Childhood is a time of climbing trees, riding bikes, poking under rocks and tumbling down grassy hills. Little minds are filled with stories of heroic daring through the books we read to them and the movies they watch. Children take these stories away and let them kindle their own desires for adventure and we see this enacted in their role play as they build their make believe forts, slay imaginary dragons and navigate crocodile infested oceans on their pool lilos.This childlike sense of wonder and innate need to discover and learn about the world around us is not exclusive to able-bodied children. In fact, we could imagine that for the mind of a child to be trapped in an immobile body, or without sight, speech or the cognitive abilities to express this, the desire to explore and experience life would be magnified and a lot of the frustrations apparent in children who are limited in their physical abilities can be attributed to this. I remember when taking my own differently-abled son to the playground when he was little how his legs would start ‘running’ mid-air as he’d watch the other children dash about.
Here are some great reasons for making adventure part of your special needs child’s childhood:
Sparking curiosity and imagination
Children are naturally curious. The number of times the average parent hears ‘why’ and ‘how’ is testament to this. This is something I had to remind myself in the early years. With limited speech my son couldn’t ask the why and how questions, so I tried to be mindful in situations to answer questions that hadn’t been asked. It’s the same with adventures. We need to create the opportunities for exploration, discovery and experiencing the ‘what ifs’ and possibilities that our special needs children can’t go out and create for themselves in the garden or on the playground.
Putting emotions into perspective
Adventures cause emotions. This is the simple truth. Anticipation, excitement, fear, joy, satisfaction… adventure can elicit just about every type of emotion. For a child that is feeling frustrated at being stuck indoors in a chair all day, frustration can become second nature, but start bringing a little extraordinary into the ordinary routine and suddenly the child has something to look forward to, something to relieve their boredom, an outlet for pent up curiosity. Fear is a big part of adventure, and it is a big part of a special needs child’s life. When you are completely dependent on others for even the tiniest daily function, and no ability to control your own body, fear is a very real and constant emotion. Humans are born with two fears – falling and loud noises. My son displays these fears acutely. For a little boy who has such a fear of falling that at night in bed he has to be right up against the wall, he recently went ziplining with much enthusiasm – twice – and now in the mornings I find him with both legs hanging out the bed as he balances precariously close to the edge.
Discovering new passions
Some children love riding bikes, others are like fish when in the swimming pool. For a child with special needs, very often they don’t have the opportunity to discover their passions naturally. Creating opportunities for varied adventures allows you child to learn what they love, and also what they don’t. Perhaps horse riding will be the craze, or maybe river rafting. Possibly your child may love ziplining as much as my son does, despite your own over-protectiveness telling you otherwise, or consider adaptive surfing or cycling events. Unless your child is given the chance, she may never discover what gets her adrenalin pumping or counting down the days to the weekend.
Finding like-minded people to share experiences with is one of life’s great blessings. Getting your special needs child out there into the world, living and loving life, makes it more likely for him to make new friends, share a sense of knowing as they look forward to participating in an event, and feel part of something larger and more inclusive than a life without adventure.