The Benefits of Hippotherapy for the Autistic Population

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects the development of the brain. Individuals with Autism tend to have difficulties with verbal and non-verbal communication, sensory processing, and understanding or reading social cues. Some children may have difficulty concentrating on tasks, making and maintaining eye contact, completing basic skills such as eating, dressing, brushing their teeth or bathing.
 
When a child is diagnosed with autism, they are often referred to receive behaviour analytic interventions, speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy. However, Hippotherapy has been making waves as a treatment tool to help individuals accomplish therapeutic objectives. 
 
Autism Hippotherapy has been to shown to improve one’s balance, strength and motor coordination. It has also been proven to be effective in promoting language, sensory regulation as well as improving social skills as students often form an emotional bond with the horses they ride on. This then motivates children to perform skill-building tasks. 
 
A study conducted by Bass, Duchowny and Llabre in 2009, showed that children who rode horses as therapy showed improvements in several social skills after 12 weeks of therapy. The researchers found that the children became more socially motivated and improved in sensory seeking and sensitivity.  Most children with autism are unable to integrate their sense and understand how their bodies relate to the external world. Hippotherapy is a great way to help a child gain a sense of body-awareness while improving sensory integration.
 
Some other benefits of Hippotherapy with autistic population include:
 
Relaxing tight muscles 
Building muscle strength 
Improving fine motor coordination 
Sharpening hand/eye coordination 
Improvements in Posture & Flexibility 
Improving Communication (improving one’s ability to breathe makes it easier for a person to speak)
Gaining self-control
Gaining self-confidence
Improving concentration 
Improving concentration (especially for those who have difficulty staying on task with activities)
Improving socialization (Aspen, 2011) 
 
Some may wonder how hippotherapy can be used to encourage speech in a child; however during a typical session the rider is motivated to communicate with both the therapist and the horse. It has been noted that non-verbal autistic children suddenly begin to speak when they are prompted to use the horse’s name or are asked to get the horse moving. 
 
Equine therapy gives children with autism a sense of themselves and their bodies while increasing their contact and interaction with the surrounding world. A child’s self confidence will increase once they have formed a sense of competence by learning how to interact and work with their horse.  It should be noted that hippotherapy is not only a therapeutic programme for the autistic population, but has multiple benefits for children, adolescents and adults who suffer from other intellectual or developmental disabilities.
 
References:
 
Aspen. (2011). Aspen education group. Retrieved from http://aspeneducation.crchealth.com/articles/article-equine-aspergers-autism/
 
Bass, Duchowny, & Llabre, (2009). The effect of therapeutic horseback riding on social functioning in children with autism. Retrieved from http://autism.healingthresholds.com/research/effect-therapeutic-horseback-riding-social-functioning-children-autism
 
Equine therapy: Animal assisted therapy. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.equine-therapy-programs.com/therapy.html
 
Equine therapy for children with Asperger’s. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.equine-therapy-programs.com/aspergers.html
 
Ultimate Autism Guide. (2012). Research for therapeutic horseback riding for autism. Retrieved from http://ultimateautismguide.com/2012/01/autism-research-prospective-trial-of-equine-assisted-activities-in-autism-spectrum-disorder/
 
Zane, D. T. (2010, October 19). Operation autism. Retrieved from http://www.operationautismonline.org/blog/a-review-of-the-effectiveness-of-therapeutic-horseback-riding/
 

 

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