Via the Putnam Northern Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES):
Climbing an 8-foot wall, getting over a wooden wheel suspended between two trees or balancing a group of students on a 4x8 seasaw are among the physical challenges that students tackle together when participating in the challenge courses offered by the Center for Environmental Education at Putnam Northern Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services.
School districts throughout the region already use the challenge course to help students understand the characteristics of an effective group of people as well as to promote problem-solving, leadership and team-building skills in students.
Now, through a grant from the Association for Challenge Course Technology, the staff of the Center for Environmental Education and special education will team up to study whether participating in challenge courses can help improve communication skills in students on the autism spectrum.
“This is an exciting opportunity to study whether challenge courses can help students with pervasive developmental disorders,” said Mike Sowul, Principal of the Walden School at PNW BOCES. “We already use many different approaches to help students on the spectrum but there has been little to no research on challenge courses as an intervention. This could be another avenue to help them.”
The autism spectrum is a group of pervasive developmental disorders characterized by difficulty communicating and socializing as well as repetitive behaviors. Several students in the CLASS (Communication. Language, Academic and Social Skills) program at BOCES will be given the opportunity to participate in the challenge courses.
The parents of participating students will be asked to complete a detailed questionnaire about their child’s sociability to determine a base line. The students will then visit the challenge course a number of times, where special educators will combine typical challenge course activities with proven strategies for improving language and socialization in children on the autism spectrum.
After the intervention, the parents will again be asked to complete a questionnaire to determine whether there has been any improvement.
Donna Abemayor, a challenge course facilitator for the Center for Environmental Education, with a background in social work will oversee the research in collaboration with Sowul and JoAnn Del Brocco and Dorna Schroeter of the Center for Environmental Education.