UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Parent experiences promoting safe and active recreation for children living with autism spectrum disorders in rural settings Shannon, Crystal Ann


Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families experience challenges and barriers at multiple levels that influence their activity participation. The purpose of this thesis study was to develop understanding about factors influencing how families can promote safe, active recreation for their children 3-12 years living with ASD across rural Okanagan settings and how small centres and rural communities can provide supports for inclusive and safe environments. This qualitative study used an interpretive descriptive approach to explore the views of parents related to safe physical activity needs, barriers and supports for children ages 3-12 years living with ASD in rural Okanagan, British Columbia communities. Data collection included in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 12 families, followed by broad-based coding and thematic analysis. Results emerged as four major themes and subsequent subheadings: 1) Barriers to safe, inclusive recreational participation surrounded wide-ranging safety concerns that were linked to child’s special interests, complex vulnerabilities, and elopement in rural context. Struggling for inclusive options was another emergent subtheme that hindered child participation and involved a significant lack of community awareness and social exclusion, lack of access to suitable programs, coach/instructor approach, and financial and logistical constraints. 2) Socially supportive rural communities related to parents’ experiences of social supports and perceptions of enhanced safety for their children due to familiarity with community members. 3) Parents taking charge for safe participation was facilitated by parent/family involvement, child-centred activity engagement by families, acceptance, and constant supervision and safety planning. 4) Community needs identified included a strong parental desire for safe physical spaces, increasing access to safe, inclusive recreation, and training needs to support their child living with ASD in physical activities and recreational engagement in rural settings. In conclusion, this study highlights family-centred priority issues such as parental safety concerns related to elopement and risk of injury heightened by environmental and outdoor hazards prominent in rural settings. Autism awareness and recreational training is needed and could incorporate collaborative development of child specific safety plans to foster inclusive opportunities. Program planners can use this information to encourage policy making to aid families’ safe activity participation and healthy child development.

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