Recreational Therapy is a related service under the IDEIA, and it includes "(i)assessment of leisure function; (ii) therapeutic recreation services; (iii) recreation programs in school and communities; and (iv) leisure education." 20 U.S.C. section 1401(26)(a); 34 C.F.R. section 300.34(b)(11). State statutes and regulations define RT more specifically.
California, for example, defines RT as including:
(a) Therapeutic recreation services, which are those specialized instructional programs designed to assist pupils in becoming as independent as possible in leisure activities, and when possible and appropriate, facilitate the pupil's integration into regular recreation programs;
(b) Recreation programs in schools and the community which are those programs that emphasize the use of leisure activity in the teaching of academic, social and daily living skills; and the provision of nonacademic and extracurricular leisure activities and the utilization of community recreation programs and facilities;
(c) Leisure education programs which are those specific programs designed to prepare the pupil for optimum independent participation in appropriate leisure activities, including teaching social skills necessary to engage in leisure activities, and developing awareness of personal and community leisure resources.
Title 5, California Code of Regulations, section 3051.15
Recreation and leisure can be areas of unique special education and related services needs for a student with a disability. These needs must be taken into consideration when developing the student's IEP. An RT assessment can be conducted by a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS), and should address how the student's functioning in the areas of physical, cognitive and social / emotional affect his/her ability to appropriately access leisure and recreational activities. Appropriate access to a leisure activity does not just mean playing the game - it means being able to understand the purpose of engaging in recreational activities with peers, understand how to choose what leisure activities give you enjoyment, and understand the rules (both official and "social" rules) of participation.
"A recreational therapist utilizes a wide range of activity and community based interventions and techniques to improve the physical, cognitive, emotional, social and leisure needs of their clients. Recreational therapists assist clients to develop skills, knowledge and behaviors for daily living and community involvement. The therapist works with the client and their family to incorporate specific interests and community resources into therapy to achieve optimal outcomes that transfer to their real life situation." (From Frequently Asked Questions, American Therapeutic Recreation Association)
"Educational benefit" includes areas of non-academics! Remember that the ultimate goal of special education is to provide the appropriate instruction and services so that a student can become an independent member of society, to the extent possible. Skills related to the ability to socialize appropriately, work in groups, communicate effectively, etc, are important parts of educational benefit. The ability to access the community, including for recreation and leisure activities, is also important for students to learn.
Examples of situations where RT services may be appropriate:
Students whose unique needs include social skills deficits, such that they have an inability to access recreation and leisure independently. Students with autism spectrum disorders, for example, may have a difficult time understanding how to choose what activity to participate in, how to join a game, and how to utilize appropriate social skills to interact with others during leisure time.
Students who are in the "transition plan" phase of their educational program. Students who will be transitioning to adult life may need some specialized instruction to help them learn about how to independently access leisure and recreational activities in their community.