Recreation & Leisure Activities for Adults with Developmental Disabilities

Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

Your ability level should not limit what activities you pursue in your leisure time, and this is definitely true for adults with developmental disabilities. There are a variety of fun leisure activities ranging from physical to artistic to engage their minds and bodies in new and exciting ways.

Physical Activities

Physical activities are important to everyone's health, but especially adults with developmental disabilities. Just like with any other person, they need things they can do that are appropriate and fun at the same time. Ideally, they should have at least 150 minutes of low impact exercise a week. There are several physical activities that these adults might finding interesting like dancing, swimming, horseback riding, bowling, sports teams, etc. Let's look at a few in more detail.

Swimming

Swimming is a great low-impact exercise option for people with developmental disabilities with many benefits. However, as with anyone, you want to make sure they are safe and confident in the water. Most of your local pools, whether it is at a YMCA or community pool, will be willing to create a program or adapt a class to suit people with developmental disabilities.

Swimming is a healthy physical activity that can be adapted to adults with developmental disabilities
Swimmer

The early swimming class should include teaching them the basics such as how to get in and out of the water safely. They would also learn some swimming basics such as floating on their back, treading water, and most importantly - getting used to getting their faces wet. Once they get comfortable with the basics, what people with developmental disabilities can do in the water is entirely up to their interests. If they don't like traditional swimming, there are fun classes in water aerobics that don't require any actual 'swimming' at all. Water aerobics classes incorporate walking, running, dancing, and weight lifting moves in the water. It doesn't move very fast, like a traditional aerobics class, but incorporates different moves that will engage those with developmental disabilities.

Horseback Riding

Animals have long been known to hold a therapeutic value to people with emotional and physical injuries, and those with disabilities. The notion that horses have some therapeutic value goes back to ancient Greece, but the idea of using horseback riding as an activity for fun and therapy with those with disabilities goes back to the 1960s when the Community Association of Riding of the Disabled (CARD) started. There are people with all sorts of disabilities that compete at the national level in competitive equestrian events.

A good place to start to look for horseback riding for those with developmental disabilities is the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association. Search for riding centers in your area that are registered with this association, because it means you will have an easier time finding riding classes and instructors who are trained in working with those with developmental disabilities. If you can't find one in your area, you might have a local YMCA or other barns that offer riding lessons. Odds are you can find one that would be willing to work with adults with developmental disabilities.

Community organizations often offer riding programs for people with all types of disabilities
Horsebacking Riding

Horseback riding offers lots of benefits as a leisure activity. First, working with horses both on the ground and the actual riding helps people with developmental disabilities build relationships and decreases their isolation. Working with horses requires building communication skills, both in reading the animals non-verbal communications and then using their legs and reins to tell the horse what you want them to do. Some people with developmental disabilities may be content just to walk and trot the horse around an arena and eventually on trails, but how far they go is really up to them.

Explore the Arts

Art in all forms is a wonderful leisure activity for people with developmental disabilities. Not only can it give them a means to express themselves, when they may struggle to do so verbally, but it gives them a chance to use their creativity. If you call around your community, there may already be programs available through your local recreation center, art gallery, or university. If not, your local art centers would probably be willing to create a class especially for you.

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