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The Benefits of Teaching Leisure Skills

By Fatima Zaidi
July 6, 2021
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Leisure skill training is an important, yet, often overlooked area of development for the individuals we work with. Sometimes we believe that leisure engagement is not a skill we teach. This is a myth. Or we allow an individual to engage with an activity in a nonfunctional way and call that leisure. Again, a myth. Moreover, we may think that teaching one leisure activity is enough. Another myth. Like most complex behavior chains, leisure needs to be developed through skill acquisition training and adequate planning. A rich leisure repertoire consists of multiple age-appropriate, goal-oriented activities that are preferred. Developing a rich leisure repertoire has multiple benefits supported by research:

  1. Protects human rights: Leisure is an expression of freedom that is categorized as an inalienable human right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, states that “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure”. Additionally, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2004, further protects this right by insisting that leisure and recreation should be discussed within the IEP.
  2. Enhances quality of life: Happiness is a distinctive feature of quality of life. Research by Lancioni and colleagues (2005) and Parsons and colleagues (2012) have demonstrated that the indices of happiness are observed when an individual engages in leisure. Moreover, studies have shown a positive correlation between active leisure and life satisfaction (Harper & Heal, 1993).
  3. Reduces challenging behavior: We all have heard the phrase, “Idle hands are the devil’s plaything.” Leisure activities engage those idle hands, gives them something to do. Research demonstrates by merely providing leisure items, challenging behavior decreases (Fisher et al, 1992; Lindberg et al, 2003).
  4. Promotes social interaction: Leisure is an opportunity to interact with others and share common experiences. It improves peer acceptance and facilitates improved family relations (Dodd et al., 2009).
  5. An effective context for learning: Leisure provides a context for incidental teaching, in which the individual’s natural motivations guide the learning process (Hart & Risley, 1975).
  6. Improves health: Higher participation in any leisure is correlated with low blood pressure, cortisol level, waist circumference, and BMI (Pressman et al., 2009).

With all of these wonderful benefits, it's important to spend time identifying leisure skills that an individual can access across different environments (parks, residence, social gatherings, etc.) and make sure the materials are practical and easy to access or replace. Plan structured teaching times that increase an individual’s fluency with each step of the activity. Build on activities they may already prefer and assess and increase preference before concluding leisure skill-building.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out about leisure skill training. My email is fzaidi@qbs.com.

Please watch my Behavior Brief on ‘Promoting Leisure Engagement During Social Distancing”  for more information about leisure engagement.

References:

Dattillo, J., Schleien, S. J. (1994). Understanding leisure service for individuals with mental retardation. Mental Retartation (now called Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities), 32(1), 53-59.

Dodd, D. C. H., Zabriskie, R. B., Widmer, M. A., & Eggett, D. (2009). Contributions of family leisure to family functioning among families that include children with developmental disabilities. Journal of Leisure Research, 41, 261-286. 10.1080/00222216.2009.11950169

Fisher, W., Piazza, C. C., Bowman, L. G., Hagopian, L. P., Owens, J. C., & Slevin, I. (1992). A comparison of two approaches for identifying reinforcers for persons with severe and profound disabilities. Journal of applied behavior analysis, 25(2), 491–498. doi:10.1901/jaba.1992.25-491

Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (1975). Incidental teaching of language in the preschool. Journal of applied behavior analysis8(4), 411–420. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.1975.8-411

Lancioni, G & Singh, Nirbhay & F O'Reilly, M & Oliva, D & Basili, Giancarlo. (2005). An overview of research on increasing indices of happiness of people with severe/profound and multiple disabilities. Disability and rehabilitation. 27. 83-93. 10.1080/09638280400007406. 

Lancioni, G & Singh, Nirbhay & F O'Reilly, M & Oliva, D & Basili, Giancarlo. (2005). An overview of research on increasing indices of happiness of people with severe/profound and multiple disabilities. Disability and rehabilitation. 27. 83-93. 10.1080/09638280400007406. 

Parsons, M. B., Reid, D. H., Bentley, E., Inman, A., & Lattimore, L. P. (2012). Identifying Indices of Happiness and Unhappiness Among Adults With Autism: Potential Targets for Behavioral Assessment and Intervention. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 5(1), 15–25. http://doi.org/10.1007/BF03391814

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