According to psychologist Mark Dombeck, director of Mental Help Net, mentally challenged adults learn and function similarly to people with learning disabilities, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism. They are capable of a variety of activities so long as instructions can be broken down into small, manageable pieces they can master one at a time. In fact, depending on mental age and physical condition, mentally challenged adults can do most things children and adolescents can do. They can succeed in a variety of activities, including sports and board games.
The Special Olympics provides opportunities for both physically and mentally handicapped people to participate in sports and receive recognition for their abilities and accomplishments. It seeks to inspire self-confidence in participants by celebrating their abilities, instead of focusing on their disabilities. Although Down syndrome and certain birth defects can come with physical limitations, many mentally challenged adults are healthy and capable of playing almost any sport. Basketball, soccer, baseball and football are all possibilities for mentally challenged adults. Just as positively, physical activity benefits the mentally challenged as much as anyone else and leads to better health, higher energy and a happier outlook.
Just because a person is mentally challenged doesn't mean she is mentally incapable. Every mentally challenged adult can be assessed for her effective mental age. A 35-year-old adult with the mental age of a 10-year-old has the ability to play games appropriate for 10-year-olds. Popular board games like Life and Junior Scrabble can be well within a mentally challenged adult's grasp. In order for participants to succeed with such games, they need clear, simple instructions and demonstrations. More complicated games may take time to learn. It's important to have someone with good communication skills and patience to explain the game rules.
Although the mentally challenged face limitations, they continue to learn throughout their lives just like anyone else. Games are an excellent way to make learning fun and easier for them. Educational games that stress spelling and vocabulary can help mentally challenged adults improve reading, writing and communication skills. Games that involve maps can promote understanding of geography. Educational materials suppliers and toy stores have a variety of games that promote use in and out of classrooms. They key is to buy activities appropriate to the mental age and learning abilities of participants.
Just as people with ADHD and autism often find video games engaging and calming, so can mentally challenged adults. Again, games have to be appropriate to a person's mental age. Video and computer games have the special advantage of being independent and portable activities. The associated independence can be confidence boosting and attractive to mentally handicapped people.
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- Mental Help Net; Useful Methods for Teaching Mentally Retarded Students; Tammi Reynolds et al; Aug. 24, 2006
- Alabama Council for Developmental Disabilities: Mentally Challenged
- Kodak Lesson Plans; Community Involvement for the Handicapped; Sharilynn Russo
- "New York Times"; For Mentally Retarded Adults, Challenges of Day to Day Life; Janet Elder; July 17, 1986