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Effects of equine assisted therapy on autism


This article concerns the effects of equine assisted therapy (therapeutic horseback riding) on autism. Equine assisted therapy is similar to therapeutic horseback riding. In addition to riding, the therapy involves the patient with the grooming, tacking, and general caring for the horse. In equine assisted therapy the patient spends a significant amount of time bonding with the horse.

This therapy is said to benefit the communication, motor skills, and social skills of an autistic person. It also causes improvement in responses to verbal and external stimuli and relaxation.

Contents

Communication

Equine assisted therapy works almost like a reward system. When a child with poor communication skills wants the horse to walk they have to use a verbal command to move the horse forward it gives them incentive to give that command. Also, they will begin to build a bond with the horse and also with the handlers of that horse.

Motor skills

Although the horses are leaded during therapy lessons they learn to pull the reins to move the horse to one direction or another. Also sometimes games while on horseback will improve motor skills. These could be reaching down to grab something or giving the handler a high-five.

Social skills

They will learn to interact with the horses handlers to convey to them what they want the horse to do. If they want the horse to walk they have to learn from the handler how to ask the horse to do that. Also, it helps them to focus on something outside from themselves which is a difficulty for people with autism.

Responses to verbal/external stimuli

When the handler tells them to ask the horse to walk if they don’t react the horse will not go anywhere. When they do begin to respond and the handler walks the horse off it rewards them by giving them what they want. It works the same with if the handler asks them to brush the horse if they respond and help brush the horse they will then get to ride otherwise they do not get to ride.

Relaxation

People with autism cannot ignore one sense and let another take over the way most people can. Instead, they see, smell, hear, taste, and feel, and think all at once giving them sort of a sensory overload that they cannot handle. Riding a horse helps them concentrate on just the task they are doing rather than everything all at once. They will begin to relax because they don’t feel so overwhelmed. Children in equine assisted therapy usually work with therapists during their riding session. The free environment where the child feels they have more control rather than the usual confined office allows them to feel more comfortable and be more likely to open up to the therapist.

Safety

Many people might ask if it’s safe for someone with poor motor and communication skills to ride a horse. But while there are always some risks involved every precaution is taken. There are side walkers who help to stabilize the child and the horse is matched to the rider’s ability level. The benefits of therapeutic riding by far outweigh the risks.[1][2]

References


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