Parents Are Key to Fighting Obesity In Special Needs Children


celia kibler, (left) at Funfit Grammy\'s DayBy Andrea Archibald, staff writer

WASHINGTON, D.C. (RPRN) 7/27/2009–Obesity, in recent years, has developed into a worldwide health concern of epidemic proportions. It touches almost all countries, across all age groups. It is especially alarming and prevalent for children with special needs, who are generally presented with far fewer opportunities for regular physical activity, and, for some, whose conditions limit or restricts physical activity altogether. Celia Kibler, founder of Funfit Family Fitness Centers, recognized early on the need for fitness programs targeting special needs children and their family.

Funfit in the DC area serves as a fitness center for school-based programs of all levels, from infants,  to tweens, all the way to high school, providing both special needs and non-special needs children with active-play programs.

‘Parents are the starting point’
“A big huge part of it starts at home,” told  Kibler to RushPRNews during an interview. “Parents don’t believe in their children. They don’t think they have the ability to do a lot.” This misguided thinking results in parents failing to use the many physical programs at their disposal, missing out on the many benefits. Many parents incorrectly assume the program won’t work for their child, and fear that their child will be excluded or teased.

Special Needs is a broad term encompassing a range of physical, physiological, behavioral, cognitive, and/or developmental conditions. According to The National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs conducted in 2007, an estimated 9.4 million children under the age of 18 have a special health care need. This represents close to 13% of all children in the US.

Obesity is of special concern for this group. For some, the added weight can make it more difficult to maintain or improve movement and overall physical function. Furthermore, a stigma remains attached to obesity, representing yet another “difference” from other children, resulting in children feeling further ostracized from their peer group.

In the long run, secondary health conditions develop as a result of obesity or excessive weight, causing further complications to existing conditions.

An active play program, especially a mainstream one, benefits parent, child, and peer.  According to Kibler, as a parent, mainstreaming is one of the most important things to do for your special needs child. “Your child starts feeling like a regular kid,” she told RushPRNews.

“Our son John has an extremely rare genetic condition called Joubert Syndrome. Two areas that he is most challenged with are speech and motor skills due to his underdeveloped cerebellar vermis, ataxia and hypotonia. We have always loved Funfit because it is a place where John is just a child having fun and exercising, building his skills and enjoying music. Additionally, it is also an excellent place for him to be included with “typical” peers who are excellent models for talking and walking. The staff of Funfit has always made us feel like family and allowed John to scaffold the class to his needs very easily and naturally. We also have his birthday parties there as Funfit can meet the spectrum of abilities of our family and friends.”–AnnCorkery, a participant  at Funfit Family Fitness Centers

Enroll Your Child in A Non-Competitive Active Class
A non-competitive active class benefits physical fitness and control, strengthens cognitive skills, and improves language. A mainstream class, in particular, goes beyond the physical, mental, and cognitive benefits, benefiting your special needs child emotionally. It is essential for a special needs child to interact with non-special needs kids and be incorporated into the group. Not only are both sets of kids taught a vital life lesson, but your special needs child gains priceless social skills as well.  “ It goes miles to building their self-esteem and confidence,” says Kibler. “By being told they can, they discover that they can!”

Special Needs Children Need a Special Diet
Diet proves to be especially successful in improving various special needs issues, with specific dietary recommendations for different special needs issues. Beyond the physical, weight-control, and overall health benefits, diet goes a long way to help special needs, skill, developmental, and cognitive issues, among others.

In her book Special Diets for Special Kids: Understanding & Implementing Special Diets to Aid in the Treatment of Autism & Related Developmental Disorders, author Dr. Lisa Lewis, PhD., guides parents to make proper food choices for dealing with specific issues.

Play With Your Child
Children, regardless of age, learn a tremendous amount through play. In early development stages, children learn the essential physical skills. In later years, however, children of all needs learn vital lessons about life and themselves.

As a parent of a special needs child, participating in a fun, active program with your child could be the single-most important and beneficial thing you can do. Play removes the stress from the situation, allowing you to find relief and enjoyment in being a parent. Only pleasure in its purest form exists when you play with your child.

Play with your child teaches a lot about each other, including how to communicate more effectively.  According to Kibler, a parent needs “to simply enjoy the parent-child relationship, and an active-play program is a great way to do that.”

“Make sure to have fun with your child because you love your child and your child loves you.”