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Social participation in people with a developmental disability: A systematic review
People with developmental disabilities often experience difficulty with social skills and engagement in social interactions. One in six children aged 3-17 have a developmental disability (CDC, 2023). People with developmental disabilities experience loneliness, which can affect participation in meaningful occupations (Petroutsou et al., 2018). Participating in social interactions can decrease stress and anxiety and improve overall quality of life (CDC, 2023). The purpose of this systematic review was to determine occupational therapy interventions that increase social participation for people with developmental disabilities.
We conducted a systematic review of interventions that would best support social participation in people with developmental disabilities. The articles included were published between 2013-2023, written in English, and people recruited must have an intellectual or developmental disability diagnosis.
We reviewed 97 titles and abstracts from four databases and retrieved 13 full text articles. The databases that were used included MEDLINE, CINAHL, PsychINFO, and COCHRANE Library. Eight articles met inclusion criteria. US Preventative Services Task Force levels of certainty and grade definitions were used to describe the strength of evidence.
We themed articles by intervention type: equine-assisted therapy, physical activity, and group therapy sessions. One level IB study and three level IIIB studies provide moderate evidence for equine-assisted therapy. Three level IIIB studies provide moderate evidence for physical activity interventions. Physical activities included an adaptive climbing program, sports camp, and a dance program which increased self-confidence during social interactions. One level IIB and three level IIIB studies provide moderate evidence of group therapy interventions.
Occupational therapy practitioners play an important role in addressing social participation to improve quality of life for their clients. Based on our findings, we encourage occupational therapy practitioners to consider implementing interventions or providing referrals that include equine-assisted therapy, physical activity, and group therapy to increase social participation for their clients with developmental disabilities. Interventions involving equine-assisted therapy, physical activity, and group therapy should be included in routine practice. Future research is necessary to include stand-alone outcomes for social participation rather than it being a secondary measurement. This systematic review may guide practitioners in making recommendations to increase social participation among people with developmental disabilities.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). How does social connectedness affect health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.cdc.gov/emotional-wellbeing/social-connectedness/affect-health.htm#print
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Developmental disabilities. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/developmentaldisabilities/about.html
Petroutsou, A., Hassiotis, A., & Afia, A. (2018). Loneliness in people with intellectual and developmental disorders across the lifespan: A systematic review of prevalence and interventions. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 31(5), 643–658. https://doi.org/10.1111/jar.12432
social participation, developmental disability, occupational therapy, intervention, engagement, socialization, disability, delay
Squiers, Anna; McKeever, Madison; and Fitzgibbons, Sydney, "Social Participation in People with Developmental Disabilities: A Systematic Review" (2023). Student Systematic Reviews: Occupational Therapy. 7.