Helping Kids With Developmental Disabilities be.well

Together with the Cincinnati Parks and Cincinnati Parks Foundation, we’re changing the physical activity report card.

Colton, a 12-year-old with cerebral palsy and other health issues, enjoys skiing with the assistance of coaches in the be.well program.

A compelling body of literature has helped us to understand that kids with disabilities engage in levels of activity that are approximately 30 percent lower than national fitness guidelines. They more than double the amount of time spent in sedentary behavior, relative to their typically developing peers.

Decreased physical activity and increased sedentary behavior can have serious health implications, including reduced life expectancy. Importantly, 82 percent of adults with disabilities report that they are more likely to engage in physical activity when a healthcare provider recommends it.

Ruth Peterson, the director of the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity says, “If we could package physical activity into a pill, it would be the most effective drug on the market.” It’s one of the many reasons we’re working hard to create opportunities for sport and recreation, regardless of ability.

We believe that kids have the right to play at a level that is commensurate with their physical, mental and emotional maturity, as well as their emerging athletic ability. And that commitment to help kids move goes beyond the walls of the hospital.

Outside the Walls

Guided by our Division of Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy (OTPT), be.well is a response to the national physical activity crisis. It is a reminder to our community that Cincinnati Children’s is not just a place for sick kids; it’s a home for healthy ones too. The service line produces dozens of community-based sport and leisure opportunities for children with chronic or complex medical conditions.

“We aren’t hoping to reinvent a wheel,” explains Jen Angeli, PT, PhD, who co-leads the service line. “Our community is full of opportunity, and be.well simply reminds community partners that we ought to work together to ensure that those doors are open to kids who are differently-abled.”

Participants of be.well can enjoy multi-week series or single event “try it” days. Past events have included biking, dancing, hiking, yoga, swimming, tennis, snow and water skiing, martial arts, wheelchair sports and more. Currently, be.well has open spots on their move team, which includes a Fleet Feet-paced 1-mile race in the PigAbilities, and the gardening team, where kids will enjoy a curated experience at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Tunes and Blooms and horticulture practice in accessible beds at the Civic Garden Center.

“We believe that kids have the right to play at a level that is commensurate with their physical, mental and emotional maturity, as well as their emerging athletic ability.”

Colton gets in some martial arts moves during one of the be.well fitness events in Smale Park.

Cincinnati Parks Provides the Perfect Backdrop

Central to the success of be.well is the identification of community spaces that are safe and accessible for leisure pursuits. “The be.well program is dependent on physical environments that facilitate participation,” says Angeli. “Our Cincinnati Parks are committed to access and inclusion. The health benefits of parks alone are abundant and already well understood. Landing health promotion programs in their beautiful green spaces is a sensible and important next step.”

In 2019, the Cincinnati Parks Foundation became a primary funder for be.well, and year-long wellness programming tailored to individuals with high health needs began. Their continued support has permitted tremendous scale of the service line, and simultaneously has increased non-traditional park user reach.

“The Cincinnati Parks partnership with Cincinnati Children’s encourages our kids to explore the notion that parks are for everyone,” says Angeli. “Together, we can help vulnerable children to develop human potential through recreation.”

Colton the Great

Case in point? Colton.

Diagnosed with cerebral palsy and other health issues, 12-year-old Colton has struggled with tight muscles and muscle tone, muscle weakness and poor balance. Colton wears leg braces and uses a walker. He has undergone numerous surgeries and worn a path down the mirrored halls of OTPT’s medical office building, working on mobility.

As a be.well advocate, Colton knows that it is especially important for him to be physically active. And now, he’s learning to do things he didn’t know he was capable of.

The be.well service line has allowed Colton to explore and test the limits of his ability with things like martial arts, snow skiing and rock climbing. He is guided by therapists, coached by community partners and is able to play alongside similarly abled peers.

“Colton’s potential is immeasurable,” says his mom, Kendra. “And so is the difference that be.well is making in these kids’ lives. The fact that we have this in our own backyard is an amazing blessing.”

“We can help vulnerable children to develop human potential through recreation.”

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