Recreation Brings People Together


Our next piece of the pie is Social and Recreational.  This area is perhaps the most challenging because it is a core area of deficit in autism.  Daniel Tammet says, “I consider social skills a bit like learning a language.  I’ve been practicing it for so long over so many years I’ve almost lost my accent.”  He is not the only adult with autism to compare social and communication skills to learning a foreign language.  As a bilingual elementary education major in college, I had studied a foreign language for 8 years before I had the opportunity to go to a country where the language was spoken.  A semester of immersion in the language was more valuable than all the years of study.  Despite advanced methods of practicing the language, nothing could replace the authentic need to use it to communicate with others who did not speak my native tongue.  Daniel Tammet’s quote highlights this phenomenon and parallels it to the need for individuals with autism to practice social skills in an authentic environment daily.  There is nothing that can be done outside of practicing in an authentic environment that can cement the social and communication skills that are vital for success in life.  Because of this reality, it is important for all activities in all categories of our pie chart to take place in the community.  Most adults with autism have learned what they can in an academic environment as children and must now practice their hard-won skills daily to maintain and expand them.  Looking for opportunities to teach social skills in the community as they are needed is important for continued growth in this area.  Humans are social beings, and all societies are constructed of social activities.  There is a social element to everything from finding food, shelter, and clothing to religion.  The inability to participate in these activities bars individuals with autism from participation leaving them in exile from society.  There is a vast body of research which points to the necessity of social connections for well-being and happiness.  Further there is link between a lack of social connections and depression, heart disease, stroke, dementia, and premature death.  We have scientifically proven that “No Man is an Island”.  The truly hard part of not being an “island” is that just because we are not good at social interactions and relationships does not mean that we don’t need them.  The need is no less for individuals who have challenges in this area than it is for individuals who do not.  Once we have learned how to be successful, we need to practice, practice, practice.  Similar to learning a foreign language, social skills can be lost through isolation.  After working in a profession that required me to speak my second language daily, I had children and stopped using my foreign language skills.  Years later, I can barely recall simple words that came to me automatically.  Social skills wither and die in the same way that a second language does if they are not used.  For this reason, all activities must be done in the community and recreation is a part of our weekly schedule.  Some recreation may seem to serve no purpose, but it offers a plethora of social opportunities that cannot be found elsewhere.