It is estimated that in 2006, an average of 1 in 100 children in the United States of America (USA) were born with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In addition to impairments in social interaction, those with ASD are reported to demonstrate poor social competence and a lowered self-esteem. Currently, there is no cure for ASD. However, early intervention can improve academic and social development.
Alternative therapy interventions, such as hippotherapy, dolphin therapy, aquatic therapy, and surfing therapy have previously reported increased success and independence. However, these results are mainly through anecdotal evidence and small sample sizes. There is a need to determine the effectiveness of alternative therapies on ASD impairments through standardized instruments, in addition to instruments specific to the curriculum being implemented. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to determine the benefits and outcomes of a two-day surf camp curriculum on social competence, social skills, and self-concept changes of campers with ASD.
The sample for this study consisted of 11 campers, 18 parents, and 26 volunteer staff from a combination of two surf camps. Campers took part in a surf camp curriculum entitled "Learning Through Sun Sand and SURF". The curriculum included four components: the surf camp family social, a classroom camper orientation during which campers learned the "SURF Camp Social Skills for Group Activities", the two-day surf camp that consisted of surfing and group activities, and a follow-up surf camp family social.
Data were collected one week prior to surf camp (pre), at the completion of surf camp (post), then again two weeks following surf camp (retention). The study employed a quasi-experimental design using various instruments. These instruments were used to address social competence, social skills, self-concept, parent demographics and perceptions of the surf camp curriculum, and curriculum activity implementation.
Findings from the study indicated that through quantitative analysis in the area of social competence, camper results revealed significance in assertion, responsibility, and engagement. In general, both campers and parents perceived that the curriculum improved the camper's social competence. "Positive interaction" and "positive friendship" were the two major themes in quantitative analysis of social competence. Quantitatively, campers felt they improved in their overall social skills from the first to the last activity at surf camp. Volunteers of the campers; however, did not agree with the overall improvement of social skills from one activity to the next. Rather than seeing an improvement in each activity, social skill usage fluctuated. One explanation for this could be the level of self-awareness of the campers, and their physical and mental states after two days of surfing.
Parents perceptions on the quantitative portion of the questionnaire revealed out of the five activities presented at surf camp, those with significance included the paddle relay and sandcastle activities. Qualitatively, parent perceptions responses indicated: "positive interactions" as the most common theme emerging in the social competence question, "positive interaction" as the social skills question, and "positive confidence" in the self-concept question.