How Equine Therapy Benefits Children with Autism

Equine therapy provides a positive, nurturing environment where your child works towards physical, occupational, and speech therapy goals.

Equine Therapy, also known as Hippotherapy, allows a child with autism to explore and practice important developmental skills with a sturdy and dependable companion who accepts them unconditionally. A child on the spectrum can easily feel left out or excluded from social situations most of us take for granted. A therapy horse is a supportive and gentle friend that your child can depend on as they try new tasks and work on a wide range of sensorimotor skills. Aside from it just being fun, the benefits of equine therapy for children with autism can provide a foundation for achieving new developmental milestones.

An Emotional Connection

Children are encouraged to not only ride, but to communicate with and care for the horse. A therapy horse will not reject your child if they act differently or make loud noises and sudden, abrupt movements. Horses also give kids on the spectrum a chance to experience the role of a caregiver. For many children with autism, learning to care for a horse provides an opportunity to experience a range of new feelings that they can own to help forge a strong emotional connection. This bond can help improve social and communication skills when your child interacts with family members and therapists.

Many children with autism have trouble touching things gently or applying an appropriate amount of pressure. Behavior and sensory issues that make it difficult for some children with autism to interact with household pets like cats and dogs will not upset, injure, or cause a negative reaction in a therapy horse. If your child has difficulty adjusting to new sensory experiences, working with an equine companion allows them to have a nurturing environment where they can work toward developmental milestones without risk to themselves or to the therapy horse.

Occupational and Physical Therapy

To stay seated on a horse involves both fine and gross motor skills; a single equine therapy session provides sensory feedback (from the motion of the horse), muscle development (from adjusting the body to stay in the saddle), and fine motor control (holding the reins and directing the horse). The horse’s movements provide sensory and proprioceptive feedback (position and movement information) from muscles and joints, and stimulates muscles as your child learns to make adjustments and work with the animal as it moves. Performing other tasks while seated on horseback can further improve fine motor skills and motor planning, as your child has to constantly adjust to remain upright.

Speech Therapy

The specific commands used, the gestures, and motions used to convey the desired movement or action to a horse also function as valuable skill builders. One of the main benefits of equine therapy programs is the many opportunities to practice communication and language, from talking about caring for the horse to giving direct instructions to the animal itself. Your child can learn to give basic directions to the horse and feel a sense of accomplishment when the horse follows those directions. This cause and effect can help your child understand the importance of verbal communication. This way, your child’s first overtures of friendship and companionship are accepted and reinforced.

If you would like to learn more about the benefits of equine therapy in children with autism, contact Integrity, Inc. at 501-406-0442. We can recommend some local equine therapy programs in Arkansas that your child will love.

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Tags: autism

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