Recreational Needs For People with AutismApr 11, 2014
Are there activities that are more beneficial to someone with autism over others? Autism community outreach officer for University of Utah Health Sciences, William McMahon, talks about the recreational needs of individuals with autism.
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Interviewer: What are the recreational needs of adults with autism? We are talking with William McMahon. He is the Autism Community Outreach Officer for University of Utah Health Sciences. I thought this was interesting. Recreational needs of adults with autism. What exactly are we talking about here when we say that?
William McMahon: Well, all of us need something to help us recharge our batteries and restore our souls, and individuals on the autism spectrum are no different. The variety of recreational interests that they have is pretty much the same as the rest of us. Their difficulty in particular is often a sense of social isolation. They often have more individual sport kind of interests or individual activity interests. Otherwise, I think it basically runs the gamut of all human recreational activities.
Interviewer: So if I understand correctly, the contention is, that just like anyone else, they need recreational activities but there are some things with their autism that prevents them from enjoying certain activities. Like a team sport. Like softball perhaps?
William McMahon: Often team sports are difficult. I know of high school kids who are allowed to play basketball and have done very well at perhaps shooting three point goals, but may not be very quick on recognizing who to pass the ball to, when to pass, that sort of thing.
Therefore, individuals with autism, more individual sports like swimming, bicycling, or simply walking are of more interest. In particular, like the rest of us, they have gifts that they like to use for fun such as computer skills, or drawing skills, or musical skills.
Interviewer: So is it a problem that they do not necessarily prefer to play team sports? Is that something that you would encourage, and is that something that we need to figure out how to involve someone with autism in?
William McMahon: I would say in childhood and adolescence, because team sports are so much part of our culture, inclusion in those age groups is important.
Interviewer: How would you advise that somebody do that? That must be a huge challenge.
William McMahon: I think as one becomes an adult, and is capable of defining their own interests, what individuals on the autism spectrum need most is the encouragement to leave their rooms, and leave their computer consoles to join, for example, a singing group or be part of more social activities so that they don't just paint themselves in a corner with their isolative kind of gifts and skills, that they share them with others.
Interviewer: How would you advise somebody do that? That must be a huge challenge.
William McMahon: Well, we have experience clinically and in our adult follow-up study, that there are people who, for example, join ward activities and can contribute in particular ways. I recall a gentleman whose gift was dealing with electronics, particularly sound equipment. He donated his time first to high school musical productions, and subsequently amateur recordings of music. So that sort of skill set, it's a niche, but it also fits a social need.
Interviewer: Gotcha. So, when you said recreational activities when we started this discussion, I just thought of sport. That's an interesting point that you bring up that even having skills in sound gets you around other people. Is that the ultimate goal?
William McMahon: Yes, I think that all of us benefit from feeling like were accepted and a part of our society and our culture. Finding ways to bridge the barriers of social isolation that come both from symptoms of autism, but also from the sort of social lack of information the rest of us have. Being able to bridge those through tolerance and learning about each other is the key.
Interviewer: Are there some activities that are more beneficial for somebody with autism than others that they should look at?
William McMahon: There are a lot of sort of boutique interests. In Japan for example, the Japanese feel very strongly that bicycling is a great thing to teach young children with autism because it helps with balance, and it helps with coordination and perhaps it facilitates growth of brain and skills that would not come otherwise.
There are others that believe horses are particularly important. My sense is all of that is pretty non-specific. It's the social interactions and the ability to enjoy a part of being alive that you can look forward to everyday or every week. That's the real important point.
Interviewer: Are there any resources available that you would recommend when it comes to this topic?
William McMahon: I think the self-help movement for autism is really important and simply going to the web and Googling "autism self-help" will give more hits than you could ever read.
Interviewer: Do you have any final thoughts, anything that we forgot or a message that you feel is important?
William McMahon: I would have to say that is has been a privilege to know individuals with autism and as I have met more people with really amazing gifts, it's my goal to try and help them contribute those gifts to society and I think it would be a benefit to all of us.
Man: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope, University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.