It's not all about quantity: Exploring the role of quality physical activity participation for social-emotional well-being among adolescents with disabilities


Adolescents with disabilities (AWD) experience poorer social-emotional well-being compared to typically developing adolescents. This may, in part, be due to reduced opportunities for social participation. High quality physical activity (PA) experiences may be one way to enhance social-emotional well-being. However, few studies have explored the role of quality participation for promoting social-emotional well-being. Thus, the purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between PA quantity, PA quality and social-emotional well-being in AWD. A sub-analysis of 46 AWD (Mage=13.2 years, 56% boys, 41% developmental disability) who were part of the National Physical Activity Measurement study was conducted. Adolescent-report data for PA quantity (total minutes of leisure-time PA), PA quality (building blocks of quality participation: autonomy, belongingness, challenge, engagement, mastery and meaning) and social-emotional well-being (social-emotional difficulties and prosocial behaviour) were collected via an online survey. Descriptive statistics and Bivariate Pearson correlations were conducted in SPSS. Autonomy had a small, positive association with PA quantity (r=0.28, p=0.047). PA quantity was not significantly associated with social-emotional difficulties or prosocial behaviour. Of the six building blocks, all but one (autonomy) were significantly and negatively associated with social-emotional difficulties (rs=-0.47 to -0.56; ps<0.05). Belongingness, challenge, and mastery were significantly and positively associated with prosocial behaviour (rs=0.28 to 0.35, ps<0.05). Our findings highlight the importance of considering the quality, and not just the quantity, of PA for promoting social-emotional well-being among AWD. Future work is needed to confirm these results in a larger, prospective study.

Acknowledgments: We would like to acknowledge the families who participated in the NPAM study and SSHRC and Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities for funding this project.