University of Limerick
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Investigating the use of adventure education in fostering social skill development in students with autistic spectrum disorder

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posted on 2022-09-07, 09:13 authored by Jack Neylon
Social skill deficits are mentioned as a common feature of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) (Task Force on Autism, 2001). There is, however, a distinct lack of evidence-based programmes to help foster social skills amongst this population (Healy and Flynn, 2012). The purpose of this study was to examine the extent to which involvement in adventure education can help foster social development in students with ASD. Specific research questions were: what areas of social thinking are most enhanced through in adventure education and how can adventure education foster social skill development in students with ASD. Ten, male students aged 13-18, who had a diagnosis of ASD, were participants during a special summer school programme. These students attended an ASD class, offered through a mainstream Irish secondary school. During the four-week programme, students took part in four adventure education classes a week as part of their physical education programme. Quantitative data sources included pre/post social skills assessment using the Autism Social Skill Profile (Bellini and Hopf, 2007). Qualitative data sources consisted of: daily observations by the teachers, the special needs assistants, and the researcher, and student drawings. Quantitative analysis revealed an improvement in all social skills measured, identifying “initiation”, “getting the big picture” and “understanding the perspective of others” as areas with significant improvement. Qualitative findings indicated advances in students’ “initiation” of social interaction and “understanding the perspectives of others”, outside a physical education context. Qualitative analysis has also highlighted the transferal of social skills to settings outside of physical education. Student drawings showed that students had acknowledged the importance of social cognition in the completion of their adventure education tasks. The results indicated that students’ involvement in adventure education classes helped foster social skill development and that some of the social skills were transferred to settings outside of physical education. It was evident from the results that social skills could be targeted using adventure education. This shows the potential of adventure education as a possible teaching strategy for students with social skill deficits, like ASD. The results also highlight the need for students’ with ASD to experience a physical education curriculum that is specific to their needs, with a focus on adventure and outdoor education.



  • Master (Research)

First supervisor

Parker, Melissa

Second supervisor

Tindall, Daniel W.





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