Social Integration, Leisure, and Individuals with Intellectual Disability

By Mahon, Michael J.; Mactavish, Jennifer et al. | Parks & Recreation, April 2000 | Go to article overview

Social Integration, Leisure, and Individuals with Intellectual Disability


Mahon, Michael J., Mactavish, Jennifer, Bockstael, Erika, Parks & Recreation


Making friends Through Recreation

Integrating individuals with intellectual disability into community life has been a central goal of the disability movement for more than 30 years. Integration, although defined in various ways, is commonly thought of as a process that brings people together with and without a disability in shared physical settings where meaningful social interactions can be fostered and maintained (Hutchison & McGill, 1992; Nirje, 1985; Wolfensberger, 1972. In particular, the social aspect of this process-social integration-advanced as a key to ensuring that people not only live in but are also members of their respective communities (Wolfensberger, 1972, p. 49).

Fundamental to this idea is that being of the community positively influences the life quality of individuals with intellectual disability (Bogdan & Taylor, 1987; Schalock, 1996; Haring, 1991; Wehmeyer & Schwartz, 1998).

Connecting these ideas, the recreation literature often advances social integration and quality of life as positive outcomes of community-based leisure programs that enable interactions between individuals with intellectual disabilities and their peers without disabilities (Bullock & Mahon, 1999; Hoge & Wilhite, 1997; Hutchison & McGill, 1992). For participants with a disability, these interactions are beneficial because they present opportunities to engage in meaningful and age-appropriate activities, provide exposure to a range of activities that may become the basis for subsequent activity choices, foster social relationships with sameage peers without disabilities, promote physical and psychological health, facilitate skill development, and enhance perceptions of community membership (Browder & Cooper, 1994; Schleien, Ray, & Green, 1997). Participants without disabilities also benefit from recreation that includes individuals with intellectual disabilities. For example, by getting to know these individuals, people without disabilities begin to focus less on individual differences and more on their shared interests in recreation (Green, Schleien, Mactavish, & Benepe, 1995). In turn, this shift in focus helps to generate greater awareness and acceptance of the diversity in our society.

Despite recognizing the tremendous potential of leisure and recreation for enhancing social integration, research continues to indicate that this potential is not being fully realized in the lives of people with intellectual disabilities across their lifespan (Pedlar, 1992; Pedlar, Lord, & Van Loon, 1990). Thinking about possible reasons for this gap between potential and reality, it seems that one explanation may lie in our approaches to studying social integration, quality of life, and leisure. Traditionally, knowledge about these concepts has been generated from the perspectives of researchers, service professionals, families, caregivers, and others who work with people with intellectual disabilities. The view points of individuals with intellectual disabilities often have not been included, largely because of ongoing debates about the most effective means of including these individuals in the research process and ensuring the credibility of researchers' interpretations of the findings (see for example, Biklen & Moseley, 1988; Dattillo, Hoge, & Malley, 1996(. This "byproxy" approach to learning about socially constructed concepts-like social integration, quality of life, and leisure, which mean different things to different people-has been criticized for producing an incomplete-and possibly-inaccurate body of knowledge (Biklen & Moseley, 1988; Goode, 1988; Mactavish, Lutfiyya, & Mahon, 1998).

Lifespan and Disability Research Project: Participants, Purpose, and Procedures

With the applied line of thinking as a step towards realizing leisure's full potential for promoting social integration, the Lifespan and Disability Research Project included individuals with intellectual disability, family members/caregivers, and service providers in a study designed to generate multiple perspectives about the factors that support and constrain social integration. …

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