Leisure Activities for Adults with Developmental Disabilities

Categories: ASD and DD, Adult-focused

Leisure activities are a very important part of our lives. They provide a welcome retreat from stressful circumstances and make life more enjoyable. We look forward to our downtime, and often plan fun and relaxing activities to take our minds off of work, school, and other sources of stress. We might play in the waves at the beach, visit a museum, attend a concert, or shop at the mall during our free time.

When planning leisure activities, we often take for granted our ability to choose and independently plan what we want to do. For many adults with special needs, leisure activities are planned by providers, family members, and staff who may stick to familiar and comfortable settings, sometimes following monotonous routines that could deprive the individuals in their care of new and exciting experiences.

Before planning any activity for a person with special needs, it is important to consider his or her interests. The activity you plan should be one that he or she wants to participate in. Consider, too, his or her level of functioning and ability to participate. Some individuals may not be able to engage in certain types of activities due to lower tolerance levels, shorter attention spans, and behavioral challenges. If an individual is unable to participate in a particular activity, he or she will need some assistance from supporters who can help make the activity accessible.

Group activities can be organized within the home and can provide opportunities for skill development and relationship building among peers with similar interests. Start a board game club or a movie club where a group gathers weekly or monthly to play games or watch a television show or movie together. Assist an individual to organize and host a barbecue or party at home. For added entertainment, you could invite a musician to play for the group.

Gardening, scrapbooking, and building model cars are excellent solitary activities that can provide a great sense of personal growth and accomplishment. These activities can also foster independence.

Home-based activities can be fun and meaningful, but community integration is also important. Become familiar with the individual’s community in order to facilitate access to local stores, restaurants, and other vendors. Get to know the local barber and convenience store clerk so you can help these business owners understand the needs and abilities of the individual in your care. Talk to local restaurant owners and build relationships with other community business people who will welcome the individual into their establishments and make him or her feel a sense of belonging.

There are many resources available to people in Western Massachusetts who are planning leisure activities for individuals with special needs. These resources include local newspapers, websites, and organizations geared toward disability advocacy, socialization, and activity planning.

One example is Springfield’s Department of Parks and Recreation which offers “Fun ‘N Fitness.” This is a recreational and socialization program for developmentally disabled adults interested in participating in a wide variety of fun activities with peers, including comedy shows, week-long vacations, sporting events, and whale watches.

Helping a person with special needs access his or her community, build relationships with others, and improve his or her overall quality of life can be extremely rewarding. As supporters, advocates, family, and friends of these individuals, it is up to us to make worthwhile experiences possible. Meaningful leisure activities can expose these deserving men and women to new and exciting experiences, alleviate stress, and promote happier and healthier lifestyles.

By Teka J. Harris, M.A., BCBA?

May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis, serving individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded more than 65 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. For more information, call 800.778.7601  or visit