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Helping young Australians get real world ready
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SUPPORTING NEURODIVERGENT STUDENTS IN THE OUTDOORS

In Australia and abroad, there is a significant amount of research to suggest outdoor education is highly beneficial to neurodivergent students. For example, a study published in 2019, showed exposure to nature provided motor-sensory, emotional, and social benefits to autistic children. There is also much Occupational Therapy experimentation starting to begin in nature settings allowing neurodivergent children the ability to discover a sense of self-confidence and resilience as they overcome challenges.

In support of this idea, our facilitators often experience teachers expressing how positive the behaviour of neurodivergent students is in outdoor education environments compared to in the classroom. This is unsurprising, when we consider the amount of time in our history we have spent living, learning and working indoors is very small. As humans, we are designed for a natural environment.

This research is extremely encouraging, however parents of neurodivergent students may hesitate to thrust their children into an outdoor education camp with a mix of neurotypical and neurodivergent students for fear their needs won’t be met or prioritised.

To provide insight (and perhaps some peace of mind), into how The Outdoor Education Group (OEG)’s programs tailor the camp experience for students of all abilities, we’ve put together an article on how we support neurodivergent students in the outdoors.

PRE-PROGRAM SCREENING

As part of all pre-program screening, all parents are required to complete a comprehensive form with a medical component dedicated to mental, behavioural or physical challenges. This form allows parents the ability to disclose any challenges their child is facing, the severity of their condition, any associated medication and detail around triggers and where challenges tend to show up in daily life.

This information informs the tailored plan created for the student.

STUDENT-SPECIFIC PLAN

As each student’s challenges may vary significantly, the responses provided from every neurodivergent student’s pre-program screening form will be used to create a tailored plan. In some cases, team leaders will ask parents for more information given their knowledge of programs, and this will help ensure all facilitators are aware of the support a student may need to have a safe and enjoyable camp experience.

In many cases, these plans are created in collaboration with the school which allows for considerations like a dedicated support teacher where required, and even strategies for certain behaviours that can be used by program facilitators.

In some cases, the overall activity plan for individual students or their group may be altered to accommodate for a student’s challenges or help avoid triggers. An example might be if a student is extremely claustrophobic, that student might sleep in a cabin rather than a tent and their group might avoid any activities that involve small dark spaces.

In addition, there are always options, especially for those neurodivergent students who are brand new to camping or even just overnight stays away from home. These might include a shorter stay where the student’s parents might pick the student up after a night or two.

For some students with ADHD, simple communication strategies may be employed like asking the student to repeat instructions back to the educator to ensure the instruction was heard and understood.

"Our team working within programs are aware of student challenges, with each facilitator  briefed by a Team Leader or a Course Coordinator. This preparation allows each team member to be mindful of things. For example maybe a student can't carry a backpack or be in a confined space."

Manjul Prateeti: General Manager Educational Delivery and Outdoor Education Professional Development

FACILITATOR SENSITIVITY AND UNDERSTANDING

A unique point about OEG educators is many have Dyslexia. The general feeling is something about the outdoors takes away the pressure and feelings of inadequacy they may experience in structured, everyday life as neurodivergent people.

What this means for neurodivergent students anticipating a camp trip is many educators will have a level of sensitivity and understanding around the challenges those students are facing.

As an organisation, we are also passionate about the inclusion of all people into the outdoors. Our team is keen to meet students where they are and work with them to ensure everyone leaves having had a great experience.

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