Requesting Recreation as a Related Service

Related services are only included in the student’s IEP or Individualized Education Plan if they are necessary to enable the student to benefit from special education. Given this, specific related services such as recreation therapy services may be advocated by parents for inclusion in the IEP. The explanation of such services must detail their uniqueness and necessity for the student’s success.


Some specific examples of what could occur if  recreation as a related service is identified in your child’s IEP  include:

  • assessing a child’s leisure interests and preferences, capacities, functions, skills, and needs;
  • providing recreation therapeutic services and activities to develop a child’s functional skills;
  • providing education in the skills, knowledge, and attitudes related to leisure involvement;
  • helping a child participate in recreation with assistance and/or adapted recreation equipment;
  • providing training to parents and educators about the role of recreation in enhancing educational outcomes;
  • identifying recreation resources and facilities in the community; and
  • providing recreation programs in schools and community agencies

The table below lists some examples of how recreation as a related service can be used to address adaptive skills or challenge area in your child’s IEP (Lawson, p. 51).

 Adaptive Skill Area Possible Challenge  Recreation-based Interventions
Communication Difficulty expressing feelings Using music or art as an avenue of expression, use cooperative games for social skills training
Home living Difficulty managing finances Reinforce money-management by budgeting for recreation.  Assist with payment and counting change whenever possible
Community use Limited knowledge/use of community resources Use community reintegration to introduce community resources.  Assist in community use with a “leisure buddy”
Health and safety Poor physical fitness Teach active recreation skills like bike riding, roller-skating, weightlifting, swimming, etc. Developing a fitness routine and encouraging follow-through
Leisure Limited leisure repertoire Assessing leisure interests and teaching a variety of age appropriate leisure skills that students can use individually and in groups
Self-care Poor hygiene or difficulty dressing Reinforcing self-care skills, such as changing or showering, before and after physical activities like swimming
Social skills Inappropriate social skills Provide structured social skills instruction and reinforce appropriate social skills during recreation activities
Self-direction Difficulty making decisions or setting goals Provide 2-3 choices of recreation activities during unstructured time and use a decision-making model to encourage decisions related to leisure.
Functional Academics Difficulty recognizing and using numbers Make a “friends” book with pictures and telephone numbers of friends.  Monitor/count the number of phone calls made in the course of a weekend.
Work Difficulty staying on task Provide recreation opportunities as reinforcement during breaks.  Recreation opportunities can also be taken away when necessary.


Lawson, Lisa Mische, and Catherine Coyle. Therapeutic Recreation in Special Education: From Legislattion to Practice. Print.

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Patience and Humility

Patience and humility, these are two lessons I learned as the result of being the mother of two children on the autistic spectrum.

images-3I have always been a “now” kind of girl. While I have always been one to work hard for
things I wanted, I did so with the expectation that once the job was complete my reward would soon follow, like cash upon delivery so to speak.  Well with autism progress can be elusive peering out at you on the brink of being realized only to retreat into a cavernous abyss again and again. In the face of such encounters I have had only one choice, to continue working, continue striving, continue believing that the growth sought would be obtained as long as I was patient and steadfast.

In my youth I think it would be fair to say that I was a prideful person. While I did not have many materialistic trappings growing up, I was gifted with a great ability to learn pretty much anything I set my mind to. I frequently found (find) myself able to learn with relative ease what others struggle to comprehend. I don’t share this to be boastful, but there was a time in my life when I took this gift for granted.

When I was pregnant with each of my girls, I fantasized about them the same way all mothers do. I envisioned what they would look like, the type of women they would49706_original grow into, and of course how smart they would be. Because of how easy learning came to
me I assumed it would be the same for them. This, however, has not been the case. Autism entered our lives and I found myself humbled. Both Jordynn and Jocelynn work hard in order to progress and reach success. Through my children’s struggles I have learned to appreciate all the little accomplishments that are in fact not so little. I learned to recognize the gifts and talents that reside in others even when those gifts and talents do not look like mine.

In the end autism has provided (and continues to provide me with) lessons that have forced me to mature and evolve. It is because of autism that I am a better mother, a better wife and even a better educator. In short, autism has made me a better human being, and for this I am eternally grateful. Though I could have never predicted that my life as I know it today would be my life, I fully embrace this life that is mine.


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Leisure and Recreation Skills: A MUST for the Spectrum

It’s finally here – Spring Break for the Dow Family Household! Given the great labor we engage in on a daily basis in our pursuit for greatness, I could not wait to kick back and relax. Unfortunately my desire to “chill” has been greatly tempered by my obligation to provide direction for my daughters’ use of their discretionary time to avoid them slipping into the abyss of their autism. Without my intervention my daughters, like most on the spectrum, will engage in repetitious and self-stemming behavior. Some of their behavior appears appropriate to the untrained eye. After all, what teen does not get absorbed watching television or loses himself playing video games or using the computer? The key distinction is when the interests the young person engages in are limited in nature (i.e. only plays on iPad), or the behavior takes precedence over key life functions as daily hygiene, eating, getting dressed, and the like; then there is a problem.

The demands I face are not unique to my family and the needs of my girls.  Breaks in routine are often a source of great stress and anxiety for those with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) and those that care for them. In addition, the hallmark of ASD is the limited and restricted interests. Unlike typically developing individuals, those with ASD do not automatically learn how to play and socialize. Without assistance to direct existing interests and activities or to develop new interests and activities, individuals on the spectrum will likely continue to engage in limited leisure pursuits and live lonely and sedentary lives. These individuals need exposure to activities to develop interests and instruction in activities of interest to enable them to pursue the activities as independently as possible. 

Identifying a need exists. Since my girls were young I saw to it that efforts were spent bridging the gaps in their academic skills as well as kept an eye on what they would need to be able to do in world of work. At the same time I prided myself for also exposing both Jordynn and Jocelynn to different recreational experiences, including playing different sports, dining at restaurants, going to church and the movies, attending plays, as well as performing in plays themselves and doing community service. I considered myself on par in preparing my girls for their futures. I thought I had it all covered. That was until I started to take note of the parts of their day that were being directed by others versus those portions of it they selected for themselves. Fearfully it became apparent to me that something was missing; there was something I was not doing and did not know how to do. Based on their current trajectory both Jordynn and Jocelynn were on course to live lives heavily dependent on others for direction and fulfillment.

Though largely overlooked, people in general spend a large part of their lives in leisure activities. Research shows when access to leisure is limited, it can lead to loneliness, social dissatisfaction, boredom, aimlessness, depression, anxiety, and even suicide. None of these outcomes are ones any parents would elect for their children. For young people leisure is especially important because it helps them construct their adult identities. For those young people with autism, leisure time spent with others can help social and language skills. However, because of physical, institutional, and social barriers, leisure activities may be especially difficult to access for those with autism. 

Having identified the problem, I quickly moved to find the solution. While I knew how to provide opportunities for my children to engage in recreation, I did not know how to teach the skills to do so successfully. I also did not know how to objectively measure “success.” Ironically, the response to my children’s recreational needs was hidden in plain sight.

Know your rights. According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) recreation is a “related service.” This is HUGE! It means recreation is the same as speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and the like, and should be targeted in my daughters’ IEPs with measurable goals, a specific program, and monitoring of progress.

In fact, according to IDEA, recreation as a related service specifically includes:

  • assessment of leisure function;
  • therapeutic recreation services;
  • recreation programs in schools and community agencies; and
  • leisure education. [Section 300.24(b)(10)]

In addition to being included in a student’s IEP as a related service, IDEA also supports the inclusion of recreation as an independent living skill in secondary transition plans (see for details about IDEA’s requirement for transition planning). Of special noteIf a student’s IEP team (as a parent, you are a key member of this team) determines that a student needs recreation programs as he or she moves from school to adulthood, then the providers of these services in the community MUST be invited to participate in the development of that student’s IEP. States’ plans to tend to the mandates of IDEA are reflected in their statutes. I encourage you to review your state laws related to education and special education to better educate yourself of your rights and the rights of your child.

Where to begin. So where do you begin? Well you begin at the beginning of course! Meaning you start by submitting a formal written request for a leisure function assessment to be conducted to evaluate your child’s needs in the area of recreation and leisure. You request that the assessment be conducted by a Certified Therapeutic Recreational Specialists (CTRS). The letter should be addressed to your district’s Director of Special Education, or its equivalent, and include the specific word “request.”

I forewarn you now, your district personnel may not be familiar with leisure function assessments, what a CTRS is, or recreation as a related service depending on what state you are located in.  Some states such as New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania are familiar with extending recreation as a related service to their students. Here in New Jersey, where we reside, requests for recreation as a related service is uncommon, and almost like a “hidden secret.” This is no matter and should not be the case as IDEA and state statures are clear on the legitimacy of recreation as a related service. Because of this, I feel obligated to share what I have learned and champion this support be explored for others who need it as well.

In truth, I had to file for due process in order to have a leisure function assessment conducted for my eldest daughter. But my request was granted. In part because to deny my request would actually equate to a violation of “child find,” the mandate of IDEA that schools must locate, identify and evaluate ALL children with disabilities  (birth to 21 years of age)  in ALL areas of suspected need. Currently, after having evaluations completed for both my girls and recreational therapy identified as being needed for them both, I am in the process of working in conjunction with other members of my children’s IEP teams to spell out what recreation as related service will be for them in their IEPs.

Remain steadfast. I will admit it is not easy being the parent of children with special needs. It is tiring, it is stressful, but it is also necessary. It is however my cross to bear and I embrace it wholeheartedly. I encourage you to do the same. If you are met with resistance from your school district, don’t despair; I implore you do not to give up. As with all things autism, don’t let the barriers you encountered discourage you from your mission. You must remain steadfast, educate yourself, and advocate for your child in a positive manner. Always remember our charge is to prepare our children for their lives after high school (without us), including educational pursuits, employment, and within their communities.

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Transition Planning: Looking Ahead to the Future

images-3Recently I have been more heavily focused on what the girls’ lives will look like when the day comes when neither my husband nor I are of this world anymore. An ominous reality, yes, but one inevitable all the same.

With new eyes I began observing both Jordynn and Jocelynn and made note of the parts of their day I directed versus those portions of their day they directed themselves. I began asking myself questions like, “Am I preparing them to be successful beyond just school and work? How will they fill their days outside of these environments? What quality of life will they live?”

All difficult questions, but questions that had to be faced. What I saw and the answers to questions I posed revealed that my efforts for the girls were narrowly focused. While I understood the importance of supporting them to live active lives and developing friendships, my efforts were largely centered around school and the world of work. As a parent of children on the spectrum such a narrow focus was insufficient to prepare my girls for life when neither my husband nor I were present to create opportunities for them. In short, my children make excellent students and will be tremendous employees. Unfortunately, based on the girls’ current trajectory, they are on the course to live largely solitary lives with few friends and social connections, and with limited outlets to relieve stress. With this new view, I decided now is the time for a shift; a seismic shift at that!

In order for my girls to be successful in any arena planning for that success must be deliberate and consistent. Having identified a gap in my efforts for my girls I once again turned to resources that supported me when I first set out on the journey of navigating the autistic spectrum. I found myself researching and reading, and attending workshops, webinars, and conferences to expand my understanding. This time around on my knowledge quest I have also contacted professionals in the field, both practitioners and collegiate resources, to leverage their knowledge and expertise to help assist me in advocating for my children.

What I uncovered is that both of my girls, who represent different segments of the autistic spectrum, needed a prescriptive transition plan. This transition plan is actually mandatedimgres under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) for all children with an Individualized Education Program (IEP). According to the federal mandate, transition plan must be established not later than the first IEP to be in effect when the child turns 16, however you can insist that one be developed for your child at any age before their 16th birthday if you and the other members of your child’s IEP team believe that it is appropriate. Note: Once established, this plan must be updated annually thereafter.

The purpose of the transition plan is to facilitate a child’s move from school to life after school including in employment, continued education, and community participation. IDEA requires that transitional planning:

  • start before the child turns 16;
  • be individualized;
  • be based on the child’s strengths, preferences, and interests; and
  • include opportunities to develop functional skills for work and community life.

My transitional planning for Jordynn (age 15) and Jocelynn (age 13) is currently underway. In hindsight I wish I had began this process at least three years earlier, especially for Jordynn who is more significantly impacted by autism. Through this current effort I have found the other members of my children’s IEP teams receptive to assume their responsibilities for transition, however they are tentative in their overall efforts to do so. To promote the full participation of all members of the girls’ IEP teams I share resources with school team members regarding transition planning and maintain a high expectation that this tool (i.e. transition plan) is developed for (and with) my children positively with fidelity and great skill.

I admit that I am by no means an expert when it comes to transition planning. I am learning more and more each day, and pray often for GOD’s guidance as we navigate these uncharted waters. Given my naivety in this arena, I welcome any resources or information others have to share, and I invite your feedback, comments and suggestions to this post.

Additional Resources for Transition Planning

Download/Print Transition Planning Requirements of IDEA 2004 Info Sheet

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A Poet’s Debut

Jocelynn, my youngest, amazes me with her creativity. She enjoys both drawing and writing equally, and has recently been experimenting with poetry. Checkout her original poem entitled, I Am From.

I Am From

By Jocelynn H. Dow (age 13)


I am from Sherlock and Shae-Brie,

Guyana and America,

Black cake and apple pie,

And many cousins who are either “gaffing1” or clowning around.


I am from fiery food that’s too hot to handle

And sweet cakes that delight the taste buds.

I am from thick melodic accents that sing songs of my heritage

And stories of my ancestry that carry me across oceans.

I am from rhythmic drums and dance moves I study hard to catch up with.


I am from learning secret recipes from family matriarchs, from blending ingredients, from licking spoons and leaving tiny bits of cinnamon on the kitchen counter and getting flour all over our aprons.

I am from huge Christmas parties at my house with enormous cooking contests and aunts competing to make the most delectable treats that are to drool for.

I am from sonorous barks and gentle licks on hands, cheeks from two dogs named Starski and Hutch who are spoiled but humorous companions.


I am from passion, loyalty, and creativity.

I am from knowing what’s right and wrong.

I am from the Dow family.


1Gaffing – Guyanese term meaning ‘to have a conversation.’
GT US#removebarriers #reachingbeyondautism
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Entering a New Territory – Transition

In January of 2015 Jordynn, my oldest, celebrated her fourteenth birthday. It seems like just yesterday that my husband and I were bringing her home from the hospital, and now she’s a high schooler. With the arrival of this new milestone came an increased level of anxiety that I was unprepared for. 

The source of this newfound anxiety was the realization that Jordynn had a limited number of years of services available to her under IDEA. Suddenly I heard the deafening ticks on an invisible stopwatch counting down the hours/minutes/seconds until Jordynn’s services ran out.

As I strive to navigate this new arena, I find myself refocused and re-energized. I stay up late reading and researching; I scout for webinars on the subject; I attend workshops, seminars, and conferences. All this so that I can better understand the new arena I have stepped into. Through each effort I find myself slowly untangling the maze associated with transition in the hopes of making the most of the years of service Jordynn has left so that she is prepared to successful engage in the post-secondary world that awaits her.

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A Father Advocates for His Daughter — A Call to Action (By Sherlock Dow)

My wife, Shae-Brie, is usually the blogger of the house, but today I decided to have at it and be her “guest” blogger. As a father of two beautiful, smart, kind, and compassionate daughters with autism, I stand as their personal centurion, guarding them from harm.  For the most part this is a quiet post, but recently I have had to assume a leading role advocating for our youngest daughter, Jocelynn.  Our school district wants to kick our autistic daughter out of her accelerated math program although she has exceeded their criteria for continued participation despite them requiring her to give up her in-class resource support in order to be in the class. Because this is not right, Shae-Brie and made multiple appeals to the district but got nowhere.  Each of our appeals fell on deaf ears, so I created an online petition to spread the word about our district’s practices and rally others behind our cause.  I’ve never done a petition before, but I was left with no other recourse; what they are doing is wrong and has to end.

At last year’s Annual IEP Review Meeting for Jocelynn the Child Study Team recommended that she receive in-class images-5resource support in mathematics. Jocelynn’s performance on 3 of 4 criteria “placed” her in the enrichment or basic level math class.  My wife evaluated the reliability of each of the measures and even looked over Jocelynn’s work on the district math placement test with the district math supervisor and Jocelynn’s case manager at the time. After looking everything over my wife was confident Jocelynn would be up for the challenge of the accelerated math class. It was at that time the math supervisor gave my wife an ultimatum; Jocelynn could either go to the basic math class and keep her in-class resource teacher, or give up her in-class resource teacher and waive into the accelerated math class. In other words, our school district forced my wife to forfeit our daughter’s special education support she needed because of her disability in order for her to participate in the 6th grade accelerated math class and be “tracked” to have Algebra I in 8th grade.Although not in agreement with this practice, my wife conceded to the exclusion because she wanted Jocelynn to have as many options available to her when she moved onto high school, college and beyond.  In our state, participation in 8th grade Algebra is a leading indicator of college and career readiness. Algebra is a “gatekeeper” course, a class standing like a sentry at the gateway to college. Take it and pass it and your odds of attending college are good. Take it and fail it and at least you have been exposed to challenging mathematics. Don’t take it at all and your chances of attending college are greatly reduced.

As parents, we assumed the responsibility of filling the void the district created by requiring Jocelynn to give up her special education support.  We paid for a private tutor and helped Jocelynn extensively with her schoolwork ourselves.  Inadequately supported in the classroom, Jocelynn struggled but never gave up.  The first marking Jocelynn earned a C, 2nd marking period she earned a C+, 3rd marking period a B-, and has continued to advance from there. Jocelynn improved her grade each marking period although it was extremely difficult for her without the special education services she needed in the class. With just 4 weeks left in the school year, Jocelynn had a B+ (87%) in her accelerated math class. As parents we celebrated Jocelynn’s progress, as did the other members of Jocelynn’s IEP team. We all worked hard and were extremely proud of how Jocelynn rose up to meet the challenges presented to her.  Imagine our dismay when we began planning for the following school year and began exploring course selections for the following year, only to learn the district intended to kick Jocelynn out of the accelerated math program under the premise that she had “failed to meet criteria.”

According to district math placement criteria, “students must have a B average (84%) to continue in the accelerated course the following school year.” In keeping with this criteria, if a B average (84%) is required in order for 6th grade accelerated math students to advance to 7th grade accelerated pre-algebra, then Jocelynn has exceeded the requirement and should be enrolled in the class without incident. Right? Well that is our position.

We learned that alternate criteria was used to dismiss Jocelynn from the program. Instead of using the published placement criteria of a “B average (84%),” the criteria use to count my daughter out was her 5th grade NJ ASK scores in Language Arts and mathematics, her 5th grade performance on the district’s ability test, and her marking period 1-3 grades for her 6th grade math class.  Confused?? I am. On top of the fact that none of these measures matched the published criteria, I am especially confused because 3 of them were already waived by my wife when she signed Jocelynn up for the 6th grade class.  Wouldn’t it be double jeopardy to use this same exclusionary criteria to screen out students from advancing the the 7th grade class? And how does Jocelynn’s performance in 5th grade tell more about her ability in math than her current performance?  These are all questions Shae-Brie and I had. Unable to reconcile the use of these alternate measures over the published criteria to determine Jocelynn’s 7th grade math placement, we resigned ourselves that an error had occurred that could be easily remediated.  This perspective was further validated after my wife reviewed the published placement criteria and saw the 4 measures used to exclude Jocelynn from the 7th grade accelerated pre-algebra class were actually the criteria for the HONORS accelerated pre-algebra class. Okay, simple enough.  We were certain the superintendent would rectify this error in Jocelynn’s favor. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

When we alerted the superintendent to the error the superintendent refused to overturn the placement decision opting instead to use yet another exclusionary measure that he identified as being “implied” in the district criteria. Left with no other recourse, we have since filed for due process. It is extremely disappointing how these practitioners just threw aside my daughter and the work she’s done, instead of correcting their error and celebrating all that she’s accomplished.

According to Autism Speaks, autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States. Nationally 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism, and in New Jersey (where we live) that figure is 1 in 45. Jocelynn, my daughter, in addition to being a child of color and 1st generation American, is one of these children. These archaic, hurtful, and discriminatory practices of our district must be discontinued or our daughter and the many others that will come after her will continue to suffer.

Our district’s practice of disregarding the recommendations of students’ IEP teams and requiring parents to forfeit special education supports and aids in order for their children to be able to participate in the accelerated math program is not right. This, in addition to the district’s practice of then holding these same students accountable to elusive and “implied” criteria are practices inconsistent with the federal law and in violation of the spirit of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004.

I hope by writing this “guest” blog post I bring awareness to this issue, and that my petition for my special little butterfly, Jocelynn, will help end the discriminatory practices our school district is using to benefit all students. Our children are faced with enough challenges because of perceived limitations of their disability. Together my wife and I work to remove barriers for daughters and others like them encounter so that they may reach beyond autism.

If you would like to stand with us as we advocate for what is right, Click Here and add your name to our petition. Together we can do great things!Image005


A father advocating for his daughter and others like her!

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