Current Professional Consensus Regarding Meaningful Activities

A professional consensus exists within the general field of developmental disabilities regarding what constitutes meaningful activities for adults with autism and related disabilities (Reid et al., 2015, Chapter 7). The consensus is based in part on ideology. The ideology stems primarily from the concepts of normalization and inclusion (Reid, 2015a). The normalization principle has been an underlying foundation for human services for people with developmental disabilities for some five decades in the United States. It stresses that people with disabilities have the right to access the same environments in which the general populace lives, works, and plays. The concept of inclusion extends the normalization principle to stress that people with disabilities should not only be present in the same environments as people without disabilities but also fully participate (i.e., be included) in the same activities in those environments as other people.

The professional consensus also stems from results of outcome research pertaining to quality of life. A considerable amount of literature describes quality of life for people with developmental disabilities when they are included within typical communities and experiences versus being segregated from society at large—such as when they spend the bulk of their lives in congregate settings almost exclusively with other people with developmental disabilities. Although there are certainly individual exceptions, research in this area has repeatedly shown the benefits of supporting individuals with disabilities to be fully included in normal everyday activities with people without disabilities as much as possible (see Kozema, Mansell, & Beadle-Brown, 2009, for a review).

The professional consensus regarding meaningful activities for adults with autism and other developmental disabilities is represented in the following illustration, which shows a general continuum of most-to-least meaningful activities (cf. Reid et al., 2015, Chapter 7).

Quality Activities in Center-Based Programs for Adults with Autism. DOI:

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The continuum pertains primarily to weekday activities as these represent the major portion of the waking hours of adults with autism just like with most adults. The continuum also pertains to what is generally considered the working phase of adult life in contrast to a retirement lifestyle for older citizens.

Before describing each part of the continuum of most-to-least meaningful activities, it should be noted that the continuum also coincides with emerging funding streams for services for adults with developmental disabilities. To illustrate, the most recent regulations associated with the adult Medicaid Waiver Program that is a primary funding source for adult services (Schell, 2015) heavily emphasize provision of services that are integrated within typical community life. The most meaningful activities represented in the continuum generally involve the most community integration, whereas the least meaningful involve the least integration.

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