Going Places: Improving Participation in Community Activities
Improving Participation in Community Activities
Children with disabilities and their families often become somewhat socially isolated, picking and choosing the places they go, people they see, and things they do. This may be because community outings tend to be unpredictable and some outings (e.g., trips to the doctor) may be associated with unpleasant experiences, leading to anxiety and avoidance. Over time, this narrowing in participation in inclusive activities can lead to boredom, frustration, and even resentment. This article will describe strategies to help children explore and experience a wider array of community activities, thereby creating greater fulfillment in life.
Steps for Community Participation
Identify places and activities. It is important to select community activities thoughtfully. The goals are enjoyment and participation for everyone. Therefore, choose activities both the children and parents will find to be fun, engaging, and not-too-challenging whenever possible. It is also important to determine the best times or dates (e.g., when the environment is less crowded, child is likely to be well-rested) to go.
Determine expectations. Before embarking on the outing, figure out what exactly occurs and how people tend to behave in order to participate in the activity. Set goals based on your child’s current abilities (e.g., sit quietly and observe for 15 minutes, participate by selecting 5 items). Start small if necessary to increase the likelihood of success.
Prepare your child*. Explain the activity to your child, answering the following questions: Where are we going? Who will be there? What will we be doing and/or what will be going on? What can the child do if he feels uncomfortable (e.g., say or sign “stop”)? How you will help him be successful? It may be helpful to role play or use pictures to illustrate.
Support participation. When you go on the outing, assess the circumstances to determine if additional guidance or adjustments to your plan are necessary. Prompt your child to participate according to your goals, and also to communicate if he needs more support.
Exit on a positive note. If your child participates successfully and meets the goal you have established, praise him and leave. If he communicates discomfort appropriately and you are unable to change the circumstances to meet his needs, thank your child for expressing his needs and allow him to exit.
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