How Equine Therapy Can Help Children With Autism
Having autism, a spectrum disorder, means various hindrances an individual can experience and exhibit, making it challenging to understand treatment options. Even with a wide range of possible levels of cognitive and physical delays and capabilities, equine or hippotherapy is beneficial. Using the MiraColt is a great way to have regular and unchanging access to hippotherapy without considering the weather, horse or stable availability, and other independent variables that may arise. Recognizing this treatment option’s effects to provide support will help you more clearly understand how equine therapy can help children with autism.
The discovery of equine therapy brought about exciting results in general. It was found that the way a horse walks is similar to the human walking gait. This brought about a way to move the body without having the individual walk if they were not yet strong enough or unable. By providing a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) a model for the way the body moves when walking provides a baseline or jump-off point to begin therapy and growth.
Equine therapy has been found to not only help a child become more acquainted with the body and ways to control it, but has been shown to have a calming effect as well. The repetitiveness and slow movements are soothing to the rider. This is a time for the child to look inward and focus on how the body moves and how it feels while riding.
Sense of Body
Modeling the walking gait is the start of helping children feel a sense of their bodies. Depending on the severity of ASD within an individual, they may have spent the majority of life thus far unable to do much independent moving. As a child begins equine therapy, there is suddenly a need for many muscle groups to activate that otherwise may not have gotten much use. This puts the child in the driver’s seat (so to speak) on building muscle and gaining control over the body, as it allows the child to receive sensory and motor input.
Fine Motor Skills
With an increased sense of body comes a slew of skills to develop and fine-tune. Gaining complete control of one’s hands and other body parts with ASD can be difficult. During equine therapy, the child will need to hold on to the handle, which would be the horn on a horse saddle. Developing grasping skills that strengthen the hands is beneficial for a child to use their bodies and limbs more effectively and hold on securely while riding.
Gross Motor Skills
Gross motor skills can be a work in progress for many developing children with ASD and others alike. The key is to start small, building up core, leg, and arm muscles. Using Chariot Innovations’ MiraColt allows for work to be done on strengthening these muscle groups and loosening the hips through hip abduction.
Therefore, it increases flexibility and strength while the child learns to mount the device, sit stably, and move with the simulation. Holding on and moving with the device’s gait will also contribute to better hand and eye coordination. Reaching for the handle, staying on by holding the handle, and stabilizing larger body movements during riding offer new possibilities for better harmonization of all body parts and functions.
With flexible hips and core strength comes balance! Balance is critical in all gross motor movement. Building up these areas allows for increased stability when walking, running, sitting, throwing, and other similar actions. This contributes to a safer life for your child as balance and core strength enable him or her to more easily sit up from a lying position, move if uncomfortable or in danger, use hands and body more purposefully, as well as much more.
Self-Control and Confidence
As a child’s fine and gross motor skills start to develop, their confidence will increase as well. Feeling weak and not being able to control one’s body movements can be incredibly frustrating. As the child develops newfound strength and control, you should see a rise in confidence and openness to doing more. Improved self-control and confidence are steps toward a more autonomous existence, and thus a happier child.
There is a potential for improvements to be made regarding speech through hippotherapy. The simulation of therapeutic horseback riding equipment often instills excitement within the child, potentially initiating the verbalization of thoughts and feelings. Moreover, a brief equine therapy session triggers the use of thousands of muscles. This sort of brain stimulation unlocks avenues to promote positive speech development by opening new motor pathways.
Once the body is on the way to better flexibility, strength, and cognitive and physical control, you may work on behavior. Many professionals, and consequently parents, follow applied behavior analysis (ABA) guidelines to increase positive behaviors and discourage negative ones in children with autism. The focus of ABA is to enhance behaviors and responses that arise in social situations. The environment, the ways of learning, and focusing on behavioral changes may help with performance. Equine therapy allows for brain stimulation and positive reinforcement due to providing the child with a fun treatment to look forward to (be rewarded with) that brings various hidden benefits.
Applying New Skills
Knowing how equine therapy can help children with autism will lend support to the child and to the people in the child’s life in many ways. Numerous questions arise with an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. Ultimately, knowing ways to help a child with autism become stronger, safer, and more communicative is the end goal.
There are endless applications for the skills learned and developed through brain stimulation accompanied with equine therapy. It is worth looking into the options for your child with autism to experience such treatment. The more people who can speak on the benefits, the more we know about autism and ways to support individuals with ASD. Give your child the best chances to be successful with a treatment that encompasses so many development and necessary therapy areas for people on the spectrum. A healthier body and mind only increase the quality of your child’s life.