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By Karen Herland
Adapting leisure activities for people with disabilities is more than offering a short-term distraction, according to Applied Human Sciences professor Shannon Hebblethwaite.
“Therapeutic recreation offers purposeful leisure intended to improve quality of life. It’s not just a diversion, it improves self-esteem and offers a sense of purpose.”
The 125 students currently enrolled in the undergrad therapeutic recreation program learn about the specifics of a range of cognitive and physical disabilities and develop ways to adapt leisure activities to these specific situations.
From Feb. 1 to 4, a number of activities are organized to invite students in other programs, along with CEGEP students, to find out more about the field. Concordia’s been offering courses for about 20 years now.
“It’s still growing because it’s an emerging field,” said Hebblethwaite. “We would like to develop the same professional recognition as social work or physiotherapy.” She added that therapists who work with seniors are especially in demand because of the large number of aging baby boomers.
Throughout their degree, students participate in a number of placements where they work in a specific agency to find out about those who may be living with physical, intellectual, emotional or social impairments. Students then develop a program tailored to their needs and evaluate its success. “The agencies will often continue to use the program afterwards.”
The programs developed cover the entire realm of leisure activities and experiences, often drawing on the students’ own backgrounds and strengths. Although not as specialized as the types of programs developed through Creative Arts Therapies, art and music, along with sports, crafts and games are all used in therapeutic recreation.
Animals are also sometimes used. Students in the program have worked to adapt horseback riding for some of their clients. Therapists often develop ways to adapt a client’s favoured activity (say gardening) to their current situation.
In their final year, students have a nine-credit internship where they work directly with an agency over a full term. The program works closely with a variety of agencies to ensure placement for students, some of whom are hired by the agency upon graduation.
Those who want to find out about the program from the perspective of students, clients and agencies are invited to the MAB Mackay Rehabilitation Centre gym on Feb. 3 at 5 p.m. Students from across the university who are interested in finding out about the profession can participate in a speed networking’ event with established specialists in the field at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 4 in the atrium of the science complex at Loyola. Find out more about the program and TR Awareness Week activities.