Learn Your Special Education Laws, Special Education Rights, and Share IEP Goal Ideas

Feb 20
Avatar of Dennise Goldberg

by Dennise Goldberg

Making friends isn’t easy for anyone but becomes even more difficult if you are a child with special needs who has an Individualized Education Program (IEP).  While most schools use an IEP to primarily focus on academics, one of the most overlooked uses is to help with socialization and recreation.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) allows for support services, known as “Related Services” that helps the child receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).  The definition of Related Services as defined by IDEA says: 

In General. The term ‘related service’ means transportation, and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services (including speech-language pathology and audiology services, interpreting services, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, including therapeutic recreation, social work services, school nurse services designed to enable a child with a disability to receive a free appropriate public education as described in the individualized education program of the child, counseling services, including rehabilitation counseling, orientation and mobility services, and medical services, except that such medical services shall be for diagnostic and evaluation purposes only) as may be required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education, and includes the early identification and assessment of disabling conditions in children. 

IDEA goes on to define Recreation to include, 1) assessment of leisure function, 2) Therapeutic recreation services, 3) recreation programs in schools and community agencies, and 4) Leisure education.

I am going to focus the rest of this blog on Therapeutic recreation also known as Recreational Therapy.  Recreational Therapy is a treatment service that provides treatments and recreation activities to individuals with illnesses or disabling conditions to improve or maintain physical, mental and emotional well-being and help reduce depression, stress and anxiety.  Recreational therapies help patients with basic motor functioning and reasoning abilities to build confidence and socialize more effectively. I think the key to this definition is teaching reasoning abilities.   Although the picture below from the Big Bang Theory is humorous, there is no “friendship algorithm” for making friends and social skills training alone can only take you so far.  

The Friendship Algorithm from the Big Bang Theory

My own son struggles with making friends and his reasoning ability is one of the primary reasons, but we have included this need in his most recent IEP.  As I already mentioned, recreation is a related service under IDEA and since this is one of my son’s needs we wrote a goal specific to his social functioning and reasoning.  His social functioning goal reads:

During a 20 minute partner or small group cooperative learning or play, he will be able to read another person’s plan by observing their actions and stating at least one realistic result of peers actions, once per day on 5 out of 5 school days per week.

Teaching reasoning and social functioning, in my opinion, is one of the most important aspects of the entire IEP process.  When you learn how to make friends those abilities can be used as the foundation for adult independence.  You use these skills every time you interact with another person, including job interviews and talking with clients and supervisors.  Success outside of school is not always correlated to intelligence and learning social functioning and reasoning abilities can sometimes take you very far.   So if your child struggles in these areas and has an IEP, I suggest you ask for an assessment for recreation and address these needs in the IEP.

If you would like to see the video about the Friendship Algorithm you can find it below:

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IEP Recreation: There is no Friendship Algorithm, 5.0 out of 5 based on 4 ratings
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12 Responses to “IEP Recreation: There is no Friendship Algorithm”

  1. Denise – THANK YOU SO MUCH – This is exactly what I need for my 15 year old biopolar complex – mild mentally retarded son. Who will lick the gym floor, and run himself into lockers so that he can make friends.

    THANKS AGAIN SO MUCH

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  2. This is my job in NH but unfortunately I am only one of two recreation therapists who work in a school district in the state. Sadly, there aren’t many of us out there but I hope one day there will be. There is a HUGE need for recreation therapists in the school setting!!

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    • I work as a TR in the community and have recevied calls from parents asking to have a TR assessment for their child in schools….only to have the school district say no because we are not certfied teachers. They don’t recognize the CTRS and hence, we can’t get through the door. The feeling here in NJ is that the PE teacher can do it. NJ special ed regs state it must be performed by a certified teacher. I tried some years ago to have the regs changed but to no avail. Anyone with any advice as to how we can make change happen here in NJ would be appreciated. I have a parent now I am working with who had all “recreation” taken out of his IEP…the parent is asking for an assessment but keeps getting shot down….now it is going to court! Thanks

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    • Hi Amanda,
      What school do you work at in NH? I am from NH and am a Recreation Therapist and did not know about any school with a RT on staff/on the IEP team.

      Thanks!
      Anna

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  3. This is perfect! Just what I needed to get my daughter the therapy she needs. She has a couple of friends but that friendship doesn’t extend past the school boundaries – leading to depression and social anxiety, making her feel hopeless to have the relationships she needs in life.

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    • Dear Linda don’t give up and utilize the school system to help your daughter, I know the pain of watching your child struggle to hang on to friendships but as soon as the bell rings to release she feels alone, unnsure of the friendships and insecure because my daughter would cry and I would feel so much at once. I went through the school system and found a group therapy /activity to help my girl build her social skills, we still have individual sessions so I can better parent my daughter with her disability . I don’t like feeling powerless so I stepped up my game and was relentless in my pursuit to fix what bothered her because her sadness provoked me to feel so much and no where to put it till recently. I enjoy seeing her slowly progress but I’ll take baby steps if that’s all I get with a big cheesy smile spread acroos my face! I hope this has helped you and good luck!

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  4. I wish our school would understand how important the social aspect is for my son. They denied us an IEP because it wasn’t affecting his academics. Of course it wasn’t! His IQ is so stinking high, it’s going to take a lot to affect his academics! He doesn’t need an IEP for academic help, he needs it for social and behavioral help.

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    • Dear Missy, it might help if your son is involved in some sort of enrichment program possibly through your school district call and speak with the social service workers available in your school and ask what is out there, they have the info but sometimes it takes the right question to be asked. So don’t give up keep looking and you will find what is best fitted for him. Specifically group activities because that’s where interaction can begin in a safe environment.

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  5. Any thoughts on what to do when the child is now 24 years old with mild mental retardation and cognitive challenges…along with mild aspergers. My son has it tough – as he is 24 years old in 70% of things he can do….and then about 16 years old in about 30% of his ways. With that said….he looks like a typical 24 year old…BUT IS NOT. He needs friends, he needs to be social – and at 24 years old – planning ‘play-dates’ no longer works. I reside in the Los Angeles area…so if anyone knows anything please advise…OR, my son also builds sets/for TV commercials…if anyone wants an intern for a day in the theatre arena for his skills, he can meet people this way and develop his skills. Signed …Desperate in Los Angeles – a mom who has run out of ideas…and gradually steam in the engine so to speak! Thanks so much!

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    • dear Jeri , is there a social service agency that does group sessions on social behaviors in Los Angelos? My dauaghter is younger than your son but also has cognitive disabilities so I can relate a little to your concern! I know that if you try calling a behavioral health center in your area they can possibly help point you in the right direction. My girl starts her meetings with others just like her very soon! I hope this has been of some help to you, best of luck!

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  6. I have my daughter attending a program that is going to help her with social and emotional skills because she is entering into middle school. This program is going to help me identify and relate to what she is feeling and experiencing at school when she is away from home. I made that decision because for the past few years at the end of each school year I hear that she feels she has no friends. She needs to learn to read ppl and the subtilties that she misses on an everyday basis. So I feel very encouraged that I am doing the right by her when I read articles such as this one. So much is missed when you only see the problem just by looking at the peices instead of the whole picture . I find this article inspiring and I know that I am not alone with this aspect in my daughters life that others feel this is just as important as her academics.

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IEP Recreation: There is no Friendship Algorithm

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