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Play time: meeting the needs of your child.

PLAY TIME: Meeting the needs of your child

Participation in recreational and social activities is an important aspect of life for children with disabilities. These activities can provide many opportunities: exposure to new friends, development of leisure skills, development of important skills such as motor, social and academic skills, and the enhancement of physical health and conditioning. Additionally, maladaptive behavior (e.g., tantrums, self-injurious behavior) is often reduced or eliminated as new recreational skills are acquired.

Although recreation programs for children with disabilities are usually designed by a therapeutic recreation specialist or special education teacher, the success of these programs often depends on the assistance of parents or other care providers. Parents have key information regarding their children's needs, abilities and personal preferences. Collaboration of parents and professionals is essential, because human service workers need to become aware of each child's characteristics, abilities and needs when designing effective programs.

Also, parents and care providers need to become familiar with the instructional techniques of a program in order to continue to develop their children's recreational and social skills at home. By asking the right questions, parents can learn about programs as well as contribute to them. The following questions enable parents to evaluate and contribute to the development of their child's current and future recreation programs. QUESTION 1: Are the recreational activities consistent with your child's current skill level?

Any recreation program should begin with an extensive assessment that provides an inventory of your child's abilities and needs. This assessment should identify your child's physical characteristics, the appropriateness and relevancy of planned activities and an indication of his/her proficiency in these activities. The criteria for developing a beneficial program includes your child's potential for success, how often your child will be given an opportunity to engage in that activity, and how the activity relates to other areas of your child's life.

The needs assessment becomes the "guide" for developing a complete recreation and socialization program based on your child's skill level and needs. Since the needs assessment is concerned with demonstrated behaviors and abilities, it cannot be completed satisfactorily without input from parents, who are the most familiar with their child's use of free time. QUESTION 2: Are your child's and the family's recreational preferences being considered?

Before a recreation program is started, an attempt must be made to assess whether the planned activities are ones that your child and family presently enjoy or would enjoy together, provided your child had at least some of the skills necessary for participation. Your child is more likely to play appropriately with materials that he/she has access to and preferes. Preferred activities and materials may not be obvious to professionals.

As parents, you can provide helpful information concerning the interests of all members of your family. You can also offer the therapeutic recreation specialist or teacher listings of accessible materials your child seems to enjoy and activities he/she selects at home.

If you are uncertain of your child's preferences, several play objects could be presented to your child and the materials most often selected or manipulated, noted. This input can help professionals make informed decisions concerning materials to make available and possible skills to target for instruction. QUESTION 3: Are selected activities both relevant and age-appropriate?

Your child's recreational program should include relevant activities that will be useful and remain chronologically age-appropriate throughout his/her lifetime. For example, activities such as making a sandwich or playing pinball will remain useful and appropriate forever and could be pursued in a more sophisticated manner throughout one's lifetime. Similarly, cooking and table game activities are appropriate and important lifetime leisure pursuits that a person can enjoy alone or with others.

Also, these and similar activities typically promote social interaction with peers without disabilities, since acquisition of these skills results in compatible interests and repertoires.

For example, learning to play with a Lite-Brite(TM) toy (by Hasbro) would be more relevant and age-appropriate than learning to manipulate pegs in a peg board. Although both activities develop eye-hand coordination through the placing of pegs in a peg board, the Lite-Brite(TM) also provides the child access to the activities of peers. QUESTION 4: Do the recreational activities contribute to skill development in other areas?

Ideally, the activities selected for your child should enhance the development of skills that are desirable for a variety of settings. Recreational activities could provide the ideal medium for expanding social, behavioral, communication, problem solving, and motor skills.

For example, the age-appropriate board game Simon(TM) (by Milton Bradley) involves the use of fine motor skills to manipulate switches in the game, gross motor skills such as arm extension to depress the panels, social skills to take turns and share materials, and cognitive skills to remember the order in which the plastic panels light up. Learning to play a game like Simon(TM) may also result in making new friends. QUESTION 5: Are new recreational and social skills taught systematically?

Facilitating involvement in recreational and social activities that are useful, age-appropriate and enjoyable for your child will probably require systematic skill training. Components of systematic instruction include careful observation of your child, task analysis, prompting and correction procedures, and positive reinforcement strategies.

In a task analytic approach, the targeted activity (e.g., horse-shoes) is broken down into its component parts (e.g., grasping horseshoe, pitching horseshoe, turn taking, measuring distance of horseshoes to stake/dowel) that are teachable and observable. Through the task analysis, the instructor determines which components of the activity your child can currently perform independently and the parts needing additional instruction.

Parents can become involved in this process by using similar instructional procedures when your child participates at home. QUESTION 6: Are effective activity adaptations being used?

Modifying activities and materials can increase your child's independence and provide for a wider selection of accessible recreational and social pursuits. However, when modifying an activity it is always important to keep the activities and materials as normal or standardized as possible. A little creativity and innovation can make the adaptation process a fairly simple one.

There are four options that can be considered when adapting activities: 1) material adaptations (e.g., In an arts & crafts activity, using four-holed training scissors rather than traditional two-holed scissors); 2) rule or procedural adaptations (e.g., when learning to play tennis, allowing more than one bounce before returning the ball); 3) skill sequence adaptations, which focus on preparation before the actual activity, (e.g., when eating at a fastfood restaurant, one would be prepared to order a meal with picture cards before entering the restaurant); and 4) lead-up activity adaptations (e.g., learning to play kick ball before trying to master the game of softball).

Materials, rules or procedures, and skill sequences can be modified, as well as making the facilities, themselves, architecturally accessible. Parents are often familiar with ways of adapting materials and routines for daily living. This information can be very helpful to staff when designing and implementing such programs. QUESTION 7: Are your child' recreational and social skills being enhanced and maintained over time?

If your child is not provided the opportunity to use his/her newly acquired skills outside of the training environment (e.g., school, community recreation center, physical education class, YMCA), it is unlikely that these skills will be maintained. It is critical that participation in the targeted activity be encouraged by professionals and parents in a variety of environments and with as many different people as possible.

An excellent way for parents and professionals to work together is to share resources. A loan-out system whereby parents check-out or borrow games or toys for a weekend (similar to a library book loan procedure) is a sure way to encourage recreational participation at home. Having your child bring some of his/her own play materials (e.g., favorite games, hobbies, cards, musical instruments) to the recreation program can also promote social interaction with peers and provide opportunities to practice previously acquired skills. QUESTION 8: Is your child being integrated into existing community recreation programs?

Participation in existing community recreation and social programs, along with the segregated programs that schools and community centers may provide, can greatly enhance the overall normalization process. As a participant in community-based programs, your child has the opportunity to interact with peers without disabilities and with the community at large. Support should be provided for locating appropriate, architecturally and programmatically accessible programs. Often, a care provider or advocate can attend a program with a child for additional support and on-site instruction.

Recreational and social programming for children with disabilities is an ongoing process best achieved when cooperation and understanding between therapeutic recreation specialists, teachers and parents exist. Effective networking creates additional opportunities for your child. The opportunity to access different environments, to interact with peers, and to make friends are a few of the many benefits to participation in recreational and social programs. As parents and professionals become better acquainted and informed, program quality can only be enhanced.
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Author:Schleien, Stuart J.; Baldwin, Cheryl K.; Light, Cheryl L.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Mar 1, 1989
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Next Article:Directory of national recreation organizations.

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