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Discovering Therapeutic Recreation
By Laura Feitz, Indiana University
What could really happen in ten
days that could have profound meaning or life-changing value?
For me, the answer to this question is very simple: The trip
I took to Great Britain. I traveled to the United Kingdom (UK)
in May 2001, with 11 other Indiana University therapeutic recreation
(TR) students. It was an educational trip led by my professor,
Dr. McCormick, and we visited various health and human service
agencies serving individuals with disabilities. Ultimately,
it was a cultural immersion that allowed for newfound awareness
and increased excitement for my major. Although there were numerous
other significant personal insights I gained from this trip,
I will focus mainly on the TR components of the trip.
The first site that we visited
was Ashworth Psychiatric Hospital located in Liverpool, England.
Unknown to me, until after our visit, this was the forensic
hospital where the worst criminals resided. This visit was shocking
to me because Ashworth did not seem to resemble a prison. Of
course there was tight security, but it seemed as though the
residents were being rehabilitated, rather than punished. To
me, this seems to be a far cry from what we typically hear about
in the US. I noticed that recreation was a very important aspect
of this rehabilitation process, as shown by the art and wood
workshops, fitness equipment, and gymnasium.
The next three sites that we visited
were three schools that placed a very heavy emphasis on sports
and recreation. In fact, the high school that we toured was
designated a Specialist Sports College, with their mission statement
centering around "healthy living, sporting activity, and
the pursuit of excellence." We were also able to visit
two colleges, John Moores University and University of Wales,
Institute at Cardiff (UWIC). In the UK, they do not have an
established TR program. However, their adaptive physical education
curriculum focuses on community recreation while TR in the US
is typically more clinical in nature. UWIC is actually in the
process of starting a TR program, and our contact at the university,
Bill Davies, was very interested in our viewpoints on TR and
what we planned to do with our degree.
Not only did we get to tour facilities
but we also got to participate in specific interventions. At
a school for children with severe disabilities, located in Wales,
our group had a chance to get involved in a rebound therapy
session. Rebound therapy is the therapeutic use of the trampoline
for people with special needs and has numerous benefits, including,
increased balance, movement, communication and self-confidence.
For children with hypertonic problem, a slow rhythmic rocking
of the trampoline can help the muscles to relax, a more vigorous
bounce can stimulate and raise muscle tone. Sensory stimulation
is further enhanced by colored lights, aromatherapy, and the
use of a parachute. This activity was incredibly rewarding for
us and to the children who seemed to "come alive"
with the bounce of the trampoline.
The next intervention that we gained
hands-on experience was adaptive Judo, which is one of the programs
at an adult education center. There were roughly twenty students
of various disabilities present. The sport is adapted according
to the disability but the adaptations are minimal, and the main
principles are not changed. Our group was rather intimidated
when we were told to put on a suit and "spar" with
an opponent. The intimidation was not due to their disabilities
but because we were so impressed with their skill level! I was
amazed at how many of them had taken personal tragedy and turned
it into motivation. For some, recreation was a central part
of their life, and for the others it played a significant part
of their day.
Our final destination was, to me,
one of the most uplifting experiences of my life. Located in
Lingfield, outside of London, is St. Piers, the National Center
for children and young people with epilepsy and other neurological
disorders. This facility is for the most severe cases and uses
an interdisciplinary framework that addresses emotional, social,
cognitive, communication, physical, and behavioral needs of
While we were fortunate enough
to see multiple departments within St. Piers, interactive music
and creative dramatics were quite notable. Interactive music
focuses mainly on problems in communication and socialization.
The facilitator showed us how she used everyday materials to
make her equipment. For example, she showed us how she had tied
ribbons onto the strings of a tennis racket and then used it
to dangle over a child's face to elicit tactile and visual sensations.
Creative dramatics literally had me speechless. Every semester
at St. Piers, there is a theme and while we were there, it was
King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. When our group
walked into the creative dramatics department, we amazed at
the set that had been created and how every last detail was
taken into consideration. When the students came in they were
so excited and so well behaved as they waited for their part
to perform. The entire visit was so enriching and I hope to
one day be part of a program similar to St. Piers.
As a TR student, I would like to
share my experience associated with accessibility. From what
I observed, this is an area that needs a good deal of improvement.
I noticed that there were rarely curb cuts that stairs were
often the only way to enter a building, and their public transportation
seemed out of the question for people who use wheelchairs.
If there were any advice that I
could give a TR student, it would be to take every opportunity
possible for field experience. There is nothing like the hand-on
benefits that you gain and the self-awareness that follows.
After this trip, I feel so much more comfortable with what TR
is and why we do what we do. I am so thankful to have had this
opportunity and feel that it will continue to be one of the
most remembered events of my life.
Note: The author is an undergraduate
student majoring TR at Indiana University.