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Adapting Activities for Success
By Debbie Hommel, BA, CRA, ACC
Executive Director of
DH Special Services

Adapting Activities for Success

One of our goals as activity professionals is to offer our residents or clients an opportunity to continue life long interests and
leisure pursuits.  Unfortunately, most of our residents and clients arrive in our centers and facilities with a variety of limitations –
both physical and cognitive.   The activity/recreation profession has always taken a positive approach to this concern.  While the
medical profession focuses on the losses and disabilities – we tend to focus on what strengths are remaining and what they can
still do.   This is accomplished, in some cases,  through adaptation or modification of the activity.   

In order to appropriately change activities to address the individual needs of each resident or client, we need to address two
important areas prior to adapting the activity or program.    The first area is knowing the resident or client’s strengths, abilities and
skills are imperative when offering any therapeutic approach.  Adaptation is one example of a therapeutic approach.   A thorough
assessment will assist the activity professional in understanding the client’s abilities as well as where they will need
modification of the approach or activity to succeed.    The second area is to know the activity well.  There are many facets of each
activity we conduct and being able to analyze the activity will allow breaking it down into specific parts for adaptation.  

There are four standard methods for adapting activities:
-Materials : This is altering or changing the materials or supplies utilized in the activity.  Using large print bingo cards,  built up
handles on brushes or pencils; and larger designs in crafts are examples of material adaptation.
Procedure or rules :  Changing the rules or how you do the game in order  to make it simpler or less complicated is considered
Procedural adaptation.  An example of procedural adaptation would be to take the direction cards out of a deck of Uno.  This
would make the game simpler and easier to follow for the cognitively impaired.  Another example would be during Bowling
games.  Allowing the resident to stand closer to the pins and take as many throws as they need would be altering the game so
the resident can succeed.
Skill sequencing  :  This process requires the activity professional to break the activity into smaller tasks or sections for
completion.  Residents would be grouped according to their ability or how much they could accomplish.  This is commonly called
“assembly line” adaptation – as the tasks are organized into an assembly line of sorts.  Crafts, cooking and other task
sequencing activities lend themselves well to this adaptation.  
Lead up activity : This process is incorporated into the therapeutic process and allows the activity professional and the resident
to work together to rebuild lost skills.  The activity professional needs to determine one activity or action which would prepares the
resident for a bigger or more complex activity or action.  For example, certain exercise steps in exercise group prepare the for
many ADL or ambulation programs.  

Finally, when modifying the activity, REMEMBER ......
- Keep the activity as close to the original form as possible
-Modify only parts of the activity needing changing to adjust to a particular limitation in the resident/client
-Individualize as much as possible.  
-Keep the project or approach as adult like as possible.

Keep in mind – our overall goals are to allow for success, prevent sense of failure and  maintain resident/client participation in
tasks and activities of interest.
About Debbie

Debbie Hommel, BA, CRA, ACC, is
the Executive Director of DH Special
Services. She is a Certified Activity
Consultant on State and National
level, with over twenty-seven years of
experience in providing direct care
and consultation to long term care,
medical day care, assisted living, and
ICF/MR facilities throughout New
Jersey, New York, Maryland, and
Pennsylvania. She is an experienced
trainer and workshop presenter,
conducting a variety of seminars
throughout the Tri-State area for the
Activity Professional, Administrator,
and allied healthcare professional.
Debbie Hommel is an active member
of Activity Professional Associations
on State and National levels. She is
ACC certified through the NCCAP.
She is a founding member of the New
Jersey Activity Professionals'
Association, serving terms as Vice
President and President. She
received the Weidner Lifetime
Achievement Award in 1994 and the
Monmouth & Ocean County Activity
Professionals Life Achievement
Award in 1999.