Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2016

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Heidi Souder

Second Advisor

Dale Miller

Third Advisor

Diana Oliveras


There have been numerous studies conducted on the benefits of outdoor and environmental education for students with special needs, but there have been very few studies on how to include students with special needs in these education types. This study attempted to answer the question “What are the best practices for including children with special needs, autism, and disabilities in environmental education?” This research was completed for Thorne Nature Experience in hopes that it could benefit students with special needs at other outdoor and environmental education facilities in the future.

The data collection for this research included interviews and observation. These methods were approved by the Institutional Review Board at the University of Colorado. Eleven people were interviewed, including eight volunteers and staff members from Thorne Nature Experience and three people from other environmental education organizations. Preliminary observation data were gathered in September at the field trip program operated by Thorne Nature Experience at the Sombrero Marsh location in Boulder. In February, an after-school program at a local Boulder elementary school was observed.

The interviews and observations revealed that there are numerous ways to better include students with special needs. If a program has sufficient resources, a separate, more unstructured class should be offered for students with special needs. Instructors should receive advance notice of any students with special needs attending a program. If an inclusiveness problem arises, the instructor should involve all the students in creating a solution. Activities should be team-oriented for students, and open-ended questions should be asked.