Original Research

Surviving, not thriving: a qualitative analysis of parents' perceptions of physical activity participation for rurally residing children with a disability


name here
Timothy Robinson1
BPhysio(Hons), Physiotherapy Student

name here
Luke Wakely2
PhD, Lecturer in Physiotherapy *

name here
Jodie Marquez3
PhD, Lecturer in Physiotherapy

Kym Rae4 PhD, Research Academic


1, 3 School of Health Sciences, The University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW 2308, Australia

2 School of Health Sciences, University of Newcastle, Department of Rural Health, Tamworth, NSW 2340, Australia

4 Gomeroi Gaaynggal Centre, Faculty of Health, University of Newcastle, Department of Rural Health, Tamworth, NSW 2340, Australia

ACCEPTED: 23 February 2018

early abstract:

Introduction: Preliminary research suggests that rurally-residing children with a disability seldom participate in the recommended 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day, and face multiple barriers to participation. The purpose of this study was to explore parents’ perceptions of physical activity participation of rurally-residing children with a disability, including barriers and any factors that may facilitate their participation.

Methods: Participants were parents or carers of a school-aged child with a disability residing in a rural or remote area of New South Wales, Australia. Data were collected using semi-structured focus group interviews, which were audio-recorded and transcribed. Qualitative data were analysed inductively using qualitative content analysis.

Results: Focus group interviews were conducted with 10 parents. Thematic analysis yielded the overarching description of the study: surviving, not thriving, which described the participants’ limited success in augmenting the health of their child with a disability, despite their desire to do so. Within this description, three main themes emerged: (1) A parent’s predicament, which described the parents’ struggle to support their child’s participation in physical activity, despite understanding its numerous benefits. (2) Barriers to participation, described the various barriers to physical activity participation that were perceived to be hampering their child’s potential to thrive. Some of these barriers were related to the child’s disability, while others were specific to the rural context. (3) Facilitators to participation described the factors that served to motivate and enable children with a disability to participate in physical activity.

Conclusion:This investigation of parents’ perceptions, suggests that the physical activity participation of rurally-residing children with a disability is currently insufficient to adequately support the health of this population. It appears service providers need to address the factors that impede participation; including issues surrounding access, ability, and isolation, but should also support the parent’s behaviours, community opportunities, and the child’s own drive to participate. Existing support structures aimed at promoting physical activity should be enhanced and more inclusive and accessible strategies should be developed.