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Community Integration Report
Supporting Children and Youth with Disabilities in Integrated
Recreation and Leisure Activities
by Pam Walker and Bonnie Shoultz, Center on Human
Children and youth with disabilities need opportunities
to enjoy recreational and leisure activities with others their age who do not
have disabilities. (Schleien & Ray, 1988). Parents and children have always
known the importance of integrated activities. Ask any group of parents, and
they will tell you about informal ways - often creative and ingenious - in which
children with disabilities have been involved in neighborhood play.
This involvement may require some thought and commitment
on the part of parents or children, as when a family installs a swimming pool
and invites everyone over for swimming parties, or when a group of children
reinvents a child's wheelchair for use as a "car" in their games.
Spontaneous play and friendships within the neighborhood are often some of the
most cherished experiences for any of us, whatever our abilities.
Organized recreational activities are another important
experience for children. Too often, children with disabilities do not get to
participate in sponsored activities (such as Scouting, sports, dances, art classes,
and camping) with nondisabled children their age. Often, needed support is not
available unless a children their age. Often, needed support is not available
unless a parent provides it (Walker, 1990). However, many agencies are now looking
at how to provide this kind of support, as opposed to support for activities
limited to children with disabilities. This article will explore some of the
components of support for such participation, including a) supports based on
a value or belief in integration for all, including children and youth with
severe and multiple impairments; b) supports that promote social interaction
and friendships; and c) supports that are both individualized and flexible.
Integration for All
Efforts to provide support for integrated recreational
experiences must be based on the belief that integration is possible for all
children (Lord, 1981). Agencies and individuals providing support must accept
the challenge of figuring out (along with the child with disabilities, the family,
friends, and others who know him or her well) how best to promote participation
and interaction, and how to help make this possible.
As long as children who are seen as having severe
or complex disabilities are not provided support for integration, all children
are vulnerable to a return to segregation. However, accepting the challenge
of integration for all will mean more and better opportunities for children
whose disabilities are viewed as mild or moderate.
Supports that Promote Social Interactions and
Friendship are vital to a happy life. Therefore,
integration must include a social as well as a physical dimension. Recreation
and leisure activities allow people to have fun, relax and meet others who share
similar interests and may become friends. Often, however, when people with disabilities
attend activities in integrated settings, they experience little or no social
interaction with the people around them.
To promote interaction, someone may need to provide
support to get the child involved with other children and to create opportunities
for friendships to grow (Walker & Edinger, 1988). There are a number of
ways to accomplish this.
- Involvement with other children.
The persons providing support should, where possible, get to know the nondisabled
children, engaging them and providing a connecting link between these children
and the child with disabilities. Such a facilitator should not be seen as
the person who relates only to the child with disabilities.
- Modeling for others.
The person providing support should be aware that his or her interactions
with the youth with disabilities can serve as model for other children and
adults. This may be particularly important in assisting others in areas such
as communicating with the person, and responding to behavior that does not
appear appropriate to the activity.
- Backing off.
Often, interactions occur without any involvement of a support person. At
times, in fact, the presence of an adult may inhibit interactions, and it
may be necessary to "Back off" and let things happen on their won
- Interactions in the context of activities.
It is essential to observe the interactions of others in the setting. For
instance, what types of interactions occur, and at what times? Some activities
are more conducive to getting kids together than others. The person providing
support must notice and promote opportunities for interaction, even if that
means revising plans for teaching skills to allow for spontaneous play. Not
all interactions are verbal. Cheering together, sitting together and watching
an event, and working as a team to build something are examples of nonverbal
- Opportunities for friendship.
Integration is no guarantee that friendships will develop between children.
However, integrated leisure and recreational activities, given adequate and
proper support, can provide many opportunities for children to have fun, get
acquainted, develop friendships, and experience increased bonding in neighborhoods,
schools and communities.
Individualized and Flexible Supports
Individualization and flexibility means that the
types of support should be based on the needs of the particular child, and should
be adaptable, taking into account the child's changing needs (Schleien &
Ray, 1988; Walker & Edinger, 1988). Key elements of individualized and flexible
supports include the following:
- Getting to know the child and teen. This
is a first and most important step in the process. It is important to see
support as occurring within the context of a relationship. In this context,
determination of the most helpful kinds of supports, and which strategies
will work best with this young person, is likely to take time.
- Teaching needed skills. Skill acquisition,
while important, needs to be balanced with other aspects of social interaction,
and should not determine the exact nature of the child's participation in
an activity. Several points need to be made:
a) Skills must be learned within a context, not in isolation (e.g., not just
using basketball drills, but learning basketball within the context of a game,
with rules and regulations, teamwork, etc.);
b) Skills and behaviors indirectly associated
with an activity are important (e.g., learning to cheer for a team on
the sidelines with teammates or to celebrate a team victory, as well as
learning the game);
c) Children need varying amounts of time
to learn new skills, routines and activities.
Adapting activities/partial participation. Use of adaptations and partial
participation allows all children to take part in a wide range of activities
(Baumgart, et al., 1982). One type of adaptation is a change in the nature
of an activity, with an emphasis on cooperation vs. competition.
The types of adaptations used may serve as models for others in the activity,
who may imitate and/or come up with new or different ways to involve the
- Offering help only when needed. Too
much support, particularly by an adult, can create barriers. The child may
not learn what is needed in the setting or activity, and others may not get
involved or learn how to help the child. It is important to be conscious of
a child's needs for direct support and to know when to back off.
Over time, all children, including those with the
most severe disabilities, can be assisted with needs for greater participation
in activities and more interactions with others. The assistance does not necessarily
require people who are specially trained in developmental disabilities or recreation
(Schleien & Ray, 1988). While the "experts" may help provide direct
or indirect support or consultation, what is needed is: People who know the
child, or who are willing to get to know the child well; enthusiastic people
knowledgeable about the particular activity; people who are willing and able
to involve themselves with everyone in the activity, not just the child with
disabilities; and people who are committed to the person with a disability,
and to facilitating his or her participation and integration. AS with integration,
development of spirited commitment often takes time, and will only occur as
people get to know children and youth with disabilities, learn ways they can
participate and interact with others, and recognize the benefits for all people
in the activity or setting when children with disabilities are assisted with
participation (Schleien & Ray, 1988).
Resources: Where Can I Learn More?
Here are a few references on supports for integration.
Each of these will lead readers to many other excellent materials.
Baumgart, D., Brown, L., Pumpian, I., Nisbet, J.,
Ford, A., Sweet, M., Messina, R., & Schroeder, J. (1982). Principle of partial
participation and individualized adaptations in educational programs for severely
handicapped students. Journal of The Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps,
G. Allan Roeher Institute (Eds.) (1988). The pursuit
of leisure: Enriching lives with people who have a disability. Downsview, Ontario:
The G. Allan Roeher Institute. Write to The G. Allan Roeher Institute, 470 Keele
Street, Kinsmen Building, York University, Downsview, ON M3J 1P3, CANADA.
Lord, J. (1981). Participation: Expanding community
and leisure experiences for people with severe handicaps. Downsview, Ontario:
The G. Allan Roeher Institute (address above).
Rynders, J. E. & Schleien, S. J. (1991). Together
successfully: creating recreational and educational programs that integrate
people with and without disabilities. Association for Retarded Citizens of the
United States, P. O. Box 1047, Arlington, Texas 76004. $12.50 including postage.
Savard, C. (1988). Taking part in the dream. In
G. Allan Roeher Institute, (Eds.). The pursuit of leisure: Enriching the lives
with people who have a disability (pp. 39-42). Downsview, Ontario: The G. Allan
Schleien, S. J., & Ray, M. T. (1988). Community
recreation and persons with disabilities. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.
Strully, J. & Strully, C. (1985). Friendship
and our children. Journal of The Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps,
Walker, P. (1990). Resources on integrated recreation/leisure
opportunities for children and teens with developmental disabilities. Syracuse,
N.Y.: Center on Human Policy (COST: $2.35 plus 10% for postage and handling).
Please write to Rachael Zubal, Center on Human Policy, 200 Huntington Hall,
Syracuse, NY 13244-23450 or call (315) 443-3851.
Walker, P. & Edinger, B. (1988). The kid from
Cabin 17. Camping Magazine, May, 19-21.
This article was prepared by the Research and
Training Center on Community Integration, Center on Human Policy, Division of
Special Education and Rehabilitation, School of Education, Syracuse University,
with support from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education
and Rehabilitative Services, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation
Research, through Cooperative Agreement H133B00003-90. No endorsement by he
U.S. Department of Education of the opinions expressed herein should be inferred.
Reprinted with permission from ARC at www.thearc.org
All rights reserved.