Recreation is about activities and experiences which produce feelings of enjoyment and satisfaction. They give all of us opportunities to express creativity, achieve and master new skills.
Recreation can be particularly important for people with autism, drawing on opportunities to practice social skills, physical aptitude and increase motivation. These activities can provide the basis for increased self-confidence for your child.
Participation in recreation and leisure activities allows individuals with autism to learn skills specific to a particular sport or activity. But more importantly, participation in these programs also helps improve more general skills that can be applied in settings like school and work. So progress can be seen not just in the specific programs, but in other areas of life as well.
Benefits of recreational activities for kids with autism
- Recreation is important in promoting inclusion and quality of life.
- Increases self-esteem and confidence.
- Gives people the opportunity to make their own choices.
- Provides satisfaction, enjoyment and pleasure.
- Enables individuals with autism to become involved and feel like a part of their community.
- Provides the opportunity to gain and develop new contacts and friends.
- Sports and exercise programs can improve physical and mental health.
- Reduces reliance on parents and other adults.
- Increases independence which leads to increased opportunities.
Frequently asked questions about recreation activities for kids with autism
1) How do I figure out what my child enjoys?
Work within the context of a your child's skills and interests. Exposure, exposure, exposure! Give your child the opportunity to try multiple activities for a period of time to see if something particular clicks with them. Children might have limited interests, so getting them involved in recreational activities can sometimes require expanding traditional ideas of leisure. Often times, leisure skills must be specifically taught to individuals with autism. Teaching these skills to your children will increase their confidence and as a result make them more interested in joining recreational programs, clubs or teams. You can also use technology to help you figure it out. The Wii system provides sporting activity simulations that can bridge the gap between your child's interest in video games and real world activities.
2) How do I deal with a situation involving recreation that goes bad?
No matter how much you want a recreational activity to work, there is always the chance that it won't. You may run into difficult or uncomfortable situations that you cannot change. Planning ahead and being prepared with an alternate plan is important. You may not get the support you need to fully integrate your son/daughter at the local YMCA swim team, but another plan might be to have your child and a sibling set up races that allow both kids to feel successful.
Receiving support from other parents of children with autism who have similar experiences can also be incredibly helpful. You can offer each other suggestions about what has worked for you and before long, you could be laughing about an experience gone bad that only a day before was upsetting to you. Visit the Autism Speaks Facebook page to connect with other parents of children with autism.
3) What are some examples of recreational activities for children with autism?
The social component of some recreational and leisure activities might make some activities more fulfilling and enjoyable for your children with autism.
- Hobbies such as collecting stamps, playing cards or board games, drawing and photography can also provide opportunities for enjoyment, as well as increased self-confidence and motivation individuals on the spectrum.
- Individual sporting activities such as Track, Skiing, Hiking, Golf, Cycling, or Cross-Country allow individuals with autism to participate in recreation without social interactions that might cause stress.
- Some communities have autism-specific sports teams that can provide the support your child needs to participate in a team sport like baseball or hockey. For more information, visit the American Special Hockey Association or the All Play Miracle Baseball League.
Where to get help
Recreation therapists, also referred to as therapeutic recreation specialists, provide treatment services and recreation activities for individuals with disabilities. Using a variety of techniques, including arts and crafts, animals, sports, games, dance and movement, drama, music and community outings, therapists improve and maintain the physical, mental and emotional well-being of their clients. Recreation therapists can also help individuals reduce depression, stress and anxiety, build confidence, and socialize effectively so that they can enjoy greater independence. In addition, therapists help people with disabilities integrate into the community by teaching them how to use community resources and participate in recreational activities.
- Leading the Way: Autism-Friendly Youth Organizations: This guide developed by Autism Speaks helps recreation programs and other youth organizations better include and support participants with autism.
- 10 Tips to Help Your Child Find the Right Recreation Program: From the Autism Speaks Autism Response Team
- AMC Sensory Friendly Films: In partnership with The Autism Society, we bring AMC Sensory Friendly Films to families affected by autism on a monthly basis to select communities.
- Challenger Baseball: Challenger Baseball is a place where kids with special needs get the chance to come together as a team and be cheered on to greatness.
- POP Warner Challenger Football League: The mission of the Pop Warner Challenger Division is to bring the Pop Warner experience to those special needs individuals.
- TOPSOCCER: US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer) is a community-based training and team placement program for young athletes with disabilities, organized by youth soccer association volunteers.
- Special Olympics: Special Olympics is where athletes with intellectual disabilities celebrate and are celebrated for their accomplishments.
- Scouts with Special Needs: The basic premise of Scouting for youth with special needs is that every boy wants to participate fully and be respected like every other member of the troop.
- YMCA: The Y is an inclusive organization of men, women and children joined together by a shared commitment to nurturing the potential of kids, promoting healthy living and fostering a sense of social responsibility.