Outdoor adventure program is a promising treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder

Challenge-based intervention may be effective in reducing the severity of autism symptoms.

One in 68 children in the US is diagnosed each year with ASD, a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by socio-communicative impairments and restricted and repetitive behaviors and interests. The developmental disorder takes a deep social, emotional and economic toll on the child and his/her family.

If you are a parent of a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you will be looking out for various therapies and interventions to help your child with their symptoms.

This new study included 51 students from seven special education kindergartens in Tel Aviv, Israel. The study was conducted in collaboration with ALUT, the national Israeli Association for Children with Autism, and ETGARIM, a non-profit organization which sponsors outdoor activities for disabled people. Forty boys and 11 girls, aged three to seven years old, followed the same educational protocol, but only the intervention group comprising of 30 students participated in the outdoor adventure program (OAP).

The intervention group underwent 13 weekly sessions of challenge-based activities with instructors. Each 30-minute session took place in urban parks near the participants' kindergartens and kicked off with a song. Afterward, the children used the outdoor fitness equipment, moving from one to another throughout the session. The activities required the children to communicate with the instructors and with their peers, to ask for assistance or be noticed, for example.

The children’s cognitive abilities and adaptive skills were assessed before the start of the adventure program and after. These skills were assessed using the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS), a questionnaire that assesses autism severity in different domains, and the Teachers’ Perceived Future Capabilities questionnaire.

"Outdoor adventure programs are designed to improve intrapersonal skills and interpersonal relationships by using adventurous activities to provide individual and group problem-solving and challenge tasks," says Prof. Zachor. "The necessary tools for a successful OAP include establishing individual and group goals, building trust among participants, and providing activities that challenge and evoke stress but are nevertheless enjoyable.

“Our study shows that outdoor adventure activities benefit children with autism and improve their social communication skills,” He continued.

“We suggest including these fun activities in special education kindergartens and in communication classrooms at school in addition to traditional treatments. Parents of children with ASD can also enroll their kids in afterschool activities based on the principles of our research. It will allow the children to have fun during their leisure time while improving their communication skills.” Zachor concluded.

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