What are Recreation Services?

kids-playing-with-a-ballRecreation Services (also known as Therapeutic Recreation, Rec Therapy or “RT”) involves the use of activities to help treat a variety of challenges (physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and leisure). For children with delays or disabilities, recreation therapy focuses on the non-academic, recreational activities in your child’s life.  The end goal is for your child to become more comfortable when participating in recreational activities with his friends or classmates. The added bonus is usually a boost in self confidence, which we all know can have an enormous impact on your child’s life.

What are examples of recreation services activities?

Rec therapy can focus on his hobbies, sports or games. They can take place in school or at a community center, indoors or outdoors, or at another place appropriate for your child’s needs. Some school systems even have arrangements for children to receive therapy at local park programs.

What else can RT include?

Your child may need to learn how to “warm up” before playing a game, or conversely he may need to learn how to channel his energy as he plays. He may need help in navigating his body in space as he plays a sport, or need assistance in learning how to wind down and relax.  Maybe a sudden injury makes it necessary for him to learn how to adapt to his disabling condition. Special adaptive recreation equipment may be necessary to help your child participate in a particular leisure activity.

The therapist may incorporate all sorts of games, sports, dance, creative movement, music, and artistic endeavors such as crafts and acting into your child’s program.  Since RT is so pleasurable for your child, he may have an easier time participating and making progress. I know this was the case for my daughter. At first, I could not for the life of me understand how it was therapy – she was having such a good time!  She got to pick two classroom “buddies” to go with her, and they played all sorts of games in the gym and on the playground. This encouraged her to use her language with her friends and become more comfortable with the rules of games involving balls, running, etc. Over time, I saw definite improvements and watched her gain confidence and improve her skills.

There are lots of facets to RT. For more information on how RT might be helpful for your child, see this excellent summary.

What should you do if you think your child could benefit from recreation services?

RT is one of the services a child may receive as part of related services. Like all related services, RT services needs to be based on your child’s individual needs as identified by his evaluation results. If your child is already receiving special education services, mention RT at your next IEP team meeting, or request an IEP meeting. Discuss your concerns with the team, and see if an assessment would be helpful. (Remember, parents are members of the team, and your child can be too, once he is old enough to participate.)

After an RT evaluation and discussion of your child’s individual needs, if the IEP team decides that RT should be included in your child’s program, specific goals are then added to your child’s IEP.  The therapist will begin working with your child either individually or in small groups. Remember, as part of related services, parents and educators may be given training on the effects of recreation therapy on your child’s education. This is so important! It ensures that skills are not taught in a vacuum, but are able to be “transferred” from one place to another (the playing field, school, home, etc.).

If your child does not currently have an IEP and you feel he could benefit from RT, see my prior posts on how to have your child evaluated for free if he is under 3 years of age or age 3 or older.

Who provides RT?

As in many other therapeutic fields, recreation therapists are college graduates who receive a credential after taking certain courses and passing tests.  The organization that certifies recreation therapists is NCTRC, the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation.

Bottom Line

Your child’s non-academic or leisure activities are a very important part of his life. But often a child with delays or disabilities struggles with these activities. Isn’t it great to know that RT exists and is a part of the related services that can be provided to children who qualify?  Every little bit of help…helps.

Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.com.

Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It appears every Wednesday, and was started on January 16, 2013. Feel free to go back to look at prior posts as the series builds on itself. As always, we welcome your comments and input.

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