Case Management, Elder Care Management, Guardianship Support, Life Care Plan, Medical Consultation

Exploring Therapeutic Recreation: Part Two

 July 21, 2016

By  Deborah L Weiner Katz, OTR/L, CCM, CLCP

The essence of a warrior or an athlete is in the blood. It is who you are. Just as therapeutic recreation can be adapted for sick, injured or disabled individuals from all walks of life.  Most notably, it has been designed to meet the needs of our nation’s veterans and its Special Olympians. It is unwise to get in the way of any member of either group, disabled or not. More so than anyone else that might benefit from therapeutic recreation, these heroic men and women lead the way when it comes to adaptive sports. Those of us in care management are only too happy to follow that lead.

Special Olympics

You might argue that the Special Olympics hardly qualify as ‘recreation’ but for individuals with intellectual disabilities, the special event has tremendous therapeutic value for its participants. The Special Olympics grew out of a series of summer camps organized by Eunice Kennedy Shriver.  It is the world’s largest organization of its kind, serving 4.5 million people in 170 countries. While the inspiration has always been purported to be Eunice’s sister, Rosemary, who was born with intellectual challenges and was later lobotomized.  Shriver has since said the focus of the Special Olympics should never be on just one individual. Since 1968, the Special Olympics athlete’s oath has been “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Physical health and mental health need not always be regarded separately. Via consistent training and some stiff competition, participants adapt to a way of life where their disability is more manageable and routine does the heavy lifting.  Special Olympics are not just about the competitions. Training is provided year round for its participants.

So what is an intellectual disability? Here are a few examples of the sort of athlete we are proud to assist:

  • A person can simply be identified as having an intellectual disability, by an agency or professional.
  • A person may have a cognitive delay, as measured by IQ testing or some similar, reliable form of measurement deemed acceptable by the professional community.
  • A person may have a closely related developmental disability. To have a “closely related developmental disability” means having limitations in both general learning (such as IQ) and in adaptive skills (such as in recreation, work, independent living, self-direction, or self-care).

Acceptance as a competitor in the Special Olympics is strictly limited to those facing intellectual challenges. Individuals with physical, behavioral or emotional disabilities are welcome to volunteer for Unified Sports, a program that will pair those who do not have intellectual disabilities with those who do. The hope of this program is to foster friendship and mentoring within the Special Olympics family.

Military Veterans

It remains a sad irony in our country that veterans return home from the battlefield, only to face a new one in the complexities of American healthcare. That is why veterans need to know they can count on medical professionals like the ones at AdvancedRM, to use their combined expertise to assist them in navigating those complexities.

At the same time, we at AdvancedRM are all too happy to point out that we are by no means the only organization devoted to making sure veterans do not feel alone in their recovery. There are camps. There are retreats. Boulder Crest Retreat for Wounded Warriors is about an hour outside of our nation’s capital. Their program includes “greentech” cabins, organic farm-to-table meals, a walled garden, a bird sanctuary, a fishing pond, nature walks and even plenty of off-site activities. There are even therapy dogs to accompany you while you go bird and wildlife watching. Does this seem outlandish? Well, you always hear of veterans that did not make it home, that they paid “the ultimate price”. Don’t we owe it to them to approximate what that ultimate price might look like here on Earth?

From the myriad psychological scars caused by war to the missing limbs and physical disabilities inflicted by battles, the result is often an emotional burden that veterans struggle to bear and are often unable to describe.  For these brave men and women, therapeutic recreation becomes the new mission. The very essence of their training remains intact. This makes our own mission, adapting sports and physical activities to the unique needs of former soldiers, easier than you might expect. The tenacity with which they attack their new undertakings should also come as no surprise. Those who provide recreational therapy to veterans often do so with the cooperation of noble organizations like Wounded Warrior Project.  The activities/sports that tend to work best in therapeutic programs include:

  • Water skiing
  • Kayaking
  • River rafting
  • Canoeing
  • Fly-fishing

Remember, being in the military is not just a job. It’s an adventure. Continuity is important to what we do in therapeutic recreation. That is why we are sure to seek out a certain degree of adventure while selecting and adapting activities. Rock climbing among snowcapped peaks is certainly not out of the question. Skiing downslope from those peaks is also possible. Even more obscure endeavors such as hand-cycling can be arranged if that is what suits you.

We did mention an emotional burden endured by veterans. By no means are we glossing that over.  In addition to acquired physical disabilities, returning soldiers suffer from PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. Just like any human, our men and women of the military are entitled to a certain QoL, a measurable quality of life. Variables we factor in when assessing that quality of life include:

  • Physical
  • Psychological
  • So­cial
  • Environmental

Actual measurement of these factors is defined by the WHO, or World Health Organization. Other objectives or outcomes of therapeutic recreation include reductions in negative mood states such as depression and anger, and increases in sports related competence. Ultimately, studies have shown that therapeutic recreation and adaptive sports can lead to an increase in perceived competence and a general sense of vigor. Perhaps now you see why we do not necessarily regard physical health as separate from mental health. After all, the moment when veterans begin to believe in themselves again is the moment that all future successes will spring from. All of our clients are on a similar journey.  Therapeutic recreation is just one example of the information and services we share with those who strive to feel healthy and whole once more.

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