Recreation for All Ages and Abilities

by Katrina Davis, Family Resource and Support, Seattle Children’s Autism Center

Man in wheelchair on accessbile beach trail next to Puget Sound waters..

When you think of recreation for children, teens, and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), what images or programs come to mind?

Maybe you think of happy campers playing games outside, trips to the zoo, bowling, hiking, swimming, or people circled around a craft table. Perhaps you struggle with this question because you’ve had difficulty finding a program to meet your child’s unique needs.

Regardless, we all know recreation, leisure, and play are particularly important for individuals with IDD. The benefits of recreation participation provide:

  • A valuable opportunity to make choices
  • A sense of freedom, independence, and autonomy
  • Enhanced self-reliance, self-confidence, and worth
  • Opportunities to improve social skills
  • Inclusion with typically developing peers
  • Advocacy skills
  • Reduced stress
  • Increased resilience

Through play, we express ourselves, feel, move, gain confidence, and make connections. Simply put; recreation, play and leisure give us joy, freedom and an opportunity to take risks— one of the best things about being a human being!

Meaningful and appropriate recreation opportunities are also a powerful means to provide dignity and respect for those with IDD.

Finding the Right Fit

Remember the thrill of catching a ball, running in the sand, floating in the water, hiking along a wooden path, resting in a hammock, or the joy of jumping on a trampoline?

Finding a program that provides this bliss and one that can accommodate the specific and unique needs of your child will take some work–and there may be a few failed attempts. This will be no surprise for a community that is accustomed to digging a little deeper to get their needs met. However, the reward is joy, freedom, choice, and hopefully lots of fun!

Where to find summer recreation opportunities for individuals with IDD:

Medical and Behavioral Considerations

Consider the medical and behavioral needs of your family member when selecting the right recreational fit. Here are a few questions to ask:

  • What medical staff will be present at camp?
  • How are medications given?
  • What behavioral training do staff have and how are behavior plans implemented?
  • Are camp staff open to additional training or support to meet my child’s needs?
  • How will I know what my child did during his/her stay?
  • What is the communication plan if staff need to reach you?

As we approach the summer months and explore recreational opportunities consider reading Learn. Thrive. Recreate. A Recreational Therapist’s Role in Leisure Pursuits, a blog written by Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, Whitney Ferguson, CTRS/R.

Whether your child attends a day or overnight recreation experience, you are providing him or her with a valuable opportunity for growth, exploration, and independence.

Wishing you all a safe and fun summer, filled with adventure and joy…and some treasured respite for you.

About the Author

Katrina is a mother of two children and a career advocate in family support and social services who brings a blend of personal and professional expertise to Seattle Children’s Autism Center. She has come to know autism services and resources through advocacy for her own son with autism and through her sincere interest in helping others navigate the complex maze that accompanies an autism diagnosis and the life-long journey. With a background in public health including a B.A. in Community Health, extensive experience in public health, school education, social services navigation, resource referral and case management, Katrina is skilled in finding vital services in our region and supporting individuals and families living with autism.


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