Inclusive Play in the RVA


We all need playtime.

Whether a “mental health day” or making time for our passions, playtime is important for refueling our tanks. For our kids, play enables them to learn, explore, and connect to others.

Raising three boys with autism, we invest a lot of time and money in speech therapy, occupational therapy, and applied behavior analysis. Lately, I wanted to afford my kids more time to play—but in a structured way. That started me researching recreational therapy options in the RVA.

Recreational therapy (RT) uses activities to promote health and wellness. It’s a broad spectrum of activities that can include music, sports, community outings, games, and crafts. It’s play with a purpose, and we are fortunate that Richmond hosts many inclusive sports and RT options including:

So where does a parent start?

We tried soccer, swim, and karate, but nothing really spoke to my oldest animal lover, Matthew. That is until we discovered Journey of Hope 4 Autism. They use equine therapy to address ADHD, autism, and anxiety. Horseback riding calms riders and improves balance and strength.

Matthew was cautious at first but quickly warmed to the barn residents. He sings when he’s happy, and serenaded us with his go-to happy song (Sesame Street’s We Are All Earthlings) while walking his horse around the ring. Matthew looks forward to his weekly sessions and asks for “horse, nay” all week long. And we love his explosion of language and confidence.

My middle wild child, Wesley, loves water. Swimming improves Wesley’s strength, gives him an outlet for his boundless amounts of energy, and helps him focus. Our neighborhood swim team includes and accommodates Wes every summer. But for year-round instruction, he participates in Autism Swims at SwimRVA. All of the program instructors are trained and educated on children with autism. We love watching Wes learn new skills and become more confident and social each week.

Special needs parents love when our kids can participate in “normal” activities.

Finding these outlets for my boys is time well spent. A soccer game, swim meet, dance recital…these are huge in our world! 

If you’re looking for RT or inclusive sports or the opportunity to volunteer your time and talents as a buddy, check out the Autism Society of Central Virginia’s Resource Directory. They also offer scholarships (up to $300/year) to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) individuals to participate in these activities.

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Kate Fletcher was born and raised in Virginia and has been an RVA resident since 2002. Married since 2004, Kate and her husband, Gary, have three boys: Matthew (age 9), Wesley (age 6), and Henry (age 2). All three boys have autism, so the Fletcher family is very active in autism advocacy, awareness, acceptance, and research. They are members of the Autism Society of Central Virginia, and Kate periodically writes as a guest blogger for Autism Speaks. She also works full-time as a middle school history teacher in Chesterfield County and is pursuing National Board Certification. When not at school or shuttling her boys around town, Kate enjoys spending time outside, especially at Virginia State Parks and Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, shopping, eating, and lots of coffee. Follow her personal blog at


  1. Great list! We’ve also had great success with Vivo, an inclusive chorus group that includes music therapy that is offered in Henrico. For sports, the best, by far, basketball program has been through Cool Springs Baptist church Challenger league.

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