Effects of a therapeutic outdoor adventure on the social competency of gifted adolescents with Asperger's Syndrome or high functioning autism
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Adolescents with Asperger's Syndrome or high functioning autism (AS/HFA) are often isolated, excluded or even bullied, because of their social differences. Though the need is great for social skills interventions for this population relatively few exist. Rather than teach social skills in isolation, many experts in the field recommend incidental learning in naturalistic situations. Much in the same way, a therapeutic adventure does not teach a certain curriculum; rather the activities provide opportunities for personal and social growth. This qualitative case study investigated the effects of a 4-day therapeutic adventure on the social interactions and self-perceptions of social competency of 4 gifted male adolescents with AS/HFA. Semi-structured interviews, student report versions of the Social Skills Improvement System rating scales, and a variety of observational techniques were used to collect data. Several themes emerged from constant comparative analysis of the data. The contextual elements of the therapeutic adventure focus on independence, teamwork and physical challenge. Camping out and hiking while learning about an exciting new hobby called letterboxing, created opportunities for personal and social growth. Results indicated that there was a rise in self-perception of social competency and an increase in pro-social interaction. This may suggest that non-competitive recreational activities be explored as a naturalistic social skills intervention for adolescents with AS/HFA. The study also promotes understanding of a seldom studied group: those who are gifted with AS/HFA.