Equine Therapy for Asperger’s and Autism

Asperger’s syndrome is a subtype of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) where a noticeable difficulty in social interaction and nonverbal communication is manifested by an individual. For many who have worked with Asperger kids, clumsiness and peculiar language can be observed.

Similarly, children with autism show impaired social interaction, as well as verbal and nonverbal communication. Repetitive behavior and speech patterns are characteristics of autistic individual.

The focus of a treatment program for Asperger’s and autism is improving and modifying behavior. In carrying this out, attempts to aid the person in developing continuously as complexity of behavior demands. Although no medical cure has been found for children with Asperger’s and autism, doctors can only prescribe medications to control hyperactivity or seizures.

Equine-assisted therapy

Can alternative therapy programs be beneficial to children with Asperger’s syndrome and autism? This is how animal-assisted therapy brought new dimension in the psychotherapy of many children with special needs. Animals such as the dolphin, dogs and horses provide opportunity for interaction. The tactile contact provides non-verbal message of support and relaxation.

Equine-assisted therapy so far has shown commendable results. The slow, deliberate, relaxing but rhythmic motion indirectly teaches the child to improve focus; the horses’ motion also creates a calming effect to the rider.

The horse and the rider

Maybe you’re wondering how the horse and the child develop a bond together. The program provides, as a policy, that the horse will choose its rider. The program staff cannot assign a child to a horse, or vice versa. As a procedure, a staff leads the child to a horse. When the horse reaches for the child by dipping his nuzzles, then the chosen one is declared.

Tactile sense

The fuzzy skin of the horse, the rough mane and tail, and the soft nose stimulate the child’s tactile senses. When the rider discovers these different sensations, then the child is drawn out and can start developing his interest in physical things and will start to improve verbal communications.

Motor skills

New skills including motor skills are developed by the child as he or she learns to ride, groom and tack. A therapist or program staff is always around while the child learns new skills and continues to improve them. It is an effective way to ease the fear of learning new things, increase the desire to learn skills at home and in school which in the process builds self-confidence. As a result, riders see learning as interesting, fun-filled and fulfilling.

Social interaction

Interaction with the counselor or therapist and the staff teaches the child how to improve his or her social skills during therapy sessions. There are group sessions allowing kids to work and play with other riders and counselors. During group sessions, they learn to be helpful and develop the ability to handle relational conflicts. For example, angry outbursts are rare as kids learn to be calm. Those who seldom smile have learned to frequently and readily react to fascinating and funny incidences. In short, overall mood improved together with improvements in communication and motor skills.

Like other animal-assisted therapy, animals have shown a calming and soothing effect to children. Autistic kids are drawn out of their shells. Kids who isolate themselves have been observed to open up and gradually socialize. Eye contact is developed first with the animal, then with other people around them. Interaction and relational skills begin with the animal, then again with people.

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Angela Gulikers
Angela Gulikers

I would like to learn more about helping kids with autism.
Please let me know what I can do to use my horse in a program.