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What is a Recreational Therapist or Therapeutic Recreation Specialist?

A recreational therapist (RT) sometimes referred to as a therapeutic recreation specialist (TRS), works with individuals who have mental, physical, emotional and/or developmental disabilities.  Activity modalities or recreation mediums are used to treat or maintain the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of consumers served.  Interventions are selected that will assist to remediate the effects of illness or disability and/or enable an individual to increase personal independence. For example, a recreational therapist may use a knitting activity to help a consumer increase fine motor dexterity. Or the recreational therapist may train a consumer to use an adapted fishing reel to enable the consumer to continue motivation for activity involvement in a lifetime passion. Similarly, a recreational therapist may lead an anger management group to teach aggressive consumers alternative coping skills, lead a reminiscent group to aid aging adults to cope with memory changes or teach consumers to overcome environmental barriers (stairs, curbs) in order access their community confidently and independently.

In North Carolina, “recreational therapist” and the initials, “LRT,” also designate individuals who have been granted alicense from the North Carolina Board of Recreational Therapy Licensure. Only individuals who received this license may use these credentials and practice in North Carolina.  Individuals who use the credentials, “LRT/CTRS,” are licensed by the North Carolina Board of RT Licensure and certified by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification. Minimum requirements to become licensed include: a bachelor’s degree in Therapeutic Recreation or a Recreation degree with an emphasis in Recreational Therapy/Therapeutic Recreation, an internship under a licensed LRT (or CTRS if outside North Carolina) and a satisfactory score on a certification exam.

What is a Recreational Therapy Assistant?

A recreational therapy assistant sometimes referred to as a therapeutic recreation assistant, works with individuals who have mental, physical, emotional and/or developmental disabilities. Under the clinical supervision of a licensed recreational therapist (LRT), the assistant plans and implements activity modalities or recreation mediums that are used to treat or maintain the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of consumers served.  Interventions are implemented that will assist to remediate the effects of illness or disability and/or enable an individual to increase personal independence.

In North Carolina, “recreational therapy assistant” and the initials, LRTA, designate individuals who have been granted a license from the North Carolina Board of Recreational Therapy Licensure.  Only individuals who received this license may use the LRTA credentials. Minimum requirements to become licensed as an LRTA include:  an associate’s degree in Therapeutic Recreation or a Recreation degree with an emphasis in Therapeutic Recreation, an approved field placement, and a satisfactory review by the licensure board.

What is Recreation Therapy?

The term, “recreation therapy,” refers specifically to treatment services provided by qualified therapeutic recreation professionals. The North Carolina Recreational Therapy  Association defines recreation therapyas:

…the provision of planned treatment or therapy (i.e. health restoration, remediation, habilitation, rehabilitation), which uses recreation and activities as the primary medium of treatment for persons who are limited in theirs functional abilities due to illness, disability, maladaptation, or other conditions (NCRTA, 1992).

Sometimes therapeutic recreation specialists or therapeutic recreation assistants who providerecreation therapy are called recreation or recreational therapists and recreation or recreational therapy assistants.

What is Therapeutic Recreation?

The term, “therapeutic recreation,” refers to a continuum of services provided by qualified therapeutic recreation professionals. Recreation therapy is often included as a component of therapeutic recreation. The American Therapeutic Recreation Association defines therapeutic recreation as:

…the provision of treatment services and the provision of recreation services to persons with illness or disabling conditions. The primary purpose of treatment services, which are often referred to as recreational therapy, is to restore, remediate, or rehabilitate in order to improve functioning and independence as well as reduce or eliminate the effects of illness or disability. The primary purpose of recreation services is to provide recreation resources and opportunities in order to improve health and well-being. Therapeutic recreation is provided by professionals who are trained, certified, registered, or licensed to provide therapeutic recreation (ATRA, 1988).
Similarly, the National Therapeutic Recreation Society defines therapeutic recreation as:

Practiced in clinical, residential, and community settings, the profession of therapeutic recreation uses treatment, education, and recreation services to help people with illnesses, disabilities, and other conditions to develop and use their leisure in ways that enhance their health, independence and well-being (NTRS, 1994).

How can recreation be included as a "related service" in my child's IEP?


Under IDEA, Recreation as a related service includes:


  • Assessment of Recreation and Leisure Functioning

    Assessment of recreation and leisure functioning is a procedure to determine the current functional strengths and needs of students with disabilities in terms of skills, abilities, and attitudes relative to recreation and leisure.


  • Leisure Education

    Leisure education provides students with recreational and educational instruction to promote positive attitudes toward leisure, recognition of the benefits of recreation involvement, the development of skills necessary for recreation participation (such as social, decision making, and planning skills), knowledge of recreation resources, and attitudes and skills that facilitate independent, satisfying leisure experiences.


  • Therapeutic Recreation

    Therapeutic recreation is the use of recreation activities to habilitate or rehabilitate functional abilities, which contribute to behavioral change. ‘Therapeutic recreation is a process involving assessment, development of goals and objectives, and the implementation, documentation, and evaluation of intervention strategies.


  • Recreation in Schools and Community Agencies

    Recreation in schools and community agencies involves the provision of recreation services that facilitate the full participation of children and youths with disabilities in school and community programs. Activities are used to promote health, growth, development, and independence through self-rewarding leisure pursuits.

How can recreation be included as a “related service” in my child’s IEP?

Segments from the Therapeutic Recreation in Public Schools (Project TRIPS) web site: http://perth.uwlax.edu/hper/RM-tr/trschools.htm Are you aware that recreation has been identified as a related service ever since The Education for All Handicapped Children’s Act was authorized in 1975? Many parents are not. The basic entitlements of P.L. 94-142 provide for a free, appropriate public education for all children. In providing appropriate educational services to all students with disabilities, the local education agency must ensure that these students receive all related services necessary for the child to benefit from special education. Related services as defined by the law include: speech pathology and audiology, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, early identification and assessment of disabilities in children, counseling services, and medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes. (Federal Register, 1977, p.42473)

Recreation is identified in P.L. 94-142 as a related service which enhances the educational goals of a child with a disability. If recreation is included in a child’s IEP, it cannot be completed by a curricular service such as special education or physical education. Recreation should be provided by a trained Therapeutic Recreation Specialist as specified in the EHA [sections 1211.126(b)2, and 121a.382(a)3]. The actual role of the TRS varies dependent onthe actual school in which he/she is employed. Generally, the TRS serves as a direct service deliverer and/or as a consultant depending on the needs of the students.

Finding recreation resources in your community


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