Guide to Activities for Children with Disabilities and Permanent Injuries

What are adaptive sports?

A child laying on top of a horse is assisted by an instructor

Adaptive sports, also known as disabled sports or parasports, are competitive sports for people with disabilities that are often adapted to players’ abilities. Adaptive sports follow the same principles as sports played by athletes without disabilities, with modifications to make the game accessible for people with varying cognitive, physical, or behavioral disabilities. These can include:

What kinds of adaptive sports are there?

The Move United USA website currently features 37 different adaptive sports that are available across the country to children and adults with disabilities. Some of these include:

  • Archery: year-round opportunities, rental equipment available
  • Basketball: there are five divisions available that vary in level of competitiveness, the rules are the same as NBA rules with a few minor differentiations, October through early April
  • Cycling: bikes can be adapted to fit each individual and their disability, short learning curve
  • Downhill skiing: there are many kinds of skis available from mono-skis, bi-skis and sit-skiing, competitions are available for all levels of ability
  • Golf: handicap system based on skill level regardless of physical ability,
  • Sailing: easy to embark/disembark the sailboat, competitions available at local and paralympic level, no age limitations
  • Snowboarding: differently shaped boards depending on skill level, ski poles can be used for additional balance, tethering the student’s board to the instructor
  • Swimming: less of a chance of injury due to the lack of impact while keeping one’s heart rate elevated
  • Triathlons: a swim, followed by a bike ride and then a run, levels based on age range and abilities, some offer a relay option where a different person competes in each discipline, training camps exist to prepare athletes

A full list of adaptive sports can be found on Move United USA, along with detailed information about current programs and how to get involved as either a participant or as a volunteer.

What are the therapeutic benefits of adaptive sports?

Staying active while living with a disability can help to increase cardiovascular ability, improve coordination, build muscle and strengthen bones, benefits of exercise for any individual. For children especially, it helps to improve their behavior and self-confidence. Socially, adaptive sports help to facilitate meaningful interactions with family, friends and peers while enhancing personal independence. Additionally participation in adaptive sports promotes team-building, helps participants to strengthen relationships centered around a common interest and provides networking opportunities.

An adaptive surfing instructor and student stand on a surfboard together and ride a wave.

Regionally (across the U.S.), do offerings in adaptive sports change?

Yes, depending on the region in which one lives, the adaptive sports available will vary based on the climate. For example, finding a snowboarding program in Florida would not be practical because the weather is not fit for that particular activity. Coastal states like California or Florida, however, may offer adaptive surfing or water skiing, for example, while states like Colorado would be far more likely to provide adaptive skiing opportunities.

What kinds of adaptive sports are there in MI specifically?

During the summer, there is Miracle League of Michigan Baseball and adaptive water skiing and kayaking. Michigan Adaptive Sports offer both water skiing and kayaking, which participants can sign up for online. During the winter, they also offer adaptive snow skiing at local ski hills Pine Knob and Mount Holly. Signing up to volunteer for these programs is also available online and they are always looking for people who are passionate about sports accessibility.

How do I pay for adaptive sports and disabled equipment?

While the thought of paying for the necessary equipment to participate in adaptive sports may be daunting, there are many ways to minimize costs and make the experience more financially accessible.

Becoming a Brand Ambassador is great for people who love sharing their stories on social media and do not mind promoting the product as a way to use it for free or at a discounted price. The best way to become a brand ambassador is to find and contact companies that you are particularly passionate about and would enjoy working with.

Apply for a Grant in order to cover the cost of your equipment. Grants often cover 100% of the equipment cost. Some grants are available to anyone, but others are specified based on age, type of disability, or status as a veteran.

Grants For Everyone


Grants for Veterans


Grants for Young People


Grants for People with Spinal Cord Injuries


Grants for Injured Athletes


Grants for Adaptive Ski and Sports


Buy Refurbished by going online to eBay, Amazon, Craigslist, or emailing the companies directly to see if they have any refurbished models in stock.

Use a Payment Plan that works for you. Only choose interest-free plans so you only pay for the product, not loan fees.

Talk to local universities. Many universities not only have adaptive sports programs for people of all ages (such as University of Michigan’s adaptive gymnastics program and Best Buddies program), but also have connections to resources like grant funding and organizations that can help obtain needed supplies and equipment.

Recreational Activities

Music therapy can be done individually or in a community setting such as handbell choir/chorus. Certified music therapists will have a degree in their field and are willing to start with students at any ability level and allow them to grow from there. Benefits of music therapy include promotion of:

  • Relatedness
  • Relaxation
  • Learning
  • Self-expression
  • Success-oriented opportunities for achievement and mastery

Some examples of art therapy projects include: watercolor, scrapbooking, jewelry making with beads and educational coloring books. Art Shop provides online videos and eBook lessons for people in all stages of art exploration with a variety of developmental disabilities. They cater to a variety of disabilities and their goals are to help increase and develop:

  • Fine motor skills
  • Spatial skills
  • Decision-making skills
  • Attention span
  • Imagination
  • Problem-solving skills