|Posted by pz26 on May 3, 2009 at 3:08 AM|
There's a program called Partners for Progress, which is a non-profit eqine therepy program for young kids with autism and other disabilities. It operates at Fields and Fences Equestrian Center in Guernee, IL. They serve more than 160 children each week. Some have mental challenges like autism or down syndrome, while others aim to overocme physical disabilties such as spinal bifida or cerebral palsy. Partners for Progress uses trained volunteers and certified staff and is overseen bya licensed occupational therapist. They work mostly with children, but with adults also.
The executive director of the program Diane Helgeland says, "We use the horse as a treatment tool. Horses are very non-judgemental. They can be very forgiving. They mirror how the kids are feeling. If you are scared, they're going to act scared. If you panic, they will panic. For at risk children, those are things to process.
Autistic children have trouble concentrating and speaking, and also tend to lack upper body muscle, which horseback riding helps. Riding forces the child to focus, which is another difficulty with autism, and helps improve speech by building jaw strenghthening muscles. The also learn social interaction skills, cognitive and motor skills, as well as self confidence. A horses gait is similar to the stride of a human, so it uses all the riders body muscles. It can improve posture, balance, strength, and muscle control.
A young boy named Charlie Sims started keeping to himself mostly and missing developmental milestones until he was diagnosed with autism at age 4. Once he was 7, he didn't say as many words as a kid his age should, and was closing himself off from the world around him, afraid to interact with-or even look at-some people. But Charlie seemed to like interacting with animals.
When his parents took him to start equine therapy, instead of being scared and withdrawn when they went into the stables, Charlie was so exited he wanted all the horses to be let out of their stalls. He almost immediately conded with the horses. They were gentle and comforted him. Unlike most people, they didn't expect him to know any words and he didn't have to concentrate to understand what they were saying either.-which can be difficult with autism. Although his parents said it was funny because he actually wanted to talk to the horses. He feels comfortable and safe riding on top of a horse and his parents say it's built trust between Charlie and them. "It's a comfirmation that Mom and Dad understand him." his mom said.
Charlie's little sister Mary, 4, who is also autistic, is also enrolled in the program which has helped her learn to focus and control her impulses. They and other kids in the program work to meet carefully planned goals like becomming comfortable in a saddle and following directions.
Charlie's parents saw a noticable change in his behavior. His mom said, "Charlie was locked in his own world. When he came here it was like it opened something in him." His dad added that they've noticed it really brought out his ability to speak. Even his teachers started asking them what they were doing to give him better ability to speak and better confidence.
Charlie was fearful of certain body movements and tasks before equine therapy. Now he can actually stand on his favorite horse Legend. "It's fun. I'm not scared." were Charlie's own confident words. He is also providing a great role model to his sister Mary being that she's joined the program too and is doing very well herself. It will be easier to tell major improvements when she gets a little older.
There's no cure for autism, but several theories on what causes it and not much to back many of them up. The Sims simply say that their kids learn differently and, "If you can accept them for who they are, they can do anything."
To learn more about Partners for Progress, visit www.partnersforprogressnfp.org or call (847) 226-1300
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