Top 10 Benefits of Organized Recreation Programs for Children with Autism

Organized recreational programs are a wonderful outlet to help children gain several different skills all while having fun.  A child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can gain the kind of skills that are beneficial to his or her everyday life from a specialized program.  Since most children with autism attend a variety of therapy sessions, these organized recreational programs can help enhance your child’s life. Here are the Top 10 benefits of organized recreation programs for children with autism:

Benefits of Organized Autism Recreation Programs

1. Social Interaction
A child with autism can have difficulty in social situations for a variety of reasons; therefore, it can be challenging as a parent to provide these social opportunities. Organized recreation programs can easily increase social interaction as the child works with an instructor, a therapist, their one-on-one aide, and other children involved in the program. By having these programs a part of your weekly routine, your child can soon learn what to expect and can look forward to his or her session and be ready to interact with everyone involved.  This positive experience can also help your child seek out lifelong friendships while learning how to take turns and partake in socially appropriate behaviors.

2. Behavior Management
Behavioral challenges can be a struggle for every family with a child on the spectrum. Recreational programs can help understand and address these behaviors through positive behavioral interventions. By using positive language, the child can learn what they can do rather than what they cannot do.  For example, if a child is hitting someone else, a staff member would be encouraged to say, “use nice hands please” rather than “no hitting.”  This allows the child to understand appropriate ways to behave in different situations.

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3. Communication
Oftentimes, children will act in a certain way to try and communicate theirneeds. These programs help identify those needs and work to promote healthy ways to communicate in future sessions as well as in his or her everyday life. Organized programs can help build the skills required for communication through playing and interacting with peers in a natural environment.

4. Motor Skills
Engaging in activities such as swimming, playing tennis, or other recreational activities, allows for increased strength, endurance, coordination, and motor skills. Physical activity for children with autism promotes a healthy lifestyle in addition to overcoming barriers such as limited motor functioning, self-monitoring, and several other challenges he or she may experience.

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5. Structured Play
Recreational programs can also act as an outlet and allow your child to unwind from his or her structured day in a positive way as an energy release method. Even though it allows your child to have fun, the programs are still provided in a semi-structured manner to allow him or her to know what to expect during the session. Picture schedules are often a common way to share what will be happening throughout the program.  The schedule helps the children transition to new activities with more ease and be able to participate to their full potential.

6. Opportunities
Providing your child with these opportunities can promote participation with others as well as engaging in new activities. Recreational programs can also promote physical exercise which provides several benefits to every child. For children with autism, it is said that physical activity can ease repetitive behaviors and increase their attention span.  While swimming or running, a child is promoting healthy rhythmic movements in place of their typical repetitive behaviors that are seen as well as increasing their overall attention span.

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7. Area of Interest
While given the opportunity to participate, your child can discover his or her hobbies and interests that they wish to continue in the future. By having this newfound interest, the child can eagerly look forward to this weekly activity that he or she enjoys participating in.

8. Acquired Skills
By involving your child in a program, they can acquire the skills needed to carry out a social role within your community. Children will not only learn skills on how to swim or play a particular sport, but they will also learn the roles of good sportsmanship. A lot of practice will help your child obtain these desired skills.

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9. Self-Esteem
After participating in several sessions and finally mastering a skill, a child can experience a great sense of accomplishment which leads to confidence that they can carry with them everywhere they go. In addition to an increase in fitness and motor function, physical activity is also suggested to improve self-esteem and general levels of happiness within your child.

10. Respite Care
Recreational programs that have one-on-one support for the child often allows the parents to relax and talk to other parents while watching their child participate. As a parent, by stepping back and watching your child interact and participate in the programs you can observe what strategies work and what do not work for him or her. Another joy of having the length of the program to relax and watch, is watching your child master a skill with the look of accomplishment on his or her face.

What to do at home to carry over skills
If your child has access to an organized recreational program specifically for children with autism, it is important to take advantage of the skills learned throughout the sessions.  The strategies, behavior techniques, and skills used in the program should be implemented throughout the week in a variety of the child’s natural environment.  The more that the strategies are used at home, the more of a benefit your child can gain from the program as a whole.

What to do if such programs are not available
Some of these programs may not be available to families due to their geographic location, financial reasons, lack of awareness, and/or funding.  Just because these programs are not readily available, does not mean your child cannot gain these skills.

If you are unsure if these programs are available, talk to local therapists or search the Internet to see if any programs are presented for your child.  If you find that there aren’t any programs available, ask if a therapist can set up a new recreational program to allow your child as well as others to participate in fun activities throughout the week.  As a parent, you could also get together with other parents and families to implement a recreational activity of the children’s choice.  Although recreational programs are not meant to take the place of traditional therapy sessions or family activities, allowing your child to socialize with peers while participating in activities could promote some of the similar gains that children often benefit from an organized recreational program.

Chelsea Bogino is an Occupational Therapy Student that is planning to graduate with her Masters this month from Utica College in Utica, NY.  In addition to being a student, she is an employee at the Kelberman Center that has worked at summer camps and various organized recreational programs for children with autism.

This article was featured in Issue 33 – Let’s Get Moving and Stay Healthy

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