Hidden disabilities in sport

Last updated: 21 Apr 2015 Topics: Safeguarding children Disability sport Type: News article
Athletics 19

What are hidden disabilities?

There are many different types of hidden disability that affect children and young people who may be involved in sport. These types of disability are not easily identified or recognised, unless a person is working closely alongside someone with this impairment or the information is disclosed.

Hidden disabilities or impairments may include:

  • Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Attention disorders (ADD/ADHD)
  • Epilepsy
  • Brain injury
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Sickle Cell Anaemia
  • Diabetes
  • Dyslexia

These disabilities are not always obvious to the onlooker and can sometimes limit daily activities. They can range from mild challenges to severe limitations and vary from person to person.

How staff and volunteers can help?

Because of the variation in indicators it is not possible to generalise about how hidden disabilities may affect children and young people, but there are a range of ways that staff and volunteers involved in sports clubs can help support and integrate those with hidden disabilities:

  • Treat each participant as an individual whose needs should be assessed and addressed
  • Talk to the participant and their carer/s first – they are the experts, they’ll tell you what support (if any) they’ll need
  • Take steps to understand the implications of the particular disability for the specific activity, for example on: effective communication and understanding; safety considerations; other practical issues (like removing hearing aids before playing contact sports)
  • Focus on what the participant is able to do
  • Assess each participant’s aspirations, needs and ability and plan accordingly (include required adaptations to equipment etc)
  • Set realistic and challenging goals as you would for all participants

All children and young people have a right to access sporting opportunities in safe and supportive environments irrespective of their ability or circumstances. Sports clubs are ideal places for celebrating diversity, promoting good behaviour and a positive ethos of support for team members.

By removing the barriers that stop disabled children from being fully integrated into mainstream life – including sports activities - they can also be more effectively protected from abuse.