There is a new kind of therapy available for Autistic children and adults. As well as children and adults, that fall under the Autism Spectrum Disorder. This therapy has proven to be beneficial to Autistic individuals. The therapy involves horses. It is called Hippotherapy.
Hippotherapy derives from the Greek work hippo, which means horse. It is a physical therapy that is provided under a physician’s supervision. It is usually used as part of a comprehensive therapeutic package. It benefits children, youth and adults that have physical and / or developmental disabilities. When horses are used for therapeutic programs, it has many of the same benefits, but is more of a recreational riding program for the disabled and does not usually involve supervision.
These therapies use the horse’s multi dimensional rhythmic movements, which resembles the natural walking of humans to achieve specific therapeutic outcomes. The therapists help patients ride the horse’s in different positions. They include sitting or lying forward or backward or sideways; standing up in the stirrups and riding without holding on. The movement of the horse moves the rider’s pelvis in the correct way, while also stimulating other bones, ligaments and joints. The horse can move a person in more than one way, such as tilting, rotating, and moving the rider. When sitting on a horse it can help improve core muscle strength, muscle symmetry, balance, posture, flexibility, circulation, and coordination and breathing, which can make it easier to speak. Hippotherapy can greatly improve an Autistic child’s’ sense of their own bodies in space. With this therapy, it frequently does not use saddles, it allows a child receive sensations from the horse’s movements. It can make a child more aware of where parts of his or her body are in relation to the horse.
When riding the horses, it can encourage the rider to use speech in order to communicate. The communication can be with the therapist and/or the horse. On occasion, non-verbal children have suddenly started talking, especially in using the horse’s name or ask the horse to start moving. This can be a solid but enjoyable period of time for stimulation and exercise.
The horses that are used for Hippotherapy are specifically chosen and trained. They are trained to be gentle, patient and calm. The unconditional, non-judgmental aspect of the bond between a horse and the patient encourages the child to form an attachment. It also helps with interactions between another living being, which is often difficult for Autistic children to achieve. They do not realize that they participating in a therapeutic activity.
It should also be noted….the first time an autistic child is introduced to Hippotherapy, they can often exhibit types of behaviors often accompanied with changes ion their physical environment. These behaviors can include crying, screaming, tantrums, and avoidance behaviors (flopping down and becoming limp). The behaviors are usually gone by the second time the child comes for therapy. If there is some change, like the horse stops, you might see some tantrums. Once a child is taught noise or motion to get the horse to move again, the behaviors stop.
The therapy gives autistic children the sense of themselves and their bodies. In addition, you might notice increased contact and interaction with the surrounding world. A child’s self-confidence can greatly increase and they form a sense of competence by learning how to interact and work with the horse. They can also quickly form attachments and relationships with the horse they ride, which is expanded to include teachers, trainers, therapists and family members.
Here are some places in the area that offer Hippotherapy. They are Equestrian Therapies in Hunker, PA, Equine Assisted Therapy/Hippotherapy in Damascus, PA, Horses & Horizons Therapeutic Learning Center in New Ringgold, PA, and The Pocono Equestrian Center in Scranton, PA and Special Equestrians in Warrington, PA.