Thinking about a number of disorders and diseases, the common mode of treatment is medication or drugs prescribed by a physician. What about when the disorder involves social challenges or communication difficulties, which are not always able to be treated most effectively with medication? Autism and autism spectrum disorders are characterized by difficulties in social interaction, with severity and symptoms varying immensely between affected people. Typical treatment has a focus on modification and improvement of behavior and more recently, therapies involving animals have been incorporated including equine therapy.
Equine therapy has shown to have promising results, especially for those with disorders such as autism. Children learn to ride and interact with the horses in a number of ways. While riding, the rocking, rhythmic motion increases the focus on the movement leading to relaxation. Physically, riding develops motor skills and the bonding with the horse can influence self esteem and confidence which may carry over outside of therapy. Tasks such as grooming the horse, and interacting with the instructor both stimulate the senses and can help the child open up, improving verbal communication with the people around them.
A recently conducted study involving the effects of equine assisted therapy on autism spectrum disorders showed a clear improvement in autism spectrum symptoms using equine therapy, the effect increasing as the number of lessons increased. The study found that those with the most severe autistic symptoms benefited the least amount as a result of these patients being harder to reach and communicate with. The largest therapeutic effects were seen for sociability and sensory/cognitive awareness, with 1/3 of the patient’s improvement being clinically significant after the 12 week program.
With such positive results associated with equine and other animal related therapies on autism and related disorders, hopefully we will see an increase in their prevalence in treatment plans in the future.
Posted by: Morgan Matuszko (8)