UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa., March 3 (UPI) -- Giving people with autism the power to choose their own leisure activities can boost their enjoyment, communication and social skills, a U.S. researcher says.
John Dattilo, a professor of recreation, park and tourism management at Pennsylvania State University, and colleagues said the study involved a group of 20 autistic adults who participated in a year-long recreation program that offered them a chance to choose their own activities and 20 other autistic adults randomly assigned to the program's waiting list.
The participating group got to choose to spend two hours a day playing games, doing exercises, working on crafts or attending events.
The study, published in the journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, found the group they got to choose their own activities scored about 24 percent higher than the control group in the ability to recognize emotions in a person in a picture. These study participants also improved their ability to carry out executive functions, such as setting goals and maintaining attention, the study says.
Dattilo said recreation programs that encourage people with autism to make their own leisure choices create a cycle of increasing independence -- rather than a pattern of reliance on caregivers to provide recreational activities.
"The big measure for us in this program was the improvements in social behavior and interaction," Dattilo says. "The defining quality of people with autism is that they have difficulty in social situations."