How Wilderness Adventure Therapy Can Help Teens With Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Highly-trained and caring therapist combined with educated and understanding staff, working together develop effective and impactful therapy programs. Teens with ASD benefit greatly from the individual attention and daily mentoring by caring staff who understand the complexity of their struggles. Highly-trained and caring therapists that are attentive and aware of each student’s unique strengths, interests, and needs provide each student with an individualized treatment plan. When working together, the staff and therapists are able to create an environment where teens feel safe to experiment with new coping skills, practice social interaction, develop executive functioning, and improve daily living skills.

To help in the development of an individualized treatment plan and its implementation, it is important to include:

  • Comprehensive, multidisciplinary assessment on-site and in the community
  • Individualized training in social, emotional, behavioral, and communication skills
  • Confidence, motivation, and self efficacy learned activities
  • Treatment goals that are updated on a weekly basis
  • Regular and consistent communication with parents and referring professionals
  • Ongoing functional assessment of each student results and integrated recommendations for further treatment

A Wilderness Adventure Therapy Program as a Unique Therapeutic Setting

Effective therapeutic programs meant to support adolescents on the autism spectrum should have an emphasis on helping to develop healthy social skills, emotional regulation, executive functioning, and daily living skills, while also helping support and empower the parents and improve family relations. Wilderness Adventure Therapy can be uniquely designed to provide an environment where each of these occurs. When in the wilderness, it is necessary to weave individual care, learn and maintain basic living skills, develop confidence when being exposed to new experiences, and develop greater emotional wellbeing, independence, and self efficacy (one’s belief they can do hard things). It is possible to weave all of this together because of the distinct opportunity for experiential learning, functional assessment, and generalization available through a Wilderness Adventure Therapy Program.

A Wilderness Adventure Therapy Program Facilitates Skill Development Through Experiential Learning

Skills are best learned through explicit teaching and opportunities to experience. Many teens have experienced limited growth or failure when engaging in traditional talk therapy. Because of the variety of wilderness and adventure activities that can be used in conjunction with therapy, most teens find excitement and satisfaction in trying new activities while learning new skills:  coping skills, emotional regulation, social development, relationships, etc.. Almost always, while in the moment of adventure, there is instant feedback provided by nature, themselves, and peers, with continual support and instruction from staff and other professionals. Because of the safe and positive environment created by everyone participating, the sense of accomplishment, and the beauty of the surrounding nature, an optimal learning and practice environment is created for ideal skill acquisition and refinement. Experiential learning does not permit passive engagement, it engages and promotes an active participant in their personal development and therapeutic process.

A Wilderness Adventure Therapy Program Provides Parents Direction Through Functional Assessment

When treating ASD, having a thorough functional assessment helps to clearly identify and provide an understanding of strengths, deficits, and motivations. These results give direction for treatment, allowing resources to be effectively targeted to treat problem areas. Through the Wilderness Adventure Therapy, constant assessments in a variety of settings are used to evaluate behavior, emotions, and effect of interventions as part of daily routines, adventure activities, group interactions, and with variables outside of one’s control (i.e., weather).  As parents better understand their teens with ASD, they will be able to more effectively respond to their needs, develop stronger familial bonds, and help them to grow and develop and function well within society.

A Wilderness Adventure Therapy Program Empowers Students with Generalizable Skills

Learning and practicing common skills within safe and controlled environment is vital to effective development of healthy patterns of interaction to be continued after treatment. In Wilderness Adventure Therapy Programs, these skills are able to be developed within a variety of safe and unique environments and circumstances. Research shows that the opportunity to generalize, practice and apply common skills within a variety of settings, improves continuity post treatment and increases the success to use those skills in normal living environments. For example, while in the wilderness, teens can learn and practice coping skills for anxiety as they talk with peers, rock climbing, hike, try new food, or sleep under the stars. As they develop confidence in their ability to apply a common coping skill throughout varied environments with different stressors, they will be able to recognize and apply with more certainty that same coping skill when returning to common daily life. The generalization, and engaging environment, where these skills are learned help empower teens with ASD find more success in the home, school, work and other social settings with confidence.


The teenage years are a difficult time for all teenagers. However, for those individuals on the autism spectrum, these years can be especially challenging due to a variety of social and learning differences. Though these differences can be extremely frustrating to both the individual and their parent, it is important to remember that with the right strategies and support, the challenges that teens with autism face are, in fact, treatable. By implementing an individualized treatment plan in a nurturing and supportive environment, your teen can build and develop the skills and self-confidence they need to thrive in the real world.

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