Activities for Adults With Developmental Disabilities

Adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) face many challenges. Although some are able to work and be relatively self-sufficient, others require more guidance, supervision and care. Recreation and leisure activities, particularly those that foster social bonds and friendships, are critical to support the quality of life in people with IDD. Several activities can help adults with IDD socialize, express their feelings and stay healthier. These activities are most successful when tailored to a person's skills and abilities.

Music therapy can be a therapeutic activity for adults with developmental disabilities. Credit: shevtsovy/iStock/Getty Images

Physical Activity

Exercise and physical activity can helps adults with IDD reach their potential, both physically and mentally. Swimming, dance, exercise classes, bowling and team sports are activities that can be fun and health-promoting. A study published in the Fall 2005 issue of "Therapeutic Recreation Journal" reported better health, improved social and family life and improved quality of life in study participants with disabilities who participated in organized and adaptive recreational activities, such as alpine skiing and horseback riding. Adults with IDD are encouraged to participate in at least 150 minutes a week of age-appropriate, low to moderate intensity exercise, according to guidelines published in the April 2014 issue of "Frontiers in Public Health." According to this report, combining the exercise with group activities and social interaction may enhance participant motivation and enjoyment.

Music Therapy

Using music to improve physical and emotional health, known as music therapy, is another helpful tool for adults with IDD. Activities can be as simple as clapping hands or tapping feet to music or participating in sing-a-longs. Playing percussion instruments is another popular music activity, where the rhythm and vibrations can be felt. Music stimulates the senses, and can help to improve an individual's mental, social and emotional well-being. Although traditional music therapy is focused on working with an individual, adults with IDD may benefit from music therapy in a community setting, such as handbell choir and chorus, to help foster a sense of community and build friendships, according to a report in the November 2004 issue of "Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy."

Art Therapy

Adults with IDD often respond well to art therapy. Art provides a means of expressing feelings and emotions, particularly when the person is unable to -- or unwilling to -- articulate these to others. Art also encourages creativity and can be used to entertain adults of all ages. Watercolors, canvas or fabric painting, educational coloring books for adults, scrap booking or making jewelry from beads are just some of the art activities that may be enjoyable and therapeutic for adults with IDD.

Nature Activities

People of all ages tend to enjoy nature activities. Nature walks provide an opportunity to be out in the open air while learning more about the environment. Scavenger hunts encourage individuals to find and identify things in nature -- plants, insects, trees, birds and other wildlife. Summer camps, retreats or day camps for adults with IDD offer a range of services from therapeutic horseback riding to vocational courses. Outdoor recreational activities include swimming, boating, fishing, hiking, exploring nature and participating in outdoor team sports.

Next Steps

Adults with IDD benefit from social interaction -- forming friendships and feeling a part of the community around them. Many activities can be geared towards connecting adults with IDD to existing social networks such as community music and art programs, exercise programs or other activities that strengthen social relationships and improve emotional well-being. If you or someone you know would benefit from more community activities and support, contact your doctor, social worker or health care team for guidance and referrals.

Reviewed by: Kay Peck, MPH, RD

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