive health outcomes, here are some tips and tricks:
● Use “people first” language when speaking to or about a person with I/DD that makes sure to put the person before their disability.
Example: Mary is a person with an intellectual disability, not Mary is intellectually disabled.
● Always be inclusive. A person with an intellectual or developmental disability may be able to participate in an activity as designed, or with some modifications. Don’t assume a person cannot participate because of their disability.
● Provide activities that can be modified for people who use adaptive equipment. Many sports activities have been modified for people who use wheelchairs, walkers, ankle foot orthotics, or have limited range of motion. Try incorporating adaptive sports equipment into your activities.
● Be patient. It might take people with intellectual and developmental disabilities longer to participate in an activity. Don’t immediately assume they need a modified version. Give them time and support to complete the activity as it was designed and
adjust if needed.
● Demonstrate the activity step-by-step. Breaking each aspect down into the individual steps to complete can help with focusing and reduce frustration.
● Never use food as a reward for participating in activities, unless specifically instructed as part of a comprehensive plan This can have the adverse effect of discouraging participation unless a reward is present and can lead to additional health problems.
● Do not use negative reinforcement. If the person tries an activity and does not immediately succeed, provide positive praise and encouragement. Constructive criticism can assist someone in better understanding how to improve.
Activities designed for people with disabilities can include people who do not have a disability. Consider incorporating activities into your organization’s curriculum that are designed for people with disabilities and allow everyone to participate. In doing so,
organizations can encourage more inclusion and understanding into the lives of people with disabilities.
If your organization works with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities that require continuous support to complete daily activities due to physical or cognitive needs, the Motor Activity Training Program (MATP) through the Special Olympics provides coaching activities and suggestions tailored to people with different levels of abilities. You can find information about tailored physical programs at https://www.specialolympics.org/what-we-do/sports/motor-activity-training-program.
Remember, we all learn from participating in experiences that are new. Ask questions, ask for feedback, and let the person with the disability take the lead in teaching an activity.
And don’t forget, “nothing about us without us!”
Amelia has worked in the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities for over 10 years. She previously served as the Executive Director of a multi-state not-for-profit organization supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in home and community- based settings and intermediate care facilities. Prior to that role, she worked for the state Medicaid Managed Care agency providing guardianship services to incapacitated adults, and as a Client Rights and provider trainer at the Florida state Medicaid waiver agency for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.