Inclusion in recreation is an option many families may not be
aware of, and the supports needed are provided at no cost to the
participant, beyond the regular program fee charged by the park
district or recreation department.
Photo courtesy of Northeast DuPage Special
Inclusion, in which kids with special needs
learn alongside normally developing children, helps with academic
and social development, experts say.
Inclusion is all about choice and the special recreation
associations in Illinois have been providing children and adults
with inclusive recreation options for the past 20 years.
SRAs are cooperatives of local park districts and municipalities
who join their resources together to provide diversified recreation
opportunities for their residents with disabilities. They embrace
the philosophy that not every child or adult with a disability
requires specialized recreation programming, and that the choice of
inclusion experiences is a vital part of their continuum of service
options. Inclusion provides a child or adult with a disability the
opportunity to recreate with nondisabled peers in park district or
village recreation programs in the least restrictive
Opportunities to participate in recreational activities are
crucial for all children and adults. For example, one mom wanted
her daughter, Nancy, to attend the local park district's tap and
ballet program. But having Down syndrome, Nancy needed more
assistance than the instructor could provide. NEDSRA provided a
"leisure buddy" and that successful inclusion experience enabled
Nancy to be part of other programs on her own.
Inclusion experiences often enhance an individual's self-esteem,
foster improved physical and mental well-being and growth in
cognitive and social skills-all while having fun. Parents may
choose an inclusion setting for some experiences and the SRA's more
specialized program for other options.
Every inclusion experience will differ depending on the activity
and the individual. The SRA staff will work closely with parents
and local recreation/park district staff to provide the support
needed. Examples include: disability in-service training with the
community recreation staff, modification of the program activities
to meet the needs of the individual, use of various types of
adaptive equipment, provision of interpreters or the temporary
support of one-on-one trained leisure buddies. The purpose of the
leisure buddy is to provide overall guidance during the inclusion
process while promoting natural supports among peers.
After careful assessment and consultation, implementation of one
or all of these support techniques may be used to help ensure a
positive and successful inclusion experience.
Larry Reiner is executive director of the Northeast DuPage
Special Recreation Association and a member of the Chicago Special
Parent Advisory Board.
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