Recreational Therapy for People with Cerebral Palsy

Recreational Therapy Overview

Often referred to as therapeutic recreation, recreational therapy focuses on helping patients with cerebral palsy get involved with their favorite recreational activities. A recreational therapist will work with patients, helping to identify their capabilities, interests, adaptive approaches, and any modified processes needed to help patients get involved with recreational activities in which they’re interested.

Getting patients with cerebral palsy involved in recreational activities helps enhance their life. In fact, recreational therapy has the ability to improve the mental, social, and physical experiences of patients. Discover more about recreational therapy, it’s benefits, who can benefit from it, and how cerebral palsy patients can get started with this type of therapeutic intervention.

Understanding Recreational Therapy

Everyone enjoys engaging in their favorite pastimes, and it’s no different for patients with cerebral palsy. Recreational activities, no matter what they are, offer some time of fun and leisure, and recreation improves the ability to engage in our environment and relate to other individuals. This therapy encourages patients to participate in sports, cultural programs, and other events and activities that will expand the patient’s cognitive skills and physical abilities.

Since recreation offers so many benefits, recreational therapy offers cerebral palsy patients the opportunity to create a well-rounded life, offering social, mental, and physical experience that offer many benefits. This type of therapy focuses on inclusion, allowing the patient to get involved in enjoyable activities from which they can learn.

It’s important to note that recreational therapy goes beyond enjoyment and learning. This type of therapy is designed to help increase the ability of patients with cerebral palsy to strategize, plan, and get involved in tasks to encourage emotional well-being and improve physical function by getting them involved in activities they and enjoy and benefit from.

Although other therapies may specifically address a patient’s need for improved physical function, recreational therapy focuses on eliminating roadblocks that keep patients from pursuing recreational, life-enhancing activities, ensuring patients have the chance to participate in leisure activities that benefit their overall quality of life.

Through the years, recreation opportunities have become more advanced, offering modified activities that make it possible for individuals with physical impairments to engage in their favorite activities. For example, many sports, such as basketball, tennis, and soccer have been modified to allow individuals in wheelchairs to play with ease.

Of course, recreational therapy goes beyond sports – it also addresses cultural and artistic pursuits as well. Patients with cerebral palsy may engage in dance recitals with modified movements and adaptive equipment. Assistive equipment and specialized applications can be used to help patients create artwork.

The Benefits of Recreational Therapy for Cerebral Palsy Patients

For patients with cerebral palsy, recreational therapy offers many benefits. It offers patients opportunity for greater inclusion, may increase physical functionality, and improve essential neurological connections. Both solitary and group environments offer benefits, and spending time on recreational activities decreases the opportunity for patients to feel frustrated, lonely, or depressed. For many patients, this type of therapy offers a sense of accomplishment and improves feelings of self-worth.

Patients also benefit from having the chance to participate in activities with other individuals that have similar interests. This increases interactions between patients and friends, co-workers, classmates, and family members, exposing other individuals to the increasing capabilities of individuals who deal with impairments.

Some of the specific physical benefits that come with recreational therapy include:

  • Improved coordination
  • Increase in flexibility and strength
  • Better athletic prowess
  • Improvement in physical adeptness
  • Improved overall health and fitness

Recreational therapy also offers a number of psychological and cognitive benefits, including:

  • Decrease in anxiety and anger
  • Improved acceptance of the disability
  • Fewer problems with social isolation
  • Improved social skills
  • Increased ability to manage depression and stress
  • Better body image
  • Improvement in overall well-being
  • Development of decision making and analytical skills
  • Improved overall behavior
  • Higher self confidence

Who Can Benefit from Recreational Therapy?

Recreational therapy can benefit cerebral palsy patients of every age. Every patient can benefit from this type of therapy, although the recreational activities introduced must be age appropriate. Young children and toddlers will do well with games, arts, playground activities, and sports. However, as kids get older, recreational approaches that are more organized, such as music, drama, and team sports, may be introduced to their lives.

Teenagers may want to get involved in a specific area of interest, such as debate, diving, golf, dancing, or swimming. As adults, opportunities and interests may be present, and focusing on expanding those opportunities and interests can be empowering for adult patients. The patient’s medical team can work with a recreational therapist, tailoring a plan that will not only satisfy the patient’s interests, but their treatment needs as well.

Recreational Therapy – Individualized Interventions

Activity-based interventions rooted in behavior, cognitive modification, physical modification, communication, adaptation, and functional performance are used within recreational therapy. However, each plan of treatment is individualized to meet the unique needs of the patient. What works with one patient may not translate well to another patient.

Recreational therapists will work with patients, identifying emotional and physical roadblocks. They’ll explore any adaptations and help with modifications when needed. The adaptations and modifications needed may vary from patient to patient, but with individualized intervention, patients will be able to enjoy full participation and optimal inclusion in the recreational activities of their choice.

For children, getting involved in recreational therapy may prove stressful. Some of the techniques therapists use with pediatric cerebral palsy patients are designed to motivate them, but therapists must still work to install confidence in children. It can be particularly frustrating for children to need to learn new methods of overcoming obstacles or performing tasks.

Some of the common interventions that may be used in an individualized recreational therapy program include:

  • Wellness training
  • Meditation
  • Stress management techniques
  • Play skills
  • Small group activities and interactions
  • Physical training activities
  • Behavior counseling
  • Socialization
  • Integration with a community
  • Biofeedback and relaxation techniques
  • Cognitive retraining

Getting Started with Recreational Therapy

Patients and family members are often relieved to find out that many opportunities for recreation exist. Before getting started with recreational therapy, especially for cerebral palsy patients with severe physical impairments, an evaluation of the patient’s interests, adaptive needs, temperament, and capabilities must be done by a qualified therapist.

Therapists will work with the patient’s physician to develop a good treatment plan. They may also consult with the patient’s occupational and physical therapists to determine the abilities the patient has already achieved. The patient’s social skills, daily routines, and support team will also be analyzed before determining an individualized plan.


The full evaluation of the patient prior to therapy may include observing the patient in a clinical setting, reviewing their medical records, collaborating with other members of the patient’s medical team, and performing standardized tests.

After evaluation and testing, then a therapist will come up with an individualized plan of treatment. Multiple strategies may be used to help patients develop solutions to any social, cognitive, and physical gaps when engaging in recreational activities. Therapists will work with patients to train them in the use of any specialized equipment they need for activities and will offer instruction on how to use alternate methods to get involved in the activities of choice.

As recreational therapy progresses, therapists will continue to assess and evaluate the patient’s progress and participation. Any changes can be made to the program as needed, ensuring that the patient gets the maximum benefits from this form of therapy.

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