Master of Science (MSc)
Faculty of Science
Dr. Pam Bryden
Dr. Paula Fletcher
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the most commonly diagnosed neurological disorder in children today, affecting an estimated 1 in 150 to 1 in 160 children in Canada (Health Canada, 2013). Children with ASD have reduced communication skills as well as restrictive and repetitive behaviours and interests (APA, 2014). Unfortunately there are few recreational activities available for the autistic population. Past research has shown dance/movement therapy to be beneficial for children on the spectrum, but there is a dearth of literature regarding recreational dance. Dance is a form of physical activity that fosters skill development, provides social opportunities, and can be made accessible for all people. The purpose of this research was to explore the experiences of children with ASD as they participated in recreational dance. This study had two parts, a qualitative component to capture the lived experiences of children with ASD through the perspective of their caregivers, dance instructors, and volunteers; and a quantitative component to measure physical skill development in children with ASD over time.
The participants were as follows: four children with ASD (two sisters), three caregivers, three dance instructors, and three dance volunteers. One child, caregiver, instructor and volunteer were recruited from Studio 2, and the rest were recruited from studio 1. Caregivers, instructors, and volunteers completed a background questionnaire and one-on-one semi-structured interview. Interviews were transcribed verbatim, supplemented with the researcher’s field notes, and then sent back to the participants in the form of a member check. Two salient themes emerged upon analysis of the qualitative data, which were creating dance programs for all abilities and what it means to be a dancer. All participants felt that these two programs were beneficial, not only for the children with ASD, but also the caregivers, instructors, and volunteers.
Each participant with ASD completed a battery of motor tests (for balance, endurance, locomotion, flexibility, and body awareness) at four points in time over a five month period. While the participants discussed many benefits in the qualitative component, there were few trends towards improvement in the quantitative component. This is most likely because the motor tests were designed for the neurotypical population and did not account for the high level of variability in ASD. Due to the variability of ASD symptoms in the children of this study, the quantitative results were analysed per case.
This research project has shown that participants benefitted from participating in a recreational dance program based on the perspectives of their caregivers, instructors, and volunteers. Future research should work towards finding sound testing measures for children with ASD. Additionally, further research regarding children and adolescents with ASD and other disabilities is warranted.
Reinders, Nicole, "Dancing with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Mixed Methods Investigation" (2015). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 1732.