hobbiesWe talk about the benefits hobbies can have for children with neurological conditions.

A hobby is a bit of an indulgence, that you take time to do just because you enjoy it. Something as relaxed and apparently non-essential as a hobby might well get crowded out among all the things that families of children with disabilities and special needs have to be concerned with. Yet suitable, enjoyable and particularly long-lasting hobbies could enrich a child’s wellbeing, and the family’s.

The effects of a hobby

Participation in activities with other children helps to build friendships, skills, social understanding, self-expression and a sense of purpose (Law 2006), yet children with disabilities tend to encounter fewer natural opportunities for this and often need more active help to be able to join in. Hobbies and general leisure activities are a way in. It can take some determination to overcome lifestyle restrictions and isolation that can easily affect the lives of disabled children and their families.

Doing something that a child wants to do, when they want to do it, adds a welcome element of choice and freedom. Like play, it builds skills and knowledge in a less structured way, involving some self-direction, self-expression and curiosity. It can be recuperative after a tough experience such as being in hospital, and can be a thread of continuity if there are changes in other aspects of a child’s environment. Skills could transfer to other activities and settings, and may help to strengthen functions that are otherwise weak, such as coordination or memory. More active hobbies can be introduced deliberately to displace unwanted movements or behaviour by substituting something more appropriate that is similar in sound, sight, feeling, and motivation (McKee, 2013).

As they get older, hobbies could draw young people into their own circle of friends with common interests, into adulthood. Something that a child finds they are good at can bring a sense of accomplishment and added self-esteem (see the article by “Ben T.” referenced below). As Ben T. also points out, a hobby does not have to be expensive.

Some general ideas

Recreation is a skill that many children specifically need to learn. It is also true that planning activities, which many of us enjoy doing as part of a hobby, can be daunting for someone with a neurological condition unless they have someone to help them. The characteristics of a lasting hobby will probably include:

It is something that the child naturally takes to;
it is easy to fit into the times available, without anxiety or disruption;
elements of it, at least, can be initiated, enjoyed and completed alone (McKee, 2012).
Obviously, according to personality and abilities, suitable hobbies will vary. For example some children will only enjoy things they can do sitting down quietly, while others will only enjoy moving around, preferably at speed (sports, martial arts, group adventures). Some parents may already know or be able to make a good guess at something a child would like; for others, a few small taster sessions might come up with something they and/or you will surprisingly take to.
Again, some activities need a group (e.g. dancing) and some don’t although they can (e.g. photography, scrapbooking, weaving, painting, metal detecting). It might be encouraging for children to produce things that they can give as presents to friends or relatives.

The approach to a hobby is a more flexible one than to a task that has to be completed or practised for a certain amount of time each day, like homework or exercises. It is something that always should have an element of enjoyment in it, even at times when it involves a challenge.

Some ideas about specific hobbies

Typing the words “list of hobbies” into a search engine brings up thousands of ideas, some more suitable for individual children than others but many would be adaptable in some way if necessary. Two websites to start on are:www.dmoz.org/Kids_and_Teens/Sports_and_Hobbies/ and www.kidsguide.org.uk/cheshire-children/crafts-hobbies-and-special-interests-cheshire/. Most will need only a small amount of research and gathering materials together before being able to get going on a small “taster”.

To give one of my own hobbies as an example; this is a good time of year to start growing vegetable or flower plants from seed, which could move on to the wider concept of “gardening”. The timetable on the back of the seed packet is a guide to when to sow, additionally counting backwards from the time it will be OK to transfer to a garden outside which will vary geographically. For example, seedlings that have reached a suitable size could safely be planted out earlier in the Channel Islands than in the Shetland Islands. Another thing that it is important to get right so that the plants will come encouragingly to fruition is a consistent amount of watering (not too little, not too much and for most plants not too sporadic). The art of watering is described at: www.coopext.colostate.edu/4dmg/Plants/guidline.htm. Other information that might be useful if children or pets tend to put things into their mouths is knowing what not to grow: poisonous garden plants are listed at www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=524 (Royal Horticultural Society).

The amount of gardening information available is almost overwhelming, so I have picked some out. Specifically for children with disabilities, some gardening ideas can be found at Disabled world. These include indoor options for colder times of year, or for those who don’t get outside very much. More on indoor gardening:www.instructables.com/id/Indoor-Gardening/ and www.planetnatural.com/growing-indoors/).

Others are:

A look through those should equip anyone with the information needed to start a child on it and an idea about how it could be done in your circumstances. (Having a garden outside is not absolutely necessary.)

“But (s)he’s not interested”

How to find something that a child will be interested to develop as a hobby? Some will already show an interest in something, but others may not feel inspired by or confident in anything at all. Ways of discovering a spark include: spending time trying out a few new things in short and simple ways; sounding out others who work with the child, such as their one-to-one at school; and finding their strengths (Werrell, 2014). If a more active hobby is unlikely to catch on, a more passive one in which the child participates more or less just by being involved (e.g. horse-riding or scrap-booking) might still be possible.

Hobby-related breaks

If you are thinking about a break or a change of scene for the summer, there are hobby- and activity-based holidays, also supported holidays involving new places and activities. If it is not possible to get away, a home-based holiday taking a few days for local recreation, discovery and the pursuit of a hobby could be refreshing. Check out Cerebra’s signposts pages for Recreation, leisure and holidays, and Funding for holidays and outings.