Systematic search procedures identified 15 studies that used recess time to deliver intervention to preschool and elementary school students with ASD. Summaries of the studies revealed that a variety of different interventions have targeted a range of behaviors including challenging behavior, social skills, play, and communication. The most common dependent variables were social skills, and the most common intervention component involved typically developing peers serving as models of target behavior or as therapists with an active role in prompting and reinforcing target behaviors (e.g., McGee et al., 1992). Overall, the existing literature base is perhaps best described as limited given the paucity of studies and the relatively low number of participants (N = 46). However, despite these limitations several important points do emerge.
Baseline levels of dependent variables across the included studies demonstrate that, prior to intervention, students with ASD engaged in high levels of stereotypy and challenging behavior and low levels of appropriate play and social interaction. Therefore, unlike typically developing students who benefit simply by being given access to recess (e.g., Pellegrini & Smith, 1993), students with ASD may need additional supports in order to benefit form educational and social opportunities on the playground ([Lang et al., 2009a], [Lang et al., 2009b] and [Lang et al., 2009c]). Consequently, if a student lacks the skills necessary to meaningfully participate in recess, goals and objectives related to recess should be included in their individualized education plans.
OK, even as a review, where they pool data from multiple other studies, this is small: 46 participants.
The authors note that (a) recess is important for kids, especially younger children and (b) recess time seems to be declining in general (possibly due to the no child left behind laws in the U.S.).
I really have to pose the question: how much is recess valuable precisely because it is self-directed time? How do you define if “a student lacks the skills necessary to meaningfully participate in recess”? If a typical child spends recess in a corner of the playground reading a book or doing homework, is that a meaningful participation in recess? If an autistic kid needs that time to blow off steam in some other way, is that “meaningful”? Who defines “appropriate play”? If a child, say, spends recess screaming—is that “inappropriate play” or is that a sign that the classroom environment may be overstressing the child? Sure, if a student has the desire, but not the skills, to use recess for social interaction, let’s see about supporting that. If a child enjoys working on play skills, again. But I have a bit of a reservation about making recess into more time for work.