M E N T A L R E T A R D A
T I O N
Major Concern #1
Children with mental retardation have difficulties in cognitive
function that may make many traditional adult physical activity options
more difficult. Specifically, the ability to understand complex directions
and strategies in games is common in individuals with mental retardation.
Activities that involve one part directions are also
inherent in many of the games and physical activity options we all know and
love. For individuals with MR running activities may be something that the
whole family can enjoy. The problem is getting kids with MR to understand
the concept of pacing or jogging for distance rather than running for
speed. Running with kids and setting a pace or even fast walking at first
is recommended. Adding music is another way to help kids pace so that
running or jogging for distance is enjoyed.
Modified games are also possible if rules and objectives
are simplified for home and recreational play. For example when playing whiffleball or kick ball at home having only one base is
recommended to simplify the game. The batter hits the ball runs to the lone
base and then “home”.
Basketball can also be played without attention to
dribbling as well as other lead up type games such as around the world or
hotshot. Hotshot is a game where each player gets a turn at shooting for
one minute and scores are awarded for baskets depending on how far from the
hoop. Using cones or chalk to outline spots provides a game where other
important counting and adding, as well as, rule following can be
incorporated in backyard play. Keep in mind that basketball can be played
using a lower basket if a child has trouble making baskets on a regulation
Major Concern #2
Delay in motor skills and hitting motor milestones is
common in children with mental retardation. Keep in mind that experience is
the critical factor in learning to move and the development of skills
needed to play games common in society.
Skills such as catching and throwing can be done with
just about any object. Having children learn to throw and catch stuffed
animals is one way to get children experience in these important skills.
Using hard balls leads to injuries and fear of getting hurt. Today softer
baseballs and footballs are available. Make sure that children master the
skill before using harder and heavier throwing objects. Even in Special
Olympics type play, some teams use harder balls and bats. Training and
practice where safety is foremost is critical if children are to develop
the necessary skill to play at more advanced levels. Starting children when
they can sit unassisted rolling a softer ball helps develop tracking and
catching skills. Progress to bouncing and then to catching softer objects
from short distances is recommended.
Major Concern #3
Many children with mental retardation may suffer from a
history of failure and feedback from others about their lack of cognitive
abilities. This can lead to “learned helplessness” or an over reliance on
others during games and sports.
Reinforce your child’s success with comments about
effort and their ability to do the task. For example a child who makes a
basket needs to hear that their practice paid off and how “good they are”. However,
when a child fails, provide feedback related to picking a better strategy
next time. For example when a child misses a basket during basketball, they
may have not pushed hard enough with their legs to get the ball to the
hoop. Or if they did not catch the ball, they may have had their hands in a
poor position. Telling a child to turn his hands over so his thumbs are
facing to catch the high toss is better than telling them to try harder
next time. It is unlikely that any child who misses a ball did so because
he failed to try. This leads to two problems, the missed ball and the
perception by the child that he “did not try hard enough.” Effort
attributions for success and strategy attributions for unsuccessful attempts
may go a long way to counteract what is believed to be a tendency for
children with MR to feel helpless in sports or play situations.