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Swimming to improve socio-health of children with disabilities

Copyrights: Ivan Anastasovski

Swimming to improve socio-health of children with disabilities

In a pilot project conducted in Skopje, Macedonia, a specialized swimming project was conducted for children with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic to see how physical activity can improve their socio-health aspects.

This article was submitted as part of our call for reshaping the future of sport and development.

Children with disabilities are often ostracized from society – their integrity as human beings is violated, and thus they are unable to form and express themselves as persons in society. This is especially true in terms of sport and physical activity, where children with disabilities do not often get many opportunities.

The project

A specialized swimming program was formulated to introduce children with disabilities to physical activity and allow them to maintain their socio-health during the COVID-19 pandemic. The project aimed to develop sports abilities in children with disabilities, while motivating local and national authorities to create sports policies in which more importance is given to people with disabilities and their involvement in sport.

The sports program was created by sports educators in swimming and was approved by the Agency for Youth and Sports. Besides the sport focus, the program also had an integrative approach to offer an opportunity for the full integration of persons with disabilities in the sports system in Macedonia.

The research

This research project was piloted by the Faculty of Physical Education, Sport and Health at Saints Cyril and Methodius University, and supported by the sports facilities at Sky Wellness, one of the biggest spa and fitness centers in Skopje. This is one of the few studies on children with disabilities and their physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The research defined three important socio-health aspects that were most affected by COVID-19 in each student with a disability:

  1. Psychophysical condition and well-being
  2. Mental and physical health
  3. Social health (socialization)

25 children with different types of disabilities were part of this pilot project. The children were in primary school, between grades 1 and 3. The children were divided into three groups, for practical purposes, in accordance with protocols for protection from COVID-19.

The swimming activities took place in the Sky Wellness fitness center, located in the Municipality of Aerodrom. Sports educators from the Faculty of Physical Education, Sports and Health carried out the activities.

The first part of the project was the direct involvement with the children. The approach to the swimming lessons was to individualize the plan for every child. Hence, one sport educator was assigned to each child. The sport educators were trained to maintain a friendly and supportive attitude towards the child. There were also special aids available for the children, to help them in the swimming pool. In addition to learning to swim and getting an opportunity to exercise, the children got a chance to socialize and communicate with each other and their sports educators.

 

The second part of the project involved the parents. Parents were first asked to answer a specially designed questionnaire, used to determine the diagnosis of each child and obtain relevant data for the research, including what they wanted their children to attain from the project and their views about sports. While the children were swimming, discussions were held with the parents about their experiences with their children and any advice they may have. This part of the project proved to be very useful for parents – they were also able to take an active part in the research.

The project expected an improvement in the socio-health aspects of the children through the swimming lessons. For this project, socio-health aspects included:

  • Psychophysical state, which refers to the relationship between one's inner (mental) and outer (physical) world
  • Well-being, which is a positive outcome that is important to people and to many sectors of society, because it tells us that people think their lives are going well
  • Mental health, which includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being
  • Health, which is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not just the absence of disease or physical defects
  • Social health, which could be defined as our ability to communicate and form meaningful relationships with other people

An analysis by gender was first conducted to understand the reasons why boys and girls joined the program. 44% of boys stated that they joined the project to improve their psycho-physical health and well-being, 31% to improve mental and physical health, and 25% to improve their socialization. 33% of girls said that they joined the program in order to improve all the different aspects of their socio-health. 

Next, an analysis was conducted based on the type of disability that the child had. The children were divided into three groups on the basis of their disability, including:

  • Physical disability
  • Intellectual disability (speech disorders, autism, visually impaired, impaired hearing)
  • Lack of psychophysical development

For 58% of the children with physical disabilities, they joined the program to improve their mental and physical health. On the other hand, for children with intellectual disabilities who were speech impaired, 50% had joined the program to improve their physical and mental health but also to increase their socialization. The same is seen for the children with autism, 50% of whom joined the program not only to improve their physical and mental health but also for the socialization aspect.

For the visually impaired children, 100% were part of the project to improve their psychophysical condition and well-being, and 100% of students with hearing impairments joined the program to improve their physical and mental health. For children who lacked psychophysical development, 100% of them attended the program to improve their psychophysical condition and well-being.

The future is inclusive

Through this pilot project, we found that the swimming lessons were able to help them attain happiness and satisfaction, especially during a particularly difficult period of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was important for them to be able to engage in physical activity, and the experience of making friends and engaging with their peers was invaluable.

Moving forward, it is important that municipalities that serve their citizens should find activities related to sports and physical activity to help families and children with disabilities, who are otherwise unable to participate in regular sports schools and attain appropriate sport education.

 

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Professor Dr. Ivan Anastasovski works at Saints Cyril and Methodius University in the Faculty of Physical Education, Sport and Health in Skopje, Macedonia. He is the President of Geostrategic Institute GLOBAL and Vice President of Sports Academy Sky Wellness.

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Published

Thursday, June 16, 2022 - 21:29

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