Children with autism may have difficulties forming and maintaining meaningful relationships with their peers (Reichow & Volkmar, 2009). These difficulties can lead to social isolation (Delaney & Madigan, 2009), and can impact their social, emotional and cognitive development,academic achievements (Stichter, Randolph, Gage, & Schmidt, 2007), and self-esteem (Chamberlain, Kasari, & Rotheram-Fuller, 2007). Thus, it is important to have children with autism involved in interventions to effectively teach social skills, such as therapeutic surfing camps.
Therapeutic surfing camps can be used as an intervention to foster development of social skills in children with autism. The surfing camps highlighted in this literature review covered 3 different surfing programs that included participants with ages ranging from 5-18 and varying levels of developmental disabilities and behavioral problems. These programs lasted two days, six weeks or eight weeks, and the number of participants
involved ranged from 11 to 121. The two-day surfing camp taught participants the physical skills necessary to surf, and then utilized group activities, socials, and self-reflection to promote interactions and build their social skills among their peers and staff (Cavanaugh & Rademacher, 2014; Cavanaugh et al., 2013). The two-day camps utilized video-modeling, a promising evidence-based practice, and social skills groups, an established
evidence-based practice, in order to effectively teach the desired social behaviors (Reichow & Volkmar, 2010). The Wave Project, a six-week surfing intervention, utilized one-on-one surfing training within a group setting to develop confidence, self-reliance, self-management, and social skills in children with autism (Godfrey, Devine-Wright, & Taylor, 2015; Colpus & Taylor, 2014). The goals of the eight-week adapted surfing program were
primarily centered on developing physical surfing skills (Clapham et al., 2014). Through learning these movements and interacting with volunteers and peers, the children were also able to improve across many domains, including the psychosocial domain. Overall, the surfing resulted in significant outcomes for assertion, empathy, responsibility, engagement (Cavanaugh & Rademacher, 2014),positive functioning, resilience, self-esteem, emotional wellbeing, vitality, friendship, social trust, physical health, and enjoyment in the outside
environment (Godfrey, Devine-Wright, & Taylor, 2015). While there was not significant outcomes for the following results, there was a positive effect on the results for social competence, social skills, self-concept, communication, cooperation, responsibility, engagement, self-control (Cavanaugh & Rademacher, 2014), self-confidence (Clapham et al., 2014), well-being and re-engagement in school (Colpus &Taylor, 2014).
Improvements in these skills are integral in being able to form meaningful social supports, and acts as a basis to form new skills to further these improvements (Cavanaugh & Rademacher, 2014). Long-term benefits from these programs were seen in peer relationships that extended past the camp (Cavanaugh et al., 2013), and participants’ continuation in future camps (Godfrey et al., 2015), which is of importance as it shows the longevity
of the positive benefits of the surfing camps. Despite the significant and positive findings in the studies, research on this topic is scarce, and multiple limitations were identified within the studies including possible biases within self-reports, lack of control groups, limited study samples, response-bias effects, and the locations of the
camps (Cavanaugh & Rademacher, 2014; Godfrey et al., 2015; Colpus & Taylor, 2014). Additionally, two of the studies in this review were descriptive in nature (how to develop and implement a surfing program and its positive effects), rather than studying the effectiveness of the surfing program (Cavanaugh et al., 2013; Clapham et al., 2014). We however still included the information from these two studies because they can provide
practitioners who are interested in implementing and/or researching the outcomes of a therapeutic surfing program for children with autism relevant information, as well as sources for programming.