Including Students with Moderate and Severe Disabilities in Extracurricular and Community Recreation Activities: Steps to Success

Article excerpt

Recreation and leisure activities play a vital role in all our lives, and educators have long recognized that such activities are an important instructional emphasis for students with moderate and severe disabilities (Bambara, Browder, & Koger. 2006; Browder & Cooper, 2001 ; Rynders & Schleien, 1993). This article offers teachers practical strategies for including their students with disabilities in school extracurricular activities, as well as in community recreation activities.

Since the passage of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA. 2004) and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB, 2001J, educators have increasingly recognized the general curriculum-or core academic content-as an instructional focus for all students, including students with moderate and severe intellectual disabilities. However, the importance of this new focus does not mean that parents and educators should neglect students' other instructional needs.

Recreation, leisure, and extracurricular involvement are essential for developing friendships, increasing the likelihood of community integration and postschool success, and improving the overall quality of life (Reward, 2006; Modell & Valdez, 2002). Moreover, extracurricular involvement-through such activities as participating in science programs, using computers, practicing foreign languages, working on yearbooks, and participating in 4-H clubs can also give students with moderate and severe disabilities many opportunities to practice and extend their academic skills.

Students with significant intellectual disabilities need meaningful opportunities and explicit instruction so that they can develop the critical skills they need for participating in school and community recreation activities (Bambara et al.. 2006; Collins, Hall, & Branson, 1997; Modell & Valdez, 2002). Without planned opportunities and systematic recreation/leisure instruction, students with such disabilities have few, if any, chances lo participate; and this lack of engagement may well carry over into adulthood (Strand & Kreiner, 2005). In extensive interviews with recent graduates and their families. Kleinert et al. (2002) found minimal opportunities for young adults with moderate and severe intellectual disabilities to engage in community recreation activities.

Congress showed its recognition of the need for both participation and instruction in this essential life domain in the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). It again required that individualized education program (IEP) teams include:

A statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services, based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practical, to be provided to the child, or on behalf of the child, and a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided for the child

a) to advance appropriately toward attaining the annual goals, and

b) to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum in accordance with subclause (I) and to participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities. [Sec 614 (d)(1)(A)(i)] (italics not in the original).

IDEA further underscores the importance of recreation and leisure activities by considering them as a related service. When considered as a related service, recreation can include assessment of leisure skills, therapeutic recreation, and instruction in schools and community agencies (Heward, 2006). Yet, major barriers still prevent students with significant intellectual disabilities from participating in extracurricular and recreation opportunities with their same-age peers. Students with disabilities often have limited opportunities to choose activities that they value (Falvey, 1995; Jones, 2006), an essential element of recreation. Also, students with significant disabilities often have communication and social skill deficits (Heward; Siegel & Wetherby, 2006). …