Recreational therapy is defined as “a treatment service designed to restore, remediate and rehabilitate a person’s level of functioning and independence in life activities, to promote health and wellness as well as reduce or eliminate the activity limitations and restriction to participation in life situations caused by an illness or disabling condition” (American Therapeutic Recreation Association [ATRA], 2009). Recreational therapy, an aspect of therapeutic recreation, is a skilled therapy provided as active treatment (as defined by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services). With this definition in mind how many times do we hear, “Oh Mrs. Jones can’t go bowling because she can’t stand up.” or “Mr. Adams would not like that activity because he has a speech impairment due to his stroke.” What is your response to comments like these? Often times we put the barriers on our clients because of their disability. What are we saying to them?
Recreational therapy embraces a definition of “health” which includes not only the absence of “illness”, but extends to enhancement of physical, cognitive, emotional, social and leisure development so the individual may participate fully and independently in chosen life pursuits. The unique feature of recreational therapy that makes it different from other therapies is the use of recreational modalities in the designed intervention strategies.
Our job as Recreation Therapists are to look beyond the disability and look at the individual as a person who can accomplish anything they put their minds to. We are not the person to say “Oh you will not be able to do that, just forget about that dream.” Our role is to tell our clients, “Okay lets DO IT!” The next step is for us to adapt to their wants and needs to make it HAPPEN! I often put myself in my clients “shoes”, if all I heard all day is; “No you can’t do that” or “That is impossible.” How would this effect me? How would I feel? What would my self esteem be like?
I have worked in long term care, rehab, assisted living and now adult day care for the past 20 years. Over the years I have learned not to underestimate the seniors I have worked with. Given then right opportunity, environment and tools, they can and will accomplish what they set out to do. For example; While I was working in an assisted living community we had a young man, about the age of 27, admitted to our building. This young man was a paraplegic with multiple other medical diagnoses. The most important thing I learned from him is not to give up. He was a giant in this building, over coming ever obstacle in his way to achieve his goals. Over the years I have maintained a friendship with him and have watched him grow as a person. This young man who was very ill when we first met is now one of the strongest individuals I know. He plays the piano and clarinet for local nursing homes and assisted livings, he lives on his own, he attends Weber State University and composes music. He has been a youth counselor for his church camps, gone rock climbing and his biggest accomplishment…. being in a half marathon. He and a friend trained for months to be in this marathon. He bought a specialized chair, worked on his arm muscles and his friend pushed his chair miles upon miles. He fulfilled his dream! What do we do to assist our clients in full filling their dreams?
I take my clients out bowling once a month at the local bowling alley. I will take any client who wishes to go regardless of their disability because this outing can be adapted for them to succeed. There are many adaptations to bowling for those with disabilities such as; side bumpers, assisted bowling tools, light weight balls and much more. Once I was able to get my staff to realize anyone can go bowling it took some educating with my staff to assist those who stayed behind to also participate in bowling. Many of us have heard of hallway bowling or Wii bowling and know, once again, with some adaptations, they too can bowl. I had gone bowling with my clients one time and had asked the staff who stayed with the other clients who where not able to go, to play hallway bowling with them. One staff member stated “Mr. Smith can’t bowl, he can’t even stand up. How can I bowl him and the others.” I explained to her even though he could not stand up he could bowl, just place a chair in front of the “alleyway”, give him the ball and show him how to swing his arm back then forward and then release the ball. Upon my return Mr. Smith stated “Thank you, I have not done that in years. You helped bring back some fond memories.”
Inclusion is a term used by people with disabilities and other disability rights advocates for the idea that all people should freely, openly and without pity accommodate any person with a disability without restrictions or limitations of any kind (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inclusion_(disability_rights). Does your recreation program meet this definition? What changes can you make to your program?
Each program is different due to culture, client, disabilities and environment but there is one element that is consent and that is we are Recreation Therapist striving for the same outcomes. We want our clients to succeed, have the highest quality of life and to fulfill their ever dream. And we are the professionals who can make it happen.