Equine Therapy for Youth with Autism
Bonding with animals such as horses can promote emotional healing and improve behavior in children and teens with ASD. Feeding, grooming, and riding can help youth gain confidence, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve self-control. Besides being fun, it can be very empowering for children and teens to learn to ride and communicate with a thousand-pound horse in a ‘judgment-free’ zone. Previous riding experience is not required.
Taking care of a horse and riding one teaches young people with ASD responsibility and how to focus their attention. Even individuals with severe autism can benefit from all aspects of horsemanship. Besides the goal for the child to have fun, equine therapy often includes specific individualized goals for each rider, such as improving speech and following directions, socialization, and physical coordination and fitness. Professionals involved may be physical therapists trained to work with horses, and certified instructors with specialized training in therapeutic horsemanship.
Preparing the youth with ASD to participate in equine therapy may involve a number of steps, starting with the parents telling the child what to expect, perhaps by using a social story, cue cards, or a visual schedule. The child may need to practice wearing a helmet at home or have a parent assist them when they arrive at the stable. Once riders become comfortable and familiar with the routine, they may be introduced to different activities while on the horse, such as naming objects on a trail ride, tossing bean bags, and other games. Besides riding, grooming and caring for the horse aid in the improvement of gross and fine motor skills, and in forming an emotional bond with the animal. This nonverbal form of communication can be very calming and encourage communication and social interactions even after the therapy session.
While equine therapy can be highly beneficial, it can also be expensive. Organizations such as the Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation (ASDF) sometimes funds equine therapy for families that cannot afford it. Autism Speaks has a resource guide on their website that shows equine programs located throughout the country.
Harsha Autism Center provides ongoing care for children, adolescents, and young adults (ages 2-22) with autism to improve the quality of their lives. If you would like learn more about how Harsha Autism Center can help please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (812) 233-8833.