Recreation therapy improves physical and cognitive abilities using recreational activities

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Recreational therapy, also known as therapeutic recreation, is a systematic process that utilizes recreation and other activity-based interventions to address the assessed needs of individuals with illnesses and/or disabling conditions, as a means to psychological and physical health, recovery and well-being.

The primary purposes of Recreational Therapy are to restore, remediate or rehabilitate in order to improve functioning and independence as well as reduce or eliminate the effects of illness or disability. Therapeutic recreation uses treatment, education and recreation services to help people with illnesses, disabilities and other conditions to develop and use their leisure in ways that enhance their health, functional abilities, independence and quality of life.

Therapeutic Recreation is provided by professionals who are trained and certified, registered and/or licensed to provide Therapeutic Recreation.

A Recreational Therapist utilizes a wide range of activities to improve the physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and leisure needs of their clients. Recreational Therapists assist clients to develop skills, knowledge, and behaviors for daily living and community involvement. The therapist works with the client and their family to incorporate specific interests and community resources into therapy to achieve optimal outcomes that transfer to their real life situation.

Recreational Therapists may work with a wide range of individuals requiring health services including geriatric, mental health, addictions, general medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, developmental disabilities and pediatric clients.

Recreation therapy is a treatment that helps children with developmental disabilities to expand physical and cognitive capabilities while participating in recreational activities. Though a child may participate in other therapies that specifically address physical function need, recreation therapy is specifically designed to allow children to partake in leisure pursuits by eliminating roadblocks that impede the pursuit of sports, arts, crafts, games and other life-enhancing activities.

For example, Recreation Therapy has numerous benefits for children with Cerebral Palsy – it can improve physical functionality, improve neurological connections associated with processing activities, and provide opportunities for inclusion. Children involved with recreation therapy benefit within both group or solitary environments. The time spent within activities of interest decreases opportunities for depression, loneliness and frustration. In fact, Recreation Therapy provides a greater sense of self-worth and accomplishment.

Another benefit that a child will enjoy is the ability to take part in activities with his or her family, neighborhood children, school mates and others with like interests. When an individual is accepted into a group, other members of that group are exposed to the ever-increasing capabilities of those with impairment. Often siblings, friends, and co-workers would like to interact with individuals with Cerebral Palsy, but are discouraged by their ability to know how. Those trained in recreation that participate in activities often become examples of human possibility, understanding and inspiration for those with and without impairment.

Many health care facilities have a therapy referral process in place, and include Recreational Therapy as part of their standard referral process for other ordered therapies and services. Once the referral is made, usually by the physician, an assessment should be completed by a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist. On many inpatient program units a standard order is provided for each new resident "to evaluate for these services". Clients from outpatient, home health or community programs may also be appropriate, and the referral is done on a case-by-case basis.
Recreational therapy “aims to improve an individual’s functioning and keep them as active, healthy and independent as possible in their chosen life pursuits.” In most cases, these goals are accomplished by combining a person’s speech, fine motor or gross motor goals with community involvement, while engaging in the person’s preferred interests.

Here are examples of Recreational Therapy activities:

Horseback riding - Learning how to ride a horse challenges multiple muscle groups, provides tactile and vestibular sensory input and increases a person’s awareness of social and environmental cues.

Adaptive swimming - Swimming is probably the most popular form of recreational therapy, because of the emphasis on safety, benefits for sensory integration, accessibility and opportunity for a vigorous, low-impact workout.

Special Olympics - The Special Olympics is an international sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Each local organization has volunteer coaches for several seasonal sports leading up to regional and national competitions in the winter and summer.

Dance - Dance and creative movement provide physical challenges in a structured, supportive environment for sensory integration. The intimate connection with music often makes dance feel less like exercise or physical therapy and more like leisure.

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