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PSIA-Ski School Certification for Autism Skis

This post is by Deb Sullivan Gravelle, Executive Director, Extreme Sports Camp. Her contact information is

The Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) has designated the Autism Skis program at Extreme Sports Camp an accredited ski school. ESC, located in Aspen, Colorado, is the first autism-specific program in the country to receive this certification.  The PSIA is the national sport governing body for skiing. It provides training standards and instructor certifications in the United States.

It's important that organizations working in the autism community strive to increase the capacity and opportunities for people with autism across all facets of life. PSIA's accreditation of an autism program represents a step forward in adapting PSIA's rigorous teaching approach for autism learners and it raises the profile of the autism population among this important professional association.

To obtain this designation, ESC is utilizing only PSIA certified instructors for lessons, and instructors have been trained for over 40 hours on autism-specific learning approaches. Training covered adaptations to ski progression, behavior and communication strategies, building trusting relationships, ABA tools, and social skills. The curriculum was taught by a Level III certified instructor, teachers with autism expertise, and Masters- or PhD-level autism consultants. Training classes included children and adults with autism, providing hands on experience and self-advocate guidance. ESC ski buddies, who are autism specialists providing extra on-mountain support, have also received this training.

Having certified sailing instructors for the past 12 years and now becoming a certified ski instructor myself, I continue to be impressed with how sport governing bodies are focusing on teaching skills in a progressive manor and taking into account the ways people learn – visual, auditory and kinesthetic. The certification process spends just enough time making sure that the instructor candidates know how to perform the necessary sport skills, but the majority of training time is spent working on how to teach in a variety of creative ways. This is especially important for our skiers on the spectrum, who each learn in their own way.

Extreme Sports Camp holds 8 weeks of winter ski/snowboard camps, beginning December 31, 2012 through the end of March 2013, plus individual lessons on request. ESC has made the outdoors and recreation its platform and teaches those with ASD the skills to perform a variety of sport skills in the Colorado Rockies.  Outdoor sports are a fun, real-world avenue to health and wellness. ESC hopes to use the PSIA-accreditation model for the activities it offers in the summer – kayaking, lake sports, climbing, biking – by reaching out to the sanctioning bodies for each of these sport.    

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.