Hippotherapy for Autistic Children - Hidden Talents ABA (2023)

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Hippotherapy is a treatment that uses horses to help people with developmental and cognitive disabilities improve their communication, social and motor skills.

autistic childrencan greatly benefit from this form of therapy because of the emotional and sensory experiences involved in riding and caring for horses.

Read on to learn more about hippotherapy and the ways it can help your child with autism achieve developmental goals.

What is hippotherapy?

Hippotherapy is a horse-assisted therapy. Equine movements provide motor and sensory inputs used in the treatment of conditions ranging from autism spectrum disorders and cerebral palsy to attention deficit disorders and developmental delays.

The term hippotherapy derives from the Greek word "hippos" for horse. In ancient Greece, therapeutic horseback riding was used to treat neurological disorders, as well as to improve joint movement, posture, and balance.

Equine therapy was introduced in Scandinavia in 1946 after an outbreak of polio, and formally developed in the United States and Canada two decades later.

How does hippotherapy work?

Hippotherapy is a multimodal form of intervention. In other words, it encompasses many different types of horse-related activities:

  • Change of position on a moving horse
  • Sitting sideways or backwards on a horse
  • Maintaining balance if the horse stops suddenly
  • Playing games while sitting on a horse
  • Engage in situational roleplay
  • Listen to the therapist and follow the instructions
  • Communication on the horse or off the horse
  • Putting on and taking off the helmet
  • Care and feeding of the horse
  • Help clean up the barn.

During a typical hippotherapy session, the child sits on a horse while the therapist guides the horse's movement. These movements stimulate the development of neural connections in the child's brain that aid in motor and language development. Adapting to the horse's movements helps develop a range of skills from muscle coordination to breath control and attention skills. In addition, children with autism often develop an emotional bond with the horse during this form of therapy, which encourages them to perform various skill-building tasks.

By combining different types of activities, the therapist provides the optimal sensory and neurological input for your child. The therapist will then analyze the child's reactions and adjust the treatment along the way.

Which horses are used for hippotherapy?

Therapy horses are carefully selected for their temperament and the type of movement they produce. Some of the most commonly used horses for hippotherapy are American Quarter Horses, which are calm, gentle, and even-tempered. They must have good gaits and symmetrical movements to train the child's muscles evenly throughout the sessions. Hippotherapy horses are specially trained for therapy sessions with autistic children.

Hippotherapy vs. therapeutic riding

Hippotherapy is a form of equine-assisted therapy. Equine-assisted therapies encompass a range of treatments involving horses and other horses and can be classified as follows:

  • therapeutical riding
  • Horse Assisted Learning
  • Equine Assisted Psychotherapy
  • Interactive vaulting where children perform movements on and around a horse
  • Therapeutic carriage driving for those who cannot or do not want to drive
  • Equine assisted activities such as horse grooming and stable management.

Hippotherapy is not to be confused with therapeutic horseback riding, which consists of recreational horseback riding lessons adapted for people with disabilities. In contrast, hippotherapy focuses on the horse's rhythmic and repetitive gait, which serves as the basis for improving a horse's sensory processing and skillschild with autism.

Which professionals offer hippotherapy?

Hippotherapy is a medically prescribed treatment performed by occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech therapists.

It is important to remember that hippotherapy is not a separate program. It is combined with other standard therapy tools and strategies developed in your child's intervention plan. Hippotherapy is often used where traditional treatments have not been successful. The addition of horse-assisted therapy to an existing treatment routine has been shown to significantly increase the well-being of autistic children.

Is hippotherapy effective in children with autism?

Research suggests that hippotherapy has a positive impact on the communication and social skills of children with autism spectrum disorder. A study of the effect of horse-assisted therapy on social functioning found that autistic children who rode horses as part of therapy showedImprovements in social skillsafter only twelve weeks. The results of another study on the impact of hippotherapy in children with autism confirm that interaction with horses is very effective when it comes to thisImproving social and communication skills.

In addition to improvements in social and ccommunication skills, Hippotherapy isbeneficial in many other areas. It has been shown to significantly improve the balance, sensory responsiveness, motor skills, and adaptive behavior of autistic children at home and at school.

Create an emotional bond

Children with autism often struggle to connect emotionally with others. They may find it difficult to make eye contact, communicate their feelings, and connect with those they care about.

Autistic children who participate in hippotherapy benefit from the special connection they develop with horses. Communication with a horse is physical rather than verbal - the child can brush, hug and pet it. This unique emotional bond encourages the child to bond with others, something they may otherwise find challenging. When children care for their horse, they associate care with feelings, a connection that they can apply to their interactions with family and friends.

Sensory Benefits

Many children on the autism spectrum are unable to integrate their senses and understand how their bodies relate to the outside world. Hippotherapy is a great way to help them gain a sense of body awareness while improving sensory integration.

Because life on or around a horse is an eventful experience, autistic children can greatly benefit from integrating their motor, visual, auditory, olfactory and tactile senses. Riding provides powerful sensory stimulation for muscles and joints, hugging and stroking the horse provides a tactile experience, while the horse's whinny and the smell of the stable affect other senses.

Development of cognitive and language skills

Autistic children may find it difficult to follow instructions. However, during hippotherapy they are often motivated to communicate with both the therapist and the horse. They learn to follow directions through fun activities that make directions easier to understand and remember. At the same time, giving the horse offers another way of communicating.

Other benefits of hippotherapy

Hippotherapy can help children with autism learn a variety of skills they can use in their daily lives and encourage them to participate in activities they previously avoided.

Among the numerous physical and psychological benefits that hippotherapy has for autistic children are:

  • Develop balance and coordination
  • Improve posture and mobility
  • Gain new sensory skills
  • Improve memory, concentration and attention to tasks
  • improve engine planning
  • Relax tight muscles
  • build muscle strength
  • Increase breath control
  • Improve fine motor skills
  • Refine hand-eye coordination
  • Gain self-control and self-confidence
  • Get better body awareness
  • Improve socialization skills
  • Build resilience to change
  • improve listening comprehension
  • Learn more appropriate ways to interact with your peers.

Encourage your autistic child with hippotherapy

There are several ways you can encourage your autistic child through a hippotherapy program:

  • Be prepared. Let your child know exactly what to expect from the new therapy. You might want to use social stories—individual short stories describing a social situation your child may encounter, in this case hippotherapy—and other visual aids to ease the transition to a new activity.
  • Be consistent. Children with autism spectrum disorders do best when they have a well-structured schedule or routine. Try to minimize disruption to the new routine as much as possible. If there is an inevitable change in schedule, prepare your child ahead of time.
  • be positive Hippotherapy should be an enjoyable experience that your child looks forward to every time.
  • Pay attention to your child's needs. Consider any sensory issues your child may have, such as B. Sensitivity to light, sound, touch, taste and smell. Try to avoid any sensory input that might trigger your child's disruptive behavior until the new routine is well established.

Hippotherapy programs for autistic children in Atlanta

There's no shortage of top-notch hippotherapy programs in the Atlanta area. Here are just a few:

Other useful resources:

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