LVC Students Develop Project to Help Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder

LVC Physical Therapy and Early Childhood Education students participate in a rock climbing program

When students come to Lebanon Valley College, they can expect to learn beyond the classroom. And for some physical therapy and early childhood education majors, this means taking the skills they’ve gained and putting them to real-world use. These students, in collaboration with a local gym, developed a rock climbing program for adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

ASD is a developmental disorder that can affect one’s socialization skills, causing communication and behavioral-related difficulties. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 68 children are diagnosed with a form of ASD. When some physical therapy students learned that adolescents with this disorder are often underserved when it comes to physical activity in a social space, they decided to take action. 

“Through our research, we discovered that as individuals with ASD age, they become more sedentary and are afforded fewer opportunities in the community domain,” says Adam Fuehrer ’17. “By creating the rock-climbing program, we provided a unique experience for this group to socialize with their peers, while also getting the added benefit of exercise.”

Working with Mike Decavalcante, an adapted climbing instructor at Climbnasium in Mechanicsburg, along with Dr. Kathryn Oriel, LVC professor of physical therapy, and early childhood education students, this project was able to be implemented. Not only was it successful, but it also had an impact on the students who helped make it happen.

“We saw multiple adolescents who came to the activity very quiet and reserved, but once they began climbing and gained self-assurance, their whole demeanor changed,” says Katelyn Stoltz ’17. “They began to talk while climbing, planning out the next level of climbing difficulty that they wanted to complete, and gaining overall confidence in this new skill. “

“I would have to say my favorite and most rewarding part of this project was seeing the look of achievement on the faces of the participants after they climbed to the top of the rock-wall,” adds Fuehrer. “There was one individual who was very shy and kept himself secluded from everyone. When he began climbing, he was a whole new person, laughing and even telling us jokes. These outcomes made the whole project worthwhile.” 

The collaboration between the physical therapy and early childhood education students was a perfect match for the project—the education majors have an understanding of ASD and how to best encourage adolescents, while physical therapy majors bring their knowledge of physical movement, activity level based on heart rate, and climbing tips to the table.  

“Together with the education students, we were able to problem-solve better and interact with the adolescents to the fullest extent,” says Stoltz.

The findings from the project are going to be presented at the Combined Sections Meeting (CSM) Physical Therapy Education Conference in Texas. Danny Willey ’17 and Kayla Klumpp ’17 will attend the conference and represent the group as they present their research findings.