Unit III: Social, Leisure and Recreation

1. Role of Social and Recreation skills

2. Difference between socially acceptable and non-acceptable behavior

3. Social competencies across life span stages

4. Teaching age appropriate social and recreation skills

5. Teaching individual and group social and recreation skills




1. Role of Social and Recreation skills


Another area of concern for students with ASD is social skills – the challenge of relating to others in an acceptable manner. The social skills impairment of individuals with ASD significantly differentiates them from students with other disabilities. Instruction in these skills is imperative for students on the autism spectrum to communicate in class, build friendships, and participate in the community. Social skills impairments can be manifested in a number of ways, including:

·       lack of reciprocity, or the give-and-take of conversation,

·       inability to initiate conversation,

·       lack of spontaneous sharing of interests and enjoyment,

·       inability to take the perspective of others,

·       lack of appropriate social pragmatics (i.e., proximity to others, body language, vocal tone, interruptions, and responses to facial and other physical gestures),

·       inability to understand humor, sarcasm and innuendo,

·       monologues on the individuals’ specific interests.

Social skills seem to “just come naturally” to typically developing children. But these skills need to be taught directly and practiced often by students with ASD.

There are several proven methods that can support social skills instruction. Often these skills are taught by speech-language therapists and intervention specialists. Some of these techniques and methods include:

·       social stories,

·       role-playing,

·       video modeling,

·       labeling and recognition of emotions in self and others,

·       structured small-group instruction, including typical peers for review of learning objectives, often involving games, role-playing, and discussions (example: simple peer mediation role-playing),

·       informal groups, such as “friends groups” or “lunch bunch,” where social skills can be applied in natural settings and spontaneously facilitated for reinforcement or correction,

·       structured outdoor or indoor recess to apply social skills with or without facilitation and to measure for generalization of skills in a large setting.

Many of these skills can be taught for whole-class instruction. For example, as a special education consultant for a student with Asperger sydrome included in a general education fifth-grade classroom, I gave direct instruction in conflict management to that student and a couple of his classroom peers. I used scripted “conflicts” that the students role-played.

The students were given a simple sequential procedure for conflict management. After learning the procedure and acting out several scripts, they were given written prompts for which they had to come up with their own dialogue. Once the three students became proficient in the methods, we took the role-play, scripts, and prompts to the whole fifth-grade class, where all the students participated in learning the conflict management procedures. We used the same methods but in a shorter amount of time. All students, including the student with ASD, benefited from this method of instruction. This is an example of how social skills instruction can be taught, and generalized to a classroom setting.

Noted psychological benefits of recreation activity are as follows:

Involvement in recreation activities releases stress and tension from the perils of society. Braum (1991) recalls the findings of researchers that state,"relaxation tends to alleviate many of the symptoms of stress. Activities that fill leisure time, performed within a group, strengthen social support ties known to negate stress" (p. 407). The idea of choice in leisure presents opportunities where one can recreate.


2. Difference between socially acceptable and non-acceptable behavior

What can be identified as a behaviour problem may change depending on the variables. For example, the student, teacher, and environment all play a significant part in whether the behaviour is acceptable. Adults often approach the subject of behaviour from the perspective of their own life experiences and current circumstances. These perspectives affect the acceptance, tolerance, internal rules, and overall framework for expectations of the student. As a result, everyone involved is likely to see the situation in a different way, on the basis of factors such as the following:

• personal childhood experiences

• cultural background

• school policies

• the individual’s relationship with the student

It is often challenging to determine how the unique needs of the student should be considered in relation to expectations about the student’s behaviour. For example, the expectations and response regarding a student who is unaware of the inappropriateness of a specific behaviour would be different from those regarding a student who is aware. Likewise, factors such as the age of the student and behaviours of the student in other situations or settings come to bear on our decisions about what is considered acceptable behaviour.

Many of the behaviors that are typical of children on the autism spectrum might be deemed discipline problems in other kids. For example:


3. Social competencies across life span stages

Social competence is the condition of possessing the social, emotional, and intellectual skills and behaviors needed to succeed as a member of society.

Parents are the primary source of social and emotional support for children during the first years of life, but in later years peers begin to play a significant role in a child's social-emotional development. Increasingly with age, peers rather than parents become preferred companions, providing important sources of entertainment and support. In the context of peer interactions, young children engage in fantasy play that allows them to assume different roles, learn to take another person's perspective, and develop an understanding of the social rules and conventions of their culture. In addition, relationships with peers typically involve more give-and-take than relationships with adults and thus provide an opportunity for the development of social competencies such as cooperation and negotiation.

During adolescence , peer relations become particularly important for children. A key developmental task of adolescence is the formation of an identity or sense of the kind of person one is and the kind of person one wants to be. Adolescents try on different social roles as they interact with peers, and peers serve as a social stepping stone as adolescents move away from their emotional dependence upon their parents and toward autonomous functioning as an adult. In many ways, then, childhood peer relations serve as training grounds for future interpersonal relations, providing children with opportunities to learn about reciprocity and intimacy. These skills are associated with effective interpersonal relations in adult life, including relations with co-workers and with romantic partners.

When children experience serious difficulties in peer relations, the development of social competencies may be threatened. Rejection or victimization by peers may become a source of significant stress to children, contributing to feelings of loneliness and low self-esteem . In addition, peer rejection can escalate in a negative developmental spiral. That is, when children with poor social skills become rejected, they are often excluded from positive interactions with peers that are critical for learning social skills. Rejected children typically have fewer options in terms of play partners and friends than do accepted children. Observations of rejected children have revealed that they spend more time playing alone and interacting in smaller groups than their more popular peers. In addition, the companions of rejected children tend to be younger or more unpopular than the companions of accepted children. Exclusion from a normal peer group can deprive rejected children of opportunities to develop adaptive social behaviors. Hence, the social competence deficits of rejected children may increase over time, along with feelings of social anxiety and inadequacy.

Developmental changes and social competence

The key markers of social competence listed in the previous section are consistent across the developmental periods of the preschool years, middle childhood, and adolescence. Across these developmental periods, prosocial skills (friendly, cooperative, helpful behaviors) and self-control skills (anger management, negotiation skills, problem-solving skills) are key facets of social competence. In addition, however, developmental changes occur in the structure and quality of peer interactions that affect the complexity of skills contributing to social competence. That is, as children grow, their preferences for play change, and the thinking skills and language skills that provide a foundation for social competence also change. Hence, the kinds of interactions that children have with peers change qualitatively and quantitatively with development.


During the preschool years, social competence involves the ability to separate from parents and engage with peers in shared play activities, particularly fantasy play. As preschool children are just learning to coordinate their social behavior, their interactions are often short and marked by frequent squabbles, and friendships are less stable than at later developmental stages. In addition, physical rough-and-tumble play is common, particularly among boys. During the preschool and early grade school years, children are primarily focused on group acceptance and having companions with whom they can play.

School age

By grade school, children begin to develop an interest in sports , structured board games, and group games with complex sets of rules. Being able to understand and follow game rules and being able to handle competition in appropriate ways (e.g., being a good sport) become important skills for social competence. Children play primarily in same-sex groups of friends and expect more stability in their friendships. Loyalty and dependability become important qualities of good friends.

During the middle to late grade school years, children begin to distinguish "regular" friends from "best" friends. The establishment of close, best friendships is an important developmental milestone. That is, in addition to gaining acceptance from a group of peers, one of the hallmarks of social competence is the ability to form and maintain satisfying close friendships.

During the preadolescent and early adolescent years, communication (including sending notes, calling on the phone, and "hanging out") becomes a major focus for peer interactions. Increasingly, social competence involves the willingness and ability to share thoughts and feelings with one another, especially for girls. When adolescent friends squabble, their conflicts typically center on issues such as gossiping, disclosing secrets, or loyalty and perceived betrayal. It is at this stage that friends and romantic partners consistently rival parents as the primary sources of intimacy and social support.

Many of the positive characteristics that promote popularity (such as cooperativeness, friendliness, and consideration for others) also assist children in developing and maintaining friendships. Friendships emerge when children share similar activities and interests and, in addition, when they develop a positive and mutual bond between them. Group acceptance and close friendships follow different timetables and serve different developmental functions, with the need for group acceptance emerging during the early grade school years and filling a need for belonging and the need for close friends emerging in preadolescence to meet newfound needs for affection, alliance, and intimacy outside the family . Key features of close friendships are reciprocity and similarity, mutual intimacy, and social support.


4. Teaching age appropriate social and recreation skills

Determining the Stages of Social Development

In general, kids will have developed certain social skills and social cues by these ages:

2- to 3-year-olds: able to seek attention from others, initiate social contact with others both verbally (saying "Hi" and "Bye") and physically, look at a person who's talking, have the ability to take turns talking, and laugh at silly objects and events.

3- to 4-year-olds: are able to take turns when playing games, treat a doll or stuffed animal as though it's alive, and initiate verbal communication with actual words.

4- to 5-year-olds: are able to show more cooperation with children, use direct requests (like "Stop"), are more prone to tattling, and pretend to be Mom or Dad in fantasy play.

5- to 6-year-olds: are able to please their friends, say "I'm sorry," "Please," and "Thank you," understand bad words and potty language, are more strategic in bargaining, play competitive games, and understand fair play and good sportsmanship.

6- to 7-year-olds: are able to empathize with others (like crying at sad things), are prone to sharing, use posture and gestures, wait for turns and are better losers and less likely to place blame, joke more and listen to others tell their points of view, and maintain and shift/end topics appropriately. At this age, however, they still can't understand the clear difference between right and wrong, and may not take direction well.

To enhance your child's social development further, Lawrence Balter, Ph.D., child psychologist and parenting expert, suggests the four strategies below.

Teach empathy: Run through different scenarios by asking your child how other people might feel when certain things happen, and substitute different situations each time.

Explain personal space: Tell your child that it's important for everyone to have some personal space to feel comfortable, and practice acceptable ways to interact with someone during playtime.

Practice social overtures: Teach kids the proper way to start a conversation, get someone's attention, or join a group of kids who are already playing together. These are all situations that can be discussed and brainstormed at the dinner table, or in the car on the way to school or activities.

Go over taking turns: Sit with your child for at least an hour a day and play with him to explain what it means to wait, take turns, and share.

Leisure is one of the areas we sometimes forget when thinking of meaningful intervention programs. We get focused on teaching all of the other good stuff like requesting, self-care, and engaging in conversation. But think about some of the best times in your life – they were probably when you were doing something you love! I know I’m always happy when I’m outside hiking with my dog, going to a yoga class, or reading a really great book.

Developing leisure skills can be a tricky endeavor for individuals with autism. They might get stuck on one activity or they might not have any leisure interests at all. Don’t worry, like any other skill, leisure skills can be learned.

Leisure skills don’t just give our day-to-day lives more meaning and enjoyment, they also open the door for increased social interaction. Video-gaming can lead to joining game clubs or going to conventions where you might meet like-minded individuals. An interest in LEGOs can provide an “in” for playing with other students in class, going to LEGO summer camp, or working cooperatively with others. Whatever the interest, chances are you can find a group of people who share it!


How to teach leisure skills

Leisure skills are just like any other skills; when teaching them, we might need to break it down for individuals we support. For example, to teach a simple card game, you might have to model how to do it, incorporate visuals such as picture cues, or provide step-by-step, written directions. Depending on the age and ability level of the individual, you can teach activities such as drawing, catching or rolling a ball, playing a board game, or engaging in physical activities such as bowling, swimming, or team sports.

What if the individual struggles to participate? First, try offering choices instead of yes/no questions. For example, instead of asking “Do you want to play Uno?” say “Which one, Uno or drawing?” Additionally, providing structure and establishing a clear beginning and end with a timer or visual schedule can help the individual feel more comfortable and decrease anxiety.

You can also teach new activities by pairing them with a current interest. For example, if the individual loves farm animals, introduce drawing with a coloring book of farm animals or do a word search with names of farm animals. An individual who loves anything technology-related might enjoy using a geocache app on their phone to locate hidden treasures at a nearby park.

The key to teaching leisure activities is to make them enjoyable and predictable. Individuals have their own distinct preferences and personalities. It’s important to teach a variety of skills, but if they don’t enjoy something after learning how to do it, you can move on and try something else.

Make it age-appropriate

One thing it’s important to keep in mind is that age-appropriate interests open the door to social interactions with peers. When thinking of activities to teach the individual, consider choosing activities engaged in by peers of a similar age. Think about the skills that the individual might need to engage in those activities.

For example, elementary-age children might engage in dress-up activities, dolls, LEGOs, puzzles, coloring, playing ball, going to the park, or playing cooperative games like tag and hide-n-seek. Teenagers and young adults might enjoy listening to music, watching movies, reading books, playing board games, engaging in team sports or solitary exercise such as hiking, biking, or dance. It’s okay if you have to modify an activity depending on the needs of the individual. Try to find aspects of the activity that they may be successful in and start there!


Ideas for leisure interests


5. Teaching individual and group social and recreation skills

Like culture and art, recreation, leisure and sports activities play an important role in communities. Their many benefits include improving the health and well-being of individuals, contributing to the empowerment of individuals, and promoting the development of inclusive communities. Recreation, leisure and sports activities may involve individuals, small groups, teams or whole communities and are relevant to people of all different ages, abilities and levels of skill. The types of recreation, leisure and sports activities people participate in vary greatly depending on local context, and tend to reflect the social systems and cultural values.

Recreation, leisure and sports in the community

In many low-income countries where people work every day just to survive, the concept of leisure time is not always well understood and nor is it a priority. Indeed, many activities that are considered recreational in high-income countries are considered a means of livelihood in low-income countries, e.g. fishing and handicrafts.

In most communities the type of recreational and sporting activities people participate in are determined by age, gender, local context (e.g. rural vs. urban) and socioeconomic status. For example, children in poor communities are likely to play games using natural materials, such as sticks or stones or using discarded manufactured items like tyres and rope. Leisure time is also likely to be based around cultural activities, such as traditional dance, storytelling, religious festivals and events, and visiting entertainment troupes.

In many poor and rural communities there are no designated places for people to spend their leisure time, such as community centres and sports stadiums, so it is common for people to gather in places of worship, tea shops, houses and open spaces.

Communities in low-income countries often have pressing priorities and limited budgets. As a result the development of formal recreation and sports activities/programmes is usually dependent on donors. It is important that external funding is carefully managed to ensure that the programmes/activities introduced are appropriate to the local context.

The benefits of participation

Participation in recreation and sports activities can have many benefits for both the individual and community. These include: