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Rock Climbing's therapeutic benefits for people with Autism and Asperger's - July, 24 2009

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Rock Climbing's Therapeutic Benefits for People with Autism and Asperger's

By: Katherine Weadley

Reprinted with the express permission of Katherine Weadley as originally published on The Website.

Rock climbing has major benefits for people with Autism and Asperger's Syndrome.

These people are challenged with atypical neurologies and this can manifest in wide variety of behaviors.

Still, according to the Autism Society of American they share many traits such as uneven gross and fine motor skills, noticeable overactivity or under-activity, and the inability to respond to normal teaching methods. As well, people challenged with Autism or Asperger's have difficulty with communication and social skills.

Rock climbing is one-stop therepeutic shopping. Plus, it's therapy disguised as play. However, it is important to have an instructor familiar with both autism and rock climbing. Safety, as with all climbing, always comes first. Climbing and related activities help to develop the vestibular system (balance) and proprioception (spatial body awareness). It improves overall muscle tone in people who typically have undeveloped muscle tone. Fine motor skills (fingers and toes) and gross motor skills (legs, arms) are developed simultaneously by this sport.

Sometimes people who are exceptionally challenged have sensory integration dysfunction, which is improper neurological interpretations of sensory information. Rock climbing is very tactile, both in the holds and in the texture of the walls (indoor climbing) and in the texture of the rock (outdoor climbing). The holds (indoor climbing) are brightly colored with different shapes and can stimulate visually and hold interest.

Communication is essential between the climber and the belayer (the person at the bottom in charge of the rope). When climbers don't communicate there are consequences such as falling a short distance in a safe and risk-free environment. Climbers are motivated to communicate by the joy of climbing and risk avoidance. Rock climbing also provides problem-solving skills, independent thinking and choice-making and enhanced risk taking decisions in a safe and nurturing environment.

Several programs provide rock climbing to the exceptionally challenged. Through Princeton University there is Outdoor Action and Peak Potential programs in New Jersey. In Utah, Splore's Rock On! program for kids with Autism recently received a grant from the advocacy group Autism Speaks. In Boulder, ABC Kids's Climbing offers one-on-one private instruction for kids with disabilities. If your nearby rock climbing gym or program doesn't offer these services don't hesitate to ask. They may have informal programs or your interest may start a program. If you are a rock climber who wants to make a difference then offer to volunteer or start a program of your own.

While rock climbing has many benfits for people with Autism and Aspergers these benefits are not limited to this demographic. Rock climbing benefits just about everyone in many of the same ways (and more) discussed in this article. For more information on the benefits of rock climbing check out or ask any rock climber, physical therapist or occupational therapist.

Featured Author: Katherine Weadley

Katherine is a climbing instructor in Boulder, CO. She climbs because it challenges her mind and body and gets her out of her comfort zone. Katherine started her writing career at a Boulder newspaper in 1990. She can be reached at You may also see more of her articles at her Examiner Home Page

Tags: OT PT Autism Aspergers Syndrome Adaptive Rock Climbing July 2009 Newsletter Article