Developing a Recreational Summer Camp for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

By Liu, Ting; Meaney, Karen | Palaestra, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Developing a Recreational Summer Camp for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder


Liu, Ting, Meaney, Karen, Palaestra


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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological disorder affecting about 1 in 110 U.S. children (CDC, 2010). ASD is usually diagnosed during childhood and is characterized by some core symptoms including qualitative impairment in social interaction, delays in the development of communication, and restrictive interests and/or repetitive body movements. These symptoms usually persist across an individual's lifespan and influence long-term outcomes such as potential for overweight, obesity, and independent living. However, participation in an early intervention program such as recreational summer camp may result in significant improvement in children's language, social, communication, and motor skill development. The camp can also assist in increasing children's participation in daily physical activities, which may help reduce obesity rates in children with ASD and assist them to develop a long lasting healthy lifestyle.

While the obesity rate among children in the United States has become a public health concern (Ogden, Carroll, Curtin, Lamb, & Flegal, 2010), it is an even greater concern for children and adolescents with disabilities (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2008). They have a higher incidence of being overweight and are twice as likely to be physically inactive (Rimmer, Rowland, & Yamaki, 2007). Among children with disabilities, those with autism spectrum disorder have an even higher prevalence of obesity than children who do not have autism (Curtin, Anderson, Must, & Bandini, 2010).

Children with ASD appear to be in need of programs and services that address their unique abilities, help them prevent additional health risk, and, at the same time, promote leisure and recreational skills that may lead to physically active lifestyles (Longmuir & Bar-Or, 2000; Rimmer et al., 2007). Unfortunately, limited community-based opportunities exist for physical activity and recreational programs among children with disabilities, particularly those with ASD (Rimmer et al., 2007). Therefore, children with ASD may face greater challenges than their peers without ASD to combat overweight and obesity, because of their limited social outlets for recreational activities promoting health and wellness.

A plausible solution for addressing the need for leisure and recreational experiences and improving physical activity levels among children with ASD is to provide diverse physical activity experiences in safe and accessible environments. However, most traditional recreational summer camps present a number of challenges to children with ASD and their families in terms of access. Children with ASD are not typically accepted to the recreational camps because a majority of camp staff do not know how to handle autistic behaviors, especially children with severe autism. The lack of adequate recreational camp opportunities to meet the needs of this special population in San Marcos and surrounding areas makes it more difficult for these children to enjoy a real and lasting summer experience.

Goal of Recreational Autism Summer Camp

The goal of this recreational autism summer camp was to serve children with ASD from an underserved population with special needs in the San Macros community. Specifically, this camp was designed to provide children with ASD access to quality summer camp experiences to improve their social, language, communication, and motor skills, while being sensitive to each child's unique abilities, as well as ensuring their safety and enjoyment.

This camp was the first of its kind in the San Marcos community to specifically focus on children with ASD. University students participating in service-learning volunteered to serve as the camp counselors. Trained camp counselors embedded therapeutic and educational goals into recreational activities and provided supportive and nurturing interaction and instruction. …

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Developing a Recreational Summer Camp for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
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