This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Improving Fitness, Executive Function, and Competence of Children with Developmental Disabilities through an Adapted Gymnastics Intervention




Bridges, Claire

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation




Physical activity participation confers many physical and psychological benefits for all individuals with and without disabilities. Physical activity participation helps improve health-related fitness, psychological well-being, socialization, bone strength, independence performing daily activities, and competence. However, participation in physical activity from childhood to adolescence declines for both individuals with and without physical disabilities. Children with developmental disabilities participate in less physical activity than their typically developing peers have lower fitness levels, have lower motor competence, and experience difficulty performing fundamental movement skills. Without regular physical activity participation children with developmental disabilities are at risk for lower fitness levels, increased dependence performing daily activities, low self-esteem and decreased social acceptance. If children perceive physical activity to be fun and enjoyable, they are more likely to continue to participate as an adolescent and an adult. Manuscript I examined the current literature to determine the factors that motivate children and adolescents with cerebral palsy and other physical disabilities to be physically active. These factors will be discussed with respect to function, family, fitness, fun, friends, and future proposed by Rosenbaum and Gorter (2012). Relevant articles to the systematic review from Academic Search Premiere, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, SPORTDiscus, and Education Research Complete was conducted. Titles and abstracts were reviewed for inclusion criteria. Ten articles met inclusion based on the full text review and were categorized into five of the six contextual factors: function, family, fitness, fun, and friends. In regards to the ‘F-word’, future, clinicians, therapists, and researchers should consider the ‘F-words’ (i.e., function, family, fitness, fun) when developing programs and interventions for children and adolescents with physical disabilities. Based on the results of Manuscript I, Manuscript II provided a sample lesson plan as part of an after-school program to help students with developmental disabilities improve fundamental movement skills and health-related physical fitness in a physical education class. The purpose of Manuscript II was to provide awareness to physical educators about the difference of fundamental movement skills and health-related physical fitness of elementary students with developmental disabilities. Physical competence in performing fundamental movement skills comes with repetition and practice. Students with developmental disabilities need additional time to develop these skills and competence when compared to their typically developing peers. The scenario in the article provided an after-school physical activity program for students with developmental disabilities, although the ultimate goal is for the activities provided for the students to be carried over to their physical education class. The lesson plan served as the bases for the intervention in Manuscript III. Manuscript III examined longitudinal differences in health-related physical fitness, executive function, and perception of competence of five children (7-11 years) with developmental disabilities through an adapted gymnastics intervention that consisted of a fall 10-week (2x/week) and a spring 13-week (1x/week) follow-up. Longitudinal assessments were conducted at three time points (pre-test, post-test 1 and post-test 2). The results suggested no consistent time effects were found when considering all three time points together. However, significant improvements in health-related fitness skills and cognitive flexibility between pre-test and post-test 1 were found. Improvements in perceived competence were observed between pre-test and post-test 2. Declines in performance were observed for select skills between post-test 1 and post-test 2. Improvements and maintenance of health-related physical fitness, cognitive function, and perceptions of competence following an adapted gymnastics intervention are affected by the number of sessions per week and types of activities available.