Basketball for Special Needs Kids in Wheelchairs

Children in wheelchairs can participate in a number of sports including volleyball, soccer and basketball. The rules for wheelchair basketball are only slightly different than those for the traditional game and can be modified for teams that include both children in wheelchairs and typically-abled players. Children learn teamwork, stay physically fit and have fun.


Wheelchair basketball has its roots in World War II 1. Disabled U.S. veterans started playing the game in 1945. At the same time a rehabilitation program for British soldiers developed a similar game called wheelchair netball, which debuted outside the hospital at the 1948 Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Games. Wheelchair basketball appeared internationally for the first time in 1960 at the Rome Paralympic Games and, according to the International Paralympic Committee, it's now played in over 100 countries 1.


Playing wheelchair basketball improves a child's physical fitness and improves bone density, both especially important for children in wheelchairs. It provides valuable gross and fine motor skill development. It relieves stress, teaches teamwork and improves self-esteem and cognition. It can provide an important social outlet for children who might feel isolated by their disability.


The National Wheelchair Basketball Association issues a set of rules based on the rules for NCAA basketball. The NWBA regulations include accommodation for players in wheelchairs such as a redefinition of traveling and the location of a wheelchair's wheels during free throws. New rules include the Physical Advantage Foul, which incurs a penalty for any player who has functional use of his legs from rising off the chair seat and giving him an advantage over other players. There is another set of rules created by the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation and used by the International Paralympic Committee 1.


The level of disability among children playing wheelchair basketball may vary so the NWBA has created a classification system. Each player is given a rating of 1-3 points depending on the level of disability. Player total points for each team must be equal, and no team can have more than 12 points of players. This rule is designed for competitive play and can be ignored in a recreational game.


Although athletic activity is generally healthy, children who want to participate in sports should always be evaluated by a doctor first. This is especially important for children in wheelchairs who may have osteopenia, low bone density, or concurrent medical issues that make them more prone to injury.