Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Patterns of Family Recreation in Families That Include Children with a Developmental Disability

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Patterns of Family Recreation in Families That Include Children with a Developmental Disability

Article excerpt


A popular belief within Western cultures, one advanced by the recreation and leisure profession, is that a "family that plays together stays together" (Orthner & Mancini, 1990). Supporting this belief, numerous studies indicate that family recreation contributes, sometimes negatively but more often positively, to family relationships and overall satisfaction with the quality of family life (Hill, 1988; Holman, 1981; Holman & Jacquart, 1988; Orthner, 1975; Orthner & Mancini, 1980; Palisi, 1984). In fact, in a national study involving over 300 self-described "happy" families, "doing things together" was identified as one of the key determinants of their success (Stinnett, Sanders, DeFrain, & Parkhurst, 1982).

Beyond having positive impacts on the overall quality of family life, family recreation carries special significance for children because, for most, this constitutes their first exposure to recreation. Interacting with other family members-siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles-provides a context where children begin to acquire the skills (social, physical, and recreation) and develop the interests that have the capacity to influence, positively and/or negatively, their lifelong interest and involvement in recreation (Horna, 1989).

While it is tempting to acknowledge family recreation as a beneficial force within the lives of families and their individual members, the supporting research has several substantive limitations (Holman & Epperson, 1984). Of particular concern is the extremely narrow range of families and family types that have been considered in studies of family recreation (Orthner & Mancini, 1990). One casualty of this limitation is our knowledge about the potential contribution of family recreation to the life experiences of families that include children with developmental disabilities. This is a significant oversight, which underscores the need for greater knowledge about these families and their recreation.

The Context: Families That Include Children with Disabilities

Historically, a large proportion of children with developmental disabilities did not reside within their families' homes (Landesman & Vietze, 1987). Institutionalization was the norm, which typically afforded little opportunity for contact between these children and their families. This began to change 30 years ago with the emergence of the principle of normalization. Normalization is the philosophical cornerstone of movements aimed at furthering the rights of people with disabilities to experience, to the fullest degree possible, culturally normative conditions of life (Perrin & Nirje, 1985; Wolfensberger, 1972). Since that time, normalization in tandem with a range of supporting legislation has resulted in significant increases in the number of individuals, particularly children with developmental disabilities, who live with their families (Landesman & Vietze, 1987; Turnbull & Turnbull, 1990).2

An outgrowth of this movement to community living has been the recognition that traditional definitions of what constitutes a family (i.e., twoparents with biological children) must be extended to better accommodate the diverse family experiences of children with developmental disabilities (Landesman & Vietze, 1987). While many of these children live in nuclear families-with their biological parents and siblings-many do not. Some live in single-parent homes, some live in adoptive homes, and others have live in what has been described as a "series of families of residence" (Landesman & Vietz, 1987, p. 62). In other words, family for some of these children has come to mean a series of foster placements which may or may not culminate in permanent adoptive homes. In an effort to accommodate this diversity of family compositions, some researchers in the area of disability have suggested that family be defined as a "social group with whom one resides" (Landesman & Vietz, 1987, p. …

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