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news item News Tuesday, March 5, 2019 Tuesday, March 5, 2019 12:20 PM - Tuesday, March 5, 2019 12:20 PM

Recreational therapy and the role it plays in pediatric rehabilitation

From playing sports to doing arts and crafts, recreational therapy activities may just seem like fun, but they are well thought out with a defined purpose. It utilizes recreation and other activity-based interventions to address the assessed needs of individual patients.

According to the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification, recreational therapy 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.

Shriners Hospitals for Children — Houston incorporates recreational therapy as part of the rehabilitation program.

An interview with a recreational therapist

Recreational therapist Christina Hayden has been at the Houston Shriners Hospital for four years, serving inpatients and outpatients, and knows first-hand the ins and outs of recreational therapy. She shared the following insight:

Which patients benefit most from recreational therapy?

Recreational therapy is so individualized, I would say patients who are open to the possibility of improvement benefit the most. Recreational therapy can provide great benefits for those that:

  • Could benefit from tools and support towards improved quality of life
  • Have low participation and engagement in their lives and community
  • Have internal, external or system barriers to increased participation and engagement (satisfying recreation experiences)
  • Could benefit from interventions to modify their level of functioning
  • Need modifications of a leisure activity so they can still participate
  • Need assistance in choosing attainable alternative leisure activities that align with established interests and benefits
  • Could benefit from assistance in discovery of alternative interests and acquisition of required new skills

How does recreational therapy complement physical and occupational therapy for rehabilitation?

Recreational therapy provides a unique perspective by looking at the patient from all domains: socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively. This helps identify additional motivations, desires and interests that can direct the interventions used to help patients meet their goals.

Showing patients practical, inclusive and enjoyable activities that they have the potential to perform provides both intrinsic and external motivating factors. It also reinforces many of the physical, occupational or speech therapy goals by using age-appropriate activities that patients are interested in that add fun opportunities for repetition and practice in the context of play.

Recreational therapy also supports transitional opportunities for patients to apply learned skills outside of the hospital in the community setting while improving their overall health and quality of life.

How do you motivate patients?

I motivate patients by assessing their abilities and interests, and utilize those to support progression toward the patient’s goals. I show patients how activities can be broken down and adapted so they can more fully participate in things that bring about positive emotions. I am also goofy, silly, positive and enthusiastic by nature, which I think overflows in many of my sessions with patients.

What is one of the most creative activities you had to tailor to patient needs?

Once, I made a giant water blob out of thick plastic sheeting and waterproof duct tape. I filled it with water, glitter and decorative sea animals. Patients and families could play, jump, roll and slide on top of it. It was for an Under the Sea Week during the Summer Vacation Program at the hospital. As a fun therapeutic group activity, it met the needs of a variety of ages, abilities and activity levels. Some of the benefits were that it inspired movement and improved core strength, range of motion, endurance, imagination, joy and relaxation.

What has been your favorite experience working in recreational therapy so far?

Creating and facilitating adaptive and inclusive sports clinics for our outpatients. By establishing a relationship with community programs like the YMCA, I was able to take patients and their families on full-day field trips to the Houston adaptive sports complexes. It was a great experience planning and implementing this program, which increased awareness about adaptive sports in the community, built relationships between peers and families, and helped patients gain skills and confidence in activities that brought about positive change.

Several patients having fun during therapy sessionPatient riding adaptive bike while therapist assists