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Sports Med. 1995 Jan;19(1):55-72.

Exercise programmes in the treatment of children with learning disabilities.

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  • 1Faculty of Physical Activity Studies, University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.


Learning disability is characterised by a discrepancy between achievement and assessed intellectual ability. Children with this problem commonly (but not invariably) show impaired motor proficiency, as assessed by such instruments as the Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of motor proficiency. It has been hypothesised that poor motor performance and/or poor social skills lead to exclusion from games, creating a vicious cycle of decreasing participation, decreasing competence, a deterioration of self-worth and increasing social maladjustment. Attempts to break the vicious cycle with programmes designed to enhance motor proficiency have been uniformly unsuccessful. There is limited experimental evidence to support the view that structured physical activity programmes with an embedded social skills training component can be an effective method of enhancing both actual motor ability and self-perception of physical and academic competence. However, a controlled comparison with small-group, academic instruction has shown that, from the educational perspective, a physical activity-based intervention is no more effective than other forms of special attention. The main argument for delivering social skills training through a physical activity programme lies not in a unique impact upon learning disability, but rather in terms of the other well-established long term health benefits of exercise.

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