Feature Article - March 2004
Find a printable version here

Play With a Purpose

Understanding therapeutic recreation and how it can work for you

By Elisa Kronish


Therapeutic recreation programs can take many forms, and with any of them, it helps to create some consistency. The Therapeutic Recreation and Teen Services program of the Fairfax County Department of Community and Recreation Services in Fairfax, Va., has developed a wise model that's worth sharing with TR novices. Division Supervisor Evan Braff calls it a "continuum of care." It works for any activity, and it takes participants from start to finish and back again.

Here's how it goes:

1. First phase— Foundation This is where people start when they're not quite ready for integrated activity.

"It focuses on skill developments one-on-one," Braff explains.

2. Second phase— Transitional When participants have mastered the basic skills of a sport or activity, this phase allows them to go out and just do it, but with a little support from staff.

3. Third phase— Integrational This is the stage of independence. "Total mainstreaming inclusion with minimal support," Braff says.

"What's unique about this model is it moves up and down," Braff notes. For example, an individual with a disability who wants to take a karate class might start out with a staff member showing him some moves and how he might adapt them appropriately. As he progresses, the staff person hangs back a bit and then fades out completely.

"But then they want to take up a new hobby, and they go back down to the transitional phase," Braff explains. With more than 35 programs for people with disabilities, Fairfax County's model provides organization, control and a welcoming approach for people who want to try something new.

Concern #4: The whole thing will be a waste of effort and money.

Solution: Get your staff and community involved in creating TR programming and attracting people with disabilities.

"In the first place, you have to be able to do some community and consensus building," says Braff, who recently developed a strategic plan for Fairfax County, Va., recreation services. His first step was inviting people from the community—both those being served by county programs and some who weren't—to answer questions about what they thought of existing services and what was missing.

"Get people around the table to come up with a common goal, a mission and an action plan," Braff says. He also urges people to look for grants and funding, work with county and officials, and research what's been done and what has worked. "They shouldn't feel like they're reinventing the wheel," he says.

Austin points to research by the National Center for Accessibility at Indiana University that took on the argument by some golf facilities owners and players that it would take too long for a person with disabilities to complete a round of golf. In fact, when researchers timed players with disabilities, it turned out they played at about the same pace as non-disabled players.

Next, be open to new ideas from anywhere and anyone, Braff advises.

"Everybody has a voice from the part-time staff to the division supervisor; all are empowered to be part of the decision-making process," he says of his department. "A certain energy comes with that."