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Developing Recreation Skills in Persons with Learning Disabilities

By: Lorraine C. Peniston

Foreword

Perhaps nothing reveals so much about individuals as how they choose to play - how they invest their time and energy for leisure time. Leisure is that time free from demands of school, work, or required activities of daily living. Everyone needs regular recreation that develops skills, promotes good health, relieves stress, facilitates social interactions, and provides a general joy for living.

For recreation, we choose activities at which we can be successful. Good readers read. Athletes seek sports' activities. Musicians lose themselves in music. Visual artists paint or draw. Craftspeople create. Social individuals engage in group activities. Observers appreciate the efforts of others - whether a basketball game, painting, fine meal, or concert.

Children, adolescents, and adults with learning disabilities may find themselves with limited opportunities to fully enjoy leisure time. A lack of perceptual, motor, memory, linguistic, or organizational skills may cause them as much difficulty for leisure as they have at school or work. Fear of failure may limit their reaching out to access recreational activities. Just as we teach children with dyslexia to read, those with math disabilities to understand math, those with linguistic problems to better comprehend and use language, we must teach skills and provide practice so individuals with learning disabilities can achieve some recreational proficiencies. When skills are not as well developed as necessary and compensations are not made, agencies, institutions, instructors, and coaches can be helped to make necessary accommodations. Satisfying leisure time for persons with learning and other disabilities is as important as accomplishments at home, school, and work.

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Benefits of recreation participation

Why should a person with learning disabilities engage in recreation activities? Simply because they can derive many benefits from recreation participation. One benefit is learning from the experience. When the recreation activity experience has captivated the participant, this individual brings particular personality styles of learning, motivation, and expectations about the experience to the setting. The person faced with a specific environment, interpreted by the person or not, promotes one or more learning experiences. These learning experiences can be motor learning, understanding game directions, or performing a skill, all to meet the demands of that setting. These experiences may come from involvement in a structured recreation program and may be exhibited as part of the information outcomes of participation. Researchers in the field of learning and educational psychology have discovered a variety of learning outcomes. The following outcomes can be present because of participation in recreation activities: behavior change and skill learning, direct visual memory, information (factual) learning, concept learning, schemata learning, metacognition learning and attitude, and value learning (Roggenbuck, Loomis, & Dagostino, 1991).

The physiological benefits of recreation participation were derived from studies where people engage in physical activity of some kind (e.g., exercise, cycling, swimming,walking, jogging, running, hiking, weight lifting, etc). Specific results from involvement in a physical recreation activity are an increased lung capacity, reduced resting heart rates and lower blood pressure levels. Other benefits consist of decreased body fat mass, increased lean body mass, increased muscle strength, and improved structure and function of connective tissues (ligaments,tendons,cartilage) and joints. Weight-bearing and strength-building activities help sustain bone mass and reduce the incidence of trauma-induced fractures (Paffenbarger, Hyde, & Dow, 1990). Moderate physical recreation activities are known to reduce the symptoms of mild or moderate depression and anxiety through improved self-image, social skills, and mental health (Taylor, Sallis, & Needle, 1985). Noted psychological benefits of recreation activity are as follows:

  • perceived sense of freedom, independence, and autonomy,
  • enhanced self-competence through improved sense of self-worth, self-reliance, and self-confidence,
  • better ability to socialize with others, including greater tolerance and understanding,
  • enriched capabilities for team membership,
  • heightened creative ability,
  • improved expressions of and reflection on personal spiritual ideals,
  • greater adaptability and resiliency,
  • better sense of humor,
  • enhanced perceived quality of life,
  • more balanced competitiveness and a more positive outlook on life (Academy of Leisure Sciences & Driver, 1994).

Involvement in recreation activities releases stress and tension from the perils of society. Braum (1991) recalls the findings of researchers that state,"relaxation tends to alleviate many of the symptoms of stress. Activities that fill leisure time, performed within a group, strengthen social support ties known to negate stress" (p. 407). The idea of choice in leisure presents opportunities where one can recreate.

One's environment can be a determinant to stress reduction. Natural environments can be pleasant, relaxing, and stress-reducing for many people, but large urban cities also provide the same experience. Having too much free time and limited access to various recreation activities of one's liking can produce stress. So, for those individuals living out in the country who have access to transportation, the joy of partaking in cultural events in the city on a weekly or monthly basis provides the opportunity for a stress-limited lifestyle. The same can be said for people living in the city who recreate in the country.

Social integration of children and adults with learning disabilities into community recreation programs offers the chance to develop a positive self-image through successful experiences and satisfying relationships with peers. McGill (1984) reports that integrated play opportunities are stimulating and highly motivating experiences for disabled children, offering them opportunities to imitate and model the play behavior of nondisabled peers. Social integration also enhances relationships between family members. We've all heard of the old adage,"The family that plays together stays together." This adage infers that leisure experiences promote family satisfaction and stability. Recreation activities provide opportunities for couples and families to interact and negotiate individual and collective interests. Orthner and Mancini (1991) state some benefits to the family:

Leisure experiences promote opportunities for developing equity. Unlike many other environments within which people interact, leisure experiences promote opportunities for each individual to maximize her or his own interests and minimize competition. It is during leisure time when husbands and wives, and parents and children, are most apt to practice by negotiating family roles and reaching new definitions of consensuses. When individual interests are promoted over maximum joint interest, family bonds are weakened. Shared leisure experiences encourage opportunities to negotiations and improve the historical comparisons upon which subsequent negotiations are based. (p. 294)

Benefits of leisure in social integration are also noted in people without disabilities. The chance to learn from and to socialize with nondisabled peers has been cited as one benefit for individuals with disabilities participating in integrated and fully inclusive programs. Research in the 1980's determined that positive attitudes of children not having disabilities toward peers having disabilities were cultivated or increased when involved with an integrated recreation activity (Schleien & Ray, 1988). Recreation service providers also learn from this experience. Due to the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, all private, public, and nonprofit agencies delivering recreation services to the public must supply accommodations and modifications within their programs to persons with disabilities (as requested). These professionals may not have any knowledge of providing accommodations and/or modifications to participants with learning disabilities. The person with learning disabilities, upon disclosure, thus needs to educate the professional about what accommodations and/or program modifications should be arranged to enable full participation in recreation programs. This social interaction not only contributes awareness of this situation to another person but also demonstrates how important it is for individuals with disabilities to participate in a particular recreation activity like everyone else.

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Learning disabilities' effect on recreation participation

Chapter Two contributed in-depth information on the different types of learning disabilities and how learning disabilities cause difficulty in interpreting daily tasks. This section will focus on its interference with recreation activities. Often, the public and even some professionals who are knowledgeable about learning disabilities forget that everyone has a life after school and after work. Do not let the word learning impede any thinking that problems associated with learning disabilities will only surface during school or work. A person may read during leisure time, and that does not always mean a novel. A person reads directions to complete a craft project, instructions to play a computer game, a description of a recipe, and even the gate number on an airplane boarding pass. Dyslexia does not cease when one is playing Scrabble(R). Auditory perceptual ability does not suddenly improve because a child receives lower amounts of verbal instruction on the baseball field than in the classroom. Dyscalculia does not go away when playing a card game. Learning disabilities can affect every area of one's life, including participation in recreation activities.

What occurs when learning disabilities interfere with participation in recreation activities? First, the person may only wish to participate in activities that reveal his attributes. For example, an individual who excels naturally in physical activities (e.g., basketball,volleyball,golf, tennis, etc.) may feel more comfortable playing in physical activities than a game of Scattergories(R),which requires the ability to hold information in memory, process written text quickly, recall accurately, and spell precisely. Even when a person excels in physical recreation activities, unexpected obstacles can appear. A few of these obstacles are reading and interpreting written game plays or formations (e.g., basketball, football, gymnastics, marching band, water polo, hockey, etc.), keeping track of a score (e.g. ,golf), and outmaneuvering your opponent through preplanned shots (e.g., racquetball, volleyball, tennis).

In referring to the types of learning disabilities listed in Chapter Two, shown is a compilation of illustrations that describes how specific types of learning disabilities affect performance in recreational activities:

  • Dyscalculia. This can cause one to produce a sum that is incorrect, resulting in losing a game or in misplacement of ranking in golf. This also can cause difficulty in playing games such as dominos; scoring bowling or in any type of card game; casino gambling; calculating dining charges, etc.
  • Dyslexia. This inability to understand written language poses a problem when reading craft instructions, theater programs, movie subtitles, travel itineraries, tour guide brochures, and interpreting the directions in learning a new game.
  • Auditory Acuity Difficulty. This may be the problem if, when playing a game of basketball, a player continually does not respond to a coach's directions from the bench or does not respond to a teammate's verbal play-making messages.
  • Auditory-Vocal Association Problems. The characteristic is displayed when a person hears what was said, is subsequently able to acknowledge the auditory stimuli in a correct manner, and yet proceeds to perform an incorrect or inappropriate action. In football, upon hearing the signal for an interception, a defensive back stop, turns, and begins to tackle opposing players rather than block (Yellen &Yellen, 1987,p. 51).
  • Auditory Memory Deficit. This could be the problem if a person finds difficulty remembering directions or instructions that have been previously explained (e.g., just before game or during halftime when new instructions were stated). In volleyball, a player does not remember alterations to a defense play made by the team captain at halftime.
  • Auditory Sequencing Problem. Here a student experiences the inability to recall a series of auditory instructions. During tap dance instruction the student performs a shuffle step beginning with her left foot instead of her right foot and before an eight-count circle to her left.
  • Catastrophic Response. This can occur anytime when the individual is overloaded with too much visual and/or auditory stimuli and results in high frustration. A scenario could be that the person misread or did not double check the time to return to the bus from an outing. This resulted in the person and accompanying friend missing the bus to return to their hotel. They are standing at the wrong bus station surrounded by hundreds of tourists. His friend is yelling, people are everywhere, and the person shuts down for approximately one minute.
  • Cognitive Disorganization. With cognitive disorganization, a person may often miss or forget steps in a sequence. During a cub scout weekly assignment, 10-year-old Bob never brings all of the materials required to complete a project, or he constantly confuses the steps taken to achieve merit awards.
  • Crossing the Midline and Directional Problems. These problems become quite apparent during aerobic exercise or dance class, roller or ice skating instruction, driving small motorized vehicles (e.g., scooter, go-cart racing, bumper cars, boats, etc.) and locating a room in a hotel. This individual is unable to smoothly mimic the movements of the aerobic or dance instructor and experiences difficulty mirroring responses. Controlling the steering wheel, judgement of turns on a course, and going in the correct direction may require many practice runs before exhibiting adequate skills.
  • Disinhibition. A person exhibiting this problem often finds complications with "fitting in" groups, especially team recreation activities. Constant laughing at a teammate when the ball is dropped, always retrieving a shot within someone else's playing zone (e.g., volleyball), and continually talking loudly when silence is expected (e.g., opponent is putting in golf) could lead to dismissal from the team, if the individual is unable to correct these types of behaviors, or could result in peers not inviting this person to accompany them in a recreation activity again.
  • Intersensory Problem. Trouble using two senses at once could interfere with designing a piece of pottery or hand painting a ceramic dish and holding a conversation with a talkative person who is sitting in the adjacent seat. Individuals exhibiting this dilemma may not complete the task or may make numerous mistakes during the process due to engagement in conversation.
  • Short-term Memory Problem. A person with a short-term memory problem does not remember the sequence of a turn taken during a table game, forgets to place a bet before the next poker round, and may not remember what he betted during the current poker round.
  • Visual Acuity Problem. A player does not exhibit the ability to see clearly and differentiate objects in his visual field. In bowling, the bowler experiences problems in lining the bowling ball up with the range finders on the runway.
  • Poor Visual Coordination and Pursuit. Here the task of following and tracking objects causes distress. A person has trouble positioning himself to catch a frisbee or misjudges the landing of a spin on a tennis shot.
  • Visual Figure-Ground Differentiation Problem. With this type of problem the person never identified where the object was from the beginning; she has an inability to distinguish between objects in the foreground and background. In soccer, a player has difficulty seeing her teammates when conducting a "throw-in" to continue the play of game.
  • Visual-Motor, Spatial-Form Manipulation Problems. An individual finds complications in successfully moving in space and manipulating three-dimensional objects with this problem. Examples are placing jigsaw puzzle pieces in their correct location within a puzzle, maneuvering one's bicycle through an obstacle course, and even parallel parking one's car.

It is common for persons with learning disabilities to employ survival strategies when learning a new skill or interacting in a group situation. Examples of these strategies are as follows:

  1. Learn from doing: Jim cannot understand the chalkboard plays so his mind frequently "fades" out during those sessions. Jim feels since he will run that particular football play three times out on the field before the next game, he'll be fine in learning that game play.
  2. Observe what others do: Sally is always one step behind when Coach Smith verbally explains new jumps she wants the cheerleading squad to try. Sally chooses to stand near the end of the cheerleading squad line. By the time her turn comes, she can successfully perform the jumps just like everyone else in the group.
  3. Develop a buddy system: Keith has a problem interpreting what his college football offensive line coach, Coach Green, says during films. During the weekly viewing of football films, Keith may only catch about a third of what Coach Green is explaining. Keith developed a close friendship with George, who is also a member of the offensive line. Keith and George would get together for about an hour after films to discuss what Coach Green wants the offensive team to accomplish for the next game.
  4. Awareness of instructors' expectations: It is common in organized athletic teams that one person's wrongdoings or mistakes can jeopardize the entire team; youngsters and adolescents respond quickly to peer pressure. April immediately became aware of timeliness when the coach made her and her gymnastic teammates run 25 laps around the gym, twice in one week, due to April arriving late to practice sessions. This only occurred the first week of training, and throughout the 16-week training period April was never late again.

These are just a few of the strategies considered "compensation" strategies that individuals with learning disabilities acquire throughout their lives. Some individuals learn them through life experience (the school of hard knocks), while others are fortunate enough to have someone provide them with guidance. It does not matter how compensation strategies are obtained, as long as they are mastered and utilized to render effective participation in a recreation activity of choice. Determining how one can partake in a recreation activity that may demonstrate areas of difficulty is the solution to successful inclusive recreation involvement.

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Cognitive leisure checklist

Name:___________________

Date:___________________

Disability (if known):___________________

Instructions: Please write in the number that best describes you. Response key: 1- Never occurs, 2- Sometimes occurs, 3 - Always occurs
______ 1. I can keep my mind on a project long enough to complete it.
______ 2. I can remain seated for more than 60 minutes when completing a project.
______ 3. I always remember what instructions were said, so I don't have to ask for the instructions to be repeated.
______ 4. I usually show up for an event on time.
______ 5. I always remember to bring necessary materials or supplies to activities.
______ 6. I can complete most assignments on time.
______ 7. I can start a project within a short time period without difficulty.
______ 8. I can talk with people easily.
______ 9. I can play quite well with others.
______ 10. I am able to ask others for assistance.
______ 11. I can meet my responsibilities.
______ 12. When learning a new game or activity, I can remember it the next day or several days later.
______ 13. I can always remember the next step in a game or activity.
______ 14. I can always remember taking my turn during a game or activity.
______ 15. I can always make decisions during a game or activity.
______ 16. I am able to identify the main idea of what I read and explain it in my own words.
______ 17. I avoid word games (crossword puzzles, Scrabble, etc.)
______ 18. I can play games where I have to add a score or follow a certain order of numbers.
______ 19. I can work successfully on projects where I am required to measure something, count a pattern, and use math to find a sum.
______ 20. I can draw simple pictures and shapes.
______ 21. I can follow the ball when watching a basketball (or any other sports) game.
______ 22. I can usually judge where a ball is going to land and move myself to the area to catch the ball.
______ 23. I can locate jigsaw puzzle pieces and place them in their correct position in the puzzle (e.g., 500 piece puzzle)
______ 24. I can tell where the boundaries and foul areas are located in a game or sport activity I know well.
______ 25. I can put together a model/craft project with little difficulty.
______ 26. When learning a new exercise or sport activity, I can usually follow the instructions of the teacher quite well.
______ 27. I can judge when to hit a ball with another object (e.g., bat, racket, hand).
______ 28. I can always maintain my balance.
______ 29. I can ask someone to show me how to do something.
______ 30. I can participate in games or activities even when I am having problems understanding the directions and rules.
___________ TOTAL NUMBERS

Scoring:

Major difficulties: 30 to 50 points

Some difficulties to average: 51 to 71 points

Good to excellent: 72 to 90 points

Major difficulties require on-going assistance with major accommodations. Some difficulties require periodic assistance with some accommodations; Good to excellent needs little assistance and no accommodations.

About the author: Lorraine C. Peniston is a Learning Disabilities Specialist at the University of New Mexico. She has an extensive background in both the therapeutic recreation and special education fields.

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selected excerpts Lorraine C. Peniston Sagamore Publishing 1998. Forward written by Regina Cicci, Ph.D. Worksheet abbreviated form of Cognitive Leisure Indicator Instrument Author: Lorraine C. Peniston, Ph.D., CTRS