How Hippotherapy Is Helping Improve Individuals with Asd

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To help in the improvement of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) many families are turning toward a physical, occupational, and speech and language medical therapy called Hippotherapy. This form of therapy might sound like it involves the Hippopotamus, however it actually involves the use of horses; the root word “hippo” means horse in Latin. Hippotherapy utilizes an equine’s multidimensional movement and its dynamic base of support as a part of an integrated intervention program to achieve functional outcomes in patients with ASD. ASD is a bio-neurological developmental disability which impacts the normal development of the brain and means that they have difficulty performing functional daily living skills like feeding themselves, walking, or making eye contact (National Autism Association, 2012). Physical, occupational, and speech and language therapists can utilize the horse and its movement as an aid to help in these areas. Physical therapists are using Hippotherapy to help individuals with ASD improve their fine and gross motor controls (PATH International, 2012). By utilizing the horse’s movement along with other standard physical intervention strategies, Hippotherapy acknowledges and promotes functional outcomes in skill areas related to an individual’s fine motor control needs like grasping small objects or fastening buckles (American Hippotherapy Association, 2010). The physical therapist would have the individual hold the reins correctly in each hand and steer the horse. Holding the reins correctly means the individual must take a rein in each hand, make a thumbs-up fist around the rein, put their thumb down on top of the rein, and finally flip their pinky around the rein so that the rein is between their pinky and ring finger. By having to not only hold the reins, but hold them correctly, the individual is improving the fine motor control in their hands. Add in having to steer the horse, the individual must really concentrate on keeping their hands closed around the reins; because if they let go of the reins then they let go of the horse. Putting on a bridle is relatively straight forward; however, when an individual suffering from ASD tries to put the bridle on, they run into a little trouble with the buckles that hold the bridle onto the horse’s head. Due to the fact that the individual has a difficult time fastening items such as buckles, practicing putting the bridle on the horse is an excellent way of improving that skill. By utilizing the horse’s movement along with other standard physical intervention strategies, Hippotherapy acknowledges and promotes functional outcomes in skill areas related to an individual’s gross motor control needs like kicking or sitting upright (American Hippotherapy Association, 2010). If simply riding the horse is not difficult enough for an individual with ASD, the physical therapist may ask the individual to stand up in the stirrups and ride the horse all while the horse handler is walking the horse. Staying upright while in a standing position and atop a moving horse is a very difficult position to hold for any length of time; but by doing so, the individual is really working on their gross motor control. Squeezing and kicking a horse with our legs are ways in which we tell the horse to go; however, learning how much to squeeze and how hard to kick to achieve the desired speed from the horse is what is key. Since individuals with ASD have trouble controlling their legs, learning how to squeeze and kick the horse is a perfect learning activity. By having the individual work on their fine and gross motor control needs while riding a horse makes it fun and to the individual it does not feel like work. Occupational therapists are using Hippotherapy to help individuals with ASD improve their hand and eye coordination and their ability to process sensory information (PATH International, 2012). By utilizing the horse’s movement in conjunction with other standard...
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