Benefits of EAAT with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Hippotherapy and equine-assisted therapy use the horse’s multi-dimensional rhythmic movement, which resembles the natural walking gait of humans, to achieve specific therapeutic outcomes. Therapists help clients ride the horse in different positions, including sitting or laying forward, backward, or sideways; standing up in the stirrups; and riding on the horse without holding on. Specially trained physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech/language therapists use this therapy with autistic children and kids with a wide range of other types of disabilities
A 2009 study, conducted by Bass, Duchowny and Llabre, 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 senses and understand how their bodies relate to the external world. Equine-assisted therapy has been shown to help a child gain a sense of body awareness while improving sensory integration.
The benefits experienced by kids with mental and emotional disabilities are also due to the special relationship they develop with the horse. The horses are specifically chosen and trained to be gentle, patient, and calm. The unconditional, non-judgmental aspect of the bond between the horse and the child encourages the child to form an attachment and interact with another living being, which is especially difficult for autistic kids to achieve. One of the greatest benefits of this type of therapy is the enjoyment kids get out of it. They don’t even realize they are participating in a therapeutic activity – it’s just a lot of fun!
EAAT 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 learn how to interact and work with their horse. These children quickly form attachments and relationships with the horse they ride, and this behavior is then expanded to include teachers, trainers, therapists, and family.