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Study: Social participation of children with disabilities

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Just under two-thirds (63%) of the 125,000 children aged 5 to 14 with disabilities were engaged in some kind of organized sport or other physical activity in 2006, such as playing soccer, swimming or dancing. Most of these children were doing some activity at least once a week.

About 54% of children with disabilities took lessons in some type of non-sport interest, or belonged to clubs or community groups; a large majority of participants did something every week. Nearly three-quarters (72%) were linked to their peers through some type of electronic network.

This study examined factors that influence the participation of a child with disabilities in certain social activities. These activities were divided into three groupings: participation in organized sports and physical activities; participation in organized non-sport activities, such as clubs or community groups; and participation in virtual networks with peers, such as communicating through chat rooms or e-mails.

After controlling for other influences, the factors that had a positive association with participation of a child with disabilities in organized sports included the parents' level of involvement in their child's classroom and school activities, family income and a child's place of residence.

For example, the odds of taking part in sports were three times higher for a youngster whose parent was active in the classroom, compared with a child whose parent did not have a high level of involvement. A child with a disability who lived in an urban area had odds of participating that were almost twice as high as those of a child who lived in a rural area.

With respect to organized non-sport activities, a high level of parental support at school was also associated with a child's participation. Family income did not significantly influence whether a child participated in clubs or other organized non-sport activities.

In addition, data showed that children who had a non-physical disability, such as a speech or learning disability, had lower odds of engagement in non-sport activities than children with a physical disability only. Girls also had higher odds than boys of participating in non-sport activities.

Factors associated with participation in virtual peer networks such as e-mailing were somewhat different. This was the only one of the three social activity groupings in which severity of disability was significantly associated with participation. Data showed that a child with a severe disability had much lower odds of being engaged in an electronic peer network than a child with a mild disability, after controlling for other influences.

Note: This article assesses factors that influence the social engagement of children aged 5 to 14 with disabilities who live with their parents. It focuses on participation in social activities outside the family home and outside regular school hours. Data for this article came from the child component of the 2006 Participation and Activity Limitation Survey. This survey gathers information about children whose daily activities are limited by a physical, mental, or other health-related condition or problem. As a result, findings are not available for children without disabilities.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 3251.

The two articles that are part of the Living with disability series "Defining disability in the Participation and Activity Limitation Survey" and "Social participation of children with disabilities" are now available in the December 2009 issue of Canadian Social Trends, no. 88 (11-008-X, free). From the Key resource module of our website, choose Publications.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services (613-951-5979;, Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division.