• Understanding Autism from the Inside

    “Academics came easily to me. The rest of life—not so much.”
  • This post may contain affiliate links and we may earn compensation when you click on the links at no additional cost to you.

Is recess a priviledge or a right?

Do our children have a right to the free time, socialization, and physical activity in school that recess affords, or is this time reserved as a privilege?

It would seem to me that during the time where this country’s children suffers from childhood obesity and diabetes that physical activity would be a priority–apparently in some schools, it is not.

Recess provides much needed rest periods and unstructured socialization opportunities during the rigid school day. I do not believe this time should be a privilege. In fact, children should participate in recess activities at all costs. Beyond socialization, and physical activity, research has shown that children learn better, and have higher test scores when regularly participating in recess.

Let’s say for arguments sake that I am completely wrong and recess should be reserved as a privilege. How then should this privilege be earned, or more importantly what kinds of behaviors should exclude a child, make him lose their recess privileges?

I can likely agree that misbehavior and disruptive behavior may be a valid reason for taking a child’s recess away. But what about forgetting a homework assignment, not getting a parent’s signature on a homework assignment, doing the homework but doing it incorrectly? How about doing your homework but losing recess because your parent forgot to sign one of the many sheets in your folder that needed signing? What about falling a math test? Not showing your math work? Forgetting your book home?

None of these things are behavior issue worthy of disciplinary measures. My son had lost recess privileges for all of the reasons listed here this year, and now is reporting feeling too sick to go to school tomorrow, something he had NEVER done!

These infractions are all a result of executive functioning issues with which he struggles, and the reason the district psychologists are evaluating him to determine what services be can receive and hammer out an IEP. HIS TEACHERS KNOW THIS!

I’m being frustrated and we will be making my complaints known at my meeting at the school district on Wednesday. This is ridiculous already.

Autism and special needs aside, his forgetful it’s not intentional, but laziness as one of his teachers have suggested. I’m furious, at the very least it could be childhood forgetfulness, or immaturity, but certainly is not willful disobedience, and therefore, should not be punished.


[ googleplusauthor ]

Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.


  1. “involved” in the first paragraph should have been “evolved”, sorry.

  2. Recess was what I struggled most with in school (I rarely did homework, was late and couldn’t keep track of my things either, but it wasn’t punished and wasn’t embarrased or thought much about it). Recesses were like noise infernos with no clear instructions for what to do, and as I became older they involved into frequent nightmares that I could only avoid by skipping school alltogether. So I dropped out of school due to having recess. Being kept in for recess sounds like a relief rather than a punishment. Silent lunches sounds like a blessing too … but then, I’m not your son of course … (or many other kids). Every kid is different, and it sounds like the school is a bad match for your son.

    Also, I don’t like the strong emphasis his school puts on conformity and punishment, from what you tell … it sounds like bad dog training to me (except for kids instead of dogs). Finding a better school is probably the best option if there are any viable alteratives and no specific reason to hold onto this school.

    An ongoing parent-teacher war probably won’t lead to a good outcome for your son even if you manage to get through with all your current requirements/questions, new issues will pop up all the time if there is no underlying motivation to understand your son and try to accomodate his needs. It may even be that the teacher group et.c. has collectivelly decided that you are a PAP (Pain in the Ass Parent) and as a result is pretty much deaf to anything you say due to a negative pre-perception of any request that comes from you. What you write sounds like the relation has already run sour a while ago and getting readers on your side here on your blog is unlikely to make any positive difference at all (I think… unless it has some sort of PR/fear of publicity effects that I am not aware of which could cause real life changes. I think it would still be unlikely to un–sour the relationship though). Regardless which side wins the specific issues, your son is llikely to be the loser in the long run, suffering indirect consequences of a sour relationship which could hit him in a lot of different areas… Change comes at a cost too of course, and I understand he has already changed school several times, but from what you write it sounds like the teachers are sick and tired of your son and his family, and it is hard to see how positive ongoing cooperation can build on such a basis.

    Disclaimer: I don’t have kids and don’t live in the US, so perhaps I shouldn’t comment on the issue, however there are some general patterns in it I think I am familiar with and can understand.

  3. I feel for my nephew. I battled all of those symptoms throughout school and ended up hating it. I learned to fight for myself at school too because despite having undiagnosed ld, I was very smart and a fighter by nature. 😉 I had the exact issues and it was due to dyslexia that affects my memory as well as non verbal L D wich effects comprehension and memory too.

  4. I had similar issues with school as a kid. I’d often misinterpret and/or have confusion over to-me ambiguous wording (like “show your work” – well, I didn’t show any because I can do it in my head entirely unconsciously. Or “find X.” X is there on the paper! “[generic statement]. Discuss.” You can’t really discuss something on your own, can you?) and get punished for misinterpreting. Also I got kept in for recess a lot for just plain forgetfulness. Or I’d effectively get punished for finishing too quickly by being made to sit “quietly” at my desk with nothing to do and not allowed to get a book, read ahead or doodle in my notebook, and then actually get punished for being unable to impersonate a statue for a half hour because the teacher was lazy (for the record: I still can’t do that. I’m 26. Expecting it of me at 8? Totally unreasonable. They were setting me up to fail, and they knew it and they did it anyway because I was a “bad kid” and therefore everything was my fault even if they knew ahead of time what was going to happen).

    If it helps: I find it really useful to set things up so that I can’t forget them. If I need to bring shoes, I tie them to my backpack rather than give them a separate bag I can forget. That sort of thing. If you could make it so that his books are in the bag if they’re not in use, maybe it’d be easier for him to not forget?

    My sister got a few accommodations for ADHD in school (long story why she got an evaluation and I didn’t. Not relevant.). I think your son might find them useful: She had a duplicate set of books, so she had one set of books for home and one for school so that she never had to bring stuff home and remember to bring it back. She also had a no-homework-sheet accommodation – they’d email her the sheets, she’d print them off, do them at home, scan them in and email them back to the teacher. Earlier in her schooling, she was accommodated so that she didn’t have to do homework other than bigger assignments because at home with pets and TV and what have you, it would take her so long to finish that she didn’t have time to be a kid. As she got older and better able to self-regulate, she was able to complete the sheets and get them handed in on time, but only if she didn’t have to bring them in the next day. She had an accommodation that she could turn stuff in whenever it was finished for big assignments (this school had a policy that you couldn’t turn stuff in early – so she and I would often get our assignments done early and then forget about them and then get punished for being late handing them in because we weren’t allowed to hand them in when we thought about it).

  5. Study after study has shown the value of recess and the lack of value of punitively taking it away particularly when, as you say, the ‘infractions’ are actually things that are a direct result of disability/deficit/difference or whatever term the school uses. Having dealt with this on an individual and school wide level, here are some links that might help you frame your concerns without making it personal 🙂

    A lot of the best defenses relate to ADHD kids (which, in fact, is co-morbid so often with autism so that it often applies by itself, but I think is translatable) Anyway, here’s a good piece from ADDitude mag that might help:


    Or from Wrightslaw with lots of links: http://www.wrightslaw.com/blog/?p=5338

    American Academy of Pediatrics is very pro-recess:


    And a good article in the Atlantic about recess and discipline: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/10/nixing-recess-the-silly-alarmingly-popular-way-to-punish-kids/280631/

    I think the big goal is to find something else that actually HELPS rather than punishes. As Dr. Ross Greene says over and over again, kids do well if they can. So, if a kid is not doing well (not bringing homework, whatever), there’s most likely a reason, and you address that… not the symptom. Good luck!

    • Hi Greg,

      Thank you so much for these links! I have been up most of the night fretting and now, as usually happens with me, I am completely consumed by this first thing this morning. I am so angry with this school I feel like I am ready to POP!

      • Been there. Done that 🙂 For me it wasn’t the recess issue, but the emotion is the same. And I know you know this, but the anger at them doesn’t help create good progress for you or your son. For me, when I could offer good alternatives AND explain why what they’re doing wasn’t having the effect they wanted… and when I could point to resources that could “prove” my point… things always went better. But, yeah… it’s hard. Very. Very. Hard!

  6. Good article. Could’ve done without the overly simplistic lack of exercise = obesity panic angle, though.

    • You are right that is definitely overly simplistic because there is so much more to it than that. It was just what came to mind when I thought about recess with no regard for autism because I don’t think any of the children should lose recess for these ridiculous reasons. Bit you are definitely correct, lack of activity does not equal obesity, there are many other factors involved.

Comments are closed

  • Autism Family Travels at Passportsandpushpins.com