Children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders typically face a broad range of social, developmental and speech difficulties throughout their lifetime. There are numerous therapeutic interventions available to assist individuals in reaching their full potential. While many of these approaches are extremely beneficial in the targeted area, the use of therapeutic horseback riding can have endless possibilities for improving the life of an individual with autism. Here are five ways therapeutic horseback riding can positively affect people with autism.
Provides high vestibular movement: Individuals with autism that use rocking, bouncing, swinging or similar movement as a soothing behavior thoroughly enjoy the 3-dimensional flow of the horse’s gait. When this need for vestibular movement is provided through the horse’s movement, it allows the instructor to maintain the individual’s focus on other activities.
Helps to manage: Stimming can vary widely, from hand flapping to tapping and so on. When a person is redirected to a task on horseback, such as holding the reins or petting the horse, the student can find new ways to self-soothe and control the stimming behavior.
Incorporates sensory integration: Many therapeutic riding facilities can incorporate sensory integration into their sessions successfully. Individuals who typically avoid certain textures can be more relaxed during therapeutic horseback riding sessions, which will allow for a higher threshold for new tastes and smells. From the rough feel of the horse’s mane or tail, the smoothness of leather, the brittle feeling and aromatic smell of hay, many new sensory items are abundantly available at therapeutic riding facilities.
Provides positive social interactions: While participating in a therapeutic riding session, individuals have the opportunity to socialize with up to 3 people. For safety reasons, in addition to an instructor, a quality program will also incorporate trained volunteers to assist with leading the horse, and provide assistive holds during a session. This opens up the opportunity for the student to learn necessary social skills such as maintaining conversations with multiple people, picking up on social skills, asking others questions and talking about their interests.
Adapted daily living skills: Whether its opening/closing snaps and buckles, learning about the importance of safety, various adapted life skills are incorporated into sessions. Since it is common for individuals with Autism to have difficulty relating to others, often relating to the needs of the horse can become a vital opportunity for learning. Students end up bonding with the horse they ride, and this leads to teaching opportunities about the importance of grooming the horse, proper feeding off them, and how much they thrive with other horses. These are lessons that can be made relatable to an individual with autism through comparison to their daily needs.
These are five ways therapeutic horseback riding can positively influence the needs of a person living with autism. A comprehensive therapeutic riding program can incorporate these five areas, while also addressing the personal requirements of each student.