Freedom to choose leisure activities benefits people with autism

Mar 01, 2011

Free time is not always a fun time for people with autism. Giving them the power to choose their own leisure activities during free time, however, can boost their enjoyment, as well as improve communication and social skills, according to an international team of researchers.

"For many of us, we look at recreation as a time to spend on activities that are fun and that are designed for our enjoyment," said John Dattilo, professor, recreation, park and tourism management, Penn State. "But for some people with disabilities, particularly those who have , these activities can be a source of frustration, simply because they didn't have a chance to make their own leisure choices."

Dattilo said that a group of 20 autistic adults who participated in a yearlong recreation program that offered them a chance to choose activities, scored higher on personality tests that measure social and communication skills than the control group of 20 autistic adults who were randomly assigned to the program's waiting list. Participants met for two hours each weekday and could choose among several activities that promoted engagement and interactivity, including games, exercises, crafts and events.

The researchers, who released their findings in the current issue of Research in , said that after completing the program, participants showed significant improvement at recognizing and labeling emotions. The participants scored about 24 percent higher than the control group in the ability to recognize emotions in a person in a picture. The score of the participants' ability to label those emotions correctly was 50 percent higher than the control group's score.

Since people with autism are less willing to interact socially, caregivers are particularly interested in programs that help improve social and communication skills, according to Dattilo, who worked with Domingo Garcia-Villamisar, professor, psychopathology, Complutense University of Madrid Spain.

"The big measure for us in this program was the improvements in social behavior and interaction," said Dattilo. "The defining quality of people with autism is that they have difficulty in social situations."

The participants also improved their ability to carry out executive functions, such as setting goals and maintaining attention.

Dattilo said recreation programs that encourage people with autism to make their own leisure choices create a cycle of increasing independence, rather than a pattern of reliance on caregivers to provide recreational activities.

"While people are learning, you can also give them choices," said Dattilo. "And as they make those choices, they are also learning and are empowered to make even more choices."

The works of University of Rochester psychologist Edward Deci and author and psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi inspired the researchers to pursue the experiment, Dattilo said. Deci and Csikszentmihalyi emphasize self-determination as a critical component of human fulfillment.

Explore further: Researchers discover target for treating dengue fever

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

People with autism make more rational decisions, study shows

Oct 15, 2008

People with autism-related disorders are less likely to make irrational decisions, and are less influenced by gut instincts, according to research funded by the Wellcome Trust. The study adds to the growing body of research ...

Children with autism may learn from 'virtual peers'

Feb 29, 2008

Using “virtual peers” -- animated life-sized children that simulate the behaviors and conversation of typically developing children -- Northwestern University researchers are developing interventions designed ...

Recommended for you

Researchers discover target for treating dengue fever

1 hour ago

Two recent papers by a University of Colorado School of Medicine researcher and colleagues may help scientists develop treatments or vaccines for Dengue fever, West Nile virus, Yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and other ...

Tracking flu levels with Wikipedia

2 hours ago

Can monitoring Wikipedia hits show how many people have the flu? Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital, USA, have developed a method of estimating levels of influenza-like illness in the American population by analysing ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers discover target for treating dengue fever

Two recent papers by a University of Colorado School of Medicine researcher and colleagues may help scientists develop treatments or vaccines for Dengue fever, West Nile virus, Yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and other ...

Study recalculates costs of combination vaccines

One of the most popular vaccine brands for children may not be the most cost-effective choice. And doctors may be overlooking some cost factors when choosing vaccines, driving the market toward what is actually a more expensive ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...

Deadly human pathogen Cryptococcus fully sequenced

Within each strand of DNA lies the blueprint for building an organism, along with the keys to its evolution and survival. These genetic instructions can give valuable insight into why pathogens like Cryptococcus ne ...