Staff News

Community Links Newsletter – click to view

Activity Ideas for Developmentally Disabled Adults

By Andrew Button

When it comes to activities, disabled adults have distinctive needs. Unlike average adults, disabled people may require the help of respite workers to do certain activities. However, the needs of disabled adults are not always comparable to those of disabled children because many disabled adults are sexually mature and socially competent. Many activities meet the needs of developmentally disabled adults.

Recreational: Board games

Just because a person is physically handicapped doesn’t mean he is incapable of participating in recreational activities. From sports to board games, there are many activities in which developmentally disabled adults can participate. According to the National Institutes of Health, developmental disabilities may be intellectual, sensory, metabolic or degenerative. Adults whose disabilities are primarily sensory in nature may be able to engage in mental recreational activities, such as board games. Adults whose disabilities are primarily intellectual may be able to practice basic sports, like dodge ball or racing on foot. One idea for a recreational activity is to have a multi-game fair in a respite facility’s gymnasium, where adult participants can choose to participate in sports, board games or trivia games administered by the staff.

Exercise: Arm exercises may still be practical

Exercise is a necessary part of a healthy life. While adults with physical disabilities (e.g., degenerative disorders) may not be able to exercise as full a range of muscles as average adults, they may still engage in certain exercises. For example, adults who are paralyzed from the waist down may exhibit normal strength in the upper body, and may be capable of doing exercises such as bench presses and arm curls. Also, adults with mild intellectual disabilities but no physical handicaps should be capable of the same kinds of exercises as a comparable non-disabled adult. These activities can be done solo or in a team setting.

Social: Social activities are important

Many people with disabilities enjoy social activities. According to a survey in Israel, many developmentally disabled people are somewhat isolated and could benefit from an increase in social-recreational activities. Developmentally disabled adults can often engage in the same kinds of activities as average adults, but may have a harder time catching on to some of the nuances of accepted social behavior. Adults whose disabilities are physical rather than mental should be able to socialize as well as anybody else. Social activities for adults could include coffee breaks, card games and meal outings. An excellent social activity for disabled adults is to offer many different activities (TV, card games, coffee) in a common area, allowing participants to choose their own activities.

Creative: Disabled adults can benefit from a creative outlet

Many adults like to have a creative outlet, whether it be writing, playing an instrument or building a model. Disabled adults are no less likely to be creative than non-disabled adults, although depending on the nature of their disabilities, some may require extra help with technique. According to a study done at a European creative fair for disabled people, many disabled have a hard time integrating in mainstream society. This craft fair, which allowed disabled children and adults to showcase their work to the public, was successful in integrating disabled people into the community. A related activity that can be replicated in respite or clinical contexts is to provide disabled adults with materials for creative projects and allow the families to observe their creations in a gallery as part of a scheduled event.


Social Skills Activities for Adults with Developmental Disabilities

Feelings of alienation, social withdrawal, and plummeting self-esteem can result from the simple lack of basic social skills. Adults with special needs deserve as many breaks that they can get. The simple act of introducing them to the concepts of common courtesy, good manners, and how to act as a friend does more than just make them well-rounded—it gives them the opportunity to make friends, develop a healthy social network, and enjoy a more rewarding life.

Help them gain important self-confidence by teaching proper everyday social behavior.

Bad social behavior can cause embarrassment, humiliation, and loss of self-confidence. Introduce your clients to proper social behavior necessary for success in everyday situations, and you’ll give them the tools to meet friends, keep friends, and develop respectful relationships with peers.

  • Practice everyday conversations: It helps to act out situations and potential conversations with them. It’s no secret that adults with developmental disabilities tend to handle a situation much better when they’re prepared for it ahead of time. This simple truth makes practicing conversations a no-brainer!
  • Teach them how to be approachable: What makes someone approachable? A smile, nice posture, clean, well-kept clothes, a good attitude, etc. Teach them why it’s important to be approachable to make friends, appear more friendly in an interview, it will give them positive feelings, etc. Take turns practicing coming across as “approachable” vs “unapproachable.”
  • Teach what makes a good friend: Once you have a friendship you want to keep it, right? It’s important to teach adults with cognitive disabilities that friendships are relationships you work at, or spend time on. A good friend is caring, truthful, and fun to be around. Role play what you can do with a friend that shows you care about them (bring them soup when they’re sick, remember their birthday, etc.)

Show them examples of what happens when you’re dishonest to your friends, and how it can negatively affect your relationship. By watching videos of the negative consequences of dishonesty, adults with developmental disabilities are able to see how their decisions can affect their friendships poorly—without having to experience the painful situations themselves.

Use lessons about appropriate interactions with others to encourage social success.

In addition to learning the specific “rules of the road” for interacting appropriately with others, your clients should also learn that the essence of good manners and good people skills is based on concern and thoughtfulness towards others.

This concept is applied to occasions such as manners at school, in public, during greetings, and when conversing with others. Illustrate classic right and wrong ways to interact with others that are humorous yet informative. You’ll give your clients a basic foundation in acceptable manners that they will use daily.

Teach them about healthy relationships and healthy sexual behavior.

Adults with cognitive disabilities have sexual feelings and needs just like everyone else. In order to educate everyone to be healthy, we need to accept the fact that (most of the time) sex is a natural and healthy thing. Adults with special needs, just as much, if not more, than other individuals need accurate and helpful information about sexuality. In discussing subjects surrounding sex and relationships, parents and teachers should start by explaining that everyone has sexual thoughts and feelings.

Although this topic has the potential to cause some awkwardness or embarrassment, educating adults with disabilities about their sexual health and sexual relationships is crucial to helping them lead fulfilling lives. We all want the love and joy of a romantic relationship, and adults with developmental disabilities are not exempt from those same desires. Unfortunately, their disabilities make them more vulnerable to predators and exploitation—this is why it’s absolutely crucial to educate them on which relationship behaviors are appropriate, and which should be reported to a trusted adult.

  • Start with talking about dating skills: Just like learning the rules of friendship, the rules of healthy relationships require both parties to be caring, kind, loving, and honest. If you want someone to like you, you’re going to show them your best self. Talk with clients about what their “best self” is (they want to look nice for their partner, they want to do little things to show they care, they want to do things together they both enjoy, etc.)
  • Plan a date: What does dating look like in their individual situation? Group homes and resource centers can be limited in the types of activities they can engage in, so emphasize that dating doesn’t have one specific definition. Just sitting down to share a meal, watch a movie, or talk about your favorite things with your significant other can be meaningful and fun.
  • Give them a concrete definition of a consensual relationship: Romantic relationships are ONLY appropriate if each person wants to be dating the other. It’s important to make explicit distinctions about what types of touch are appropriate vs. inappropriate (for example, the way you touch your significant other is NOT the way you would touch a counselor or aide). Touch is only appropriate if both people want to touch, and emphasize that if any type of touch ever feels inappropriate or wrong, they should tell a trusted adult.


FOR MORE EMPLOYEE INFORMATION – sign into the Employee Portal

   Electronic Verification Memo

   MITC / How To Use Telephone Timekeeping

   Community Links Manuals, Policies, Agency Communications