Sense and Visual Perceptual Skills

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Occupational therapists use the horse as a treatment tool to promote sensory integration and fine-motor skills. At the same time, the horse's movement helps children develop balance, strength and communication skills. Physical and Occupational Therapists use the Horse as a Treatment Tool to Develop Motor Skills Horses have traditionally been used as treatment tools by physical therapists with the goals of improving a child’s balance, strength and coordination. This specialty area is called “Hippotherapy” and is done as a child rides or performs various motor tasks such as turning around to face backwards or kneeling while the horse is walking. Occupational therapists also do hippotherapy to work on these skills. However, therapeutic objectives may center around helping children with autism and other developmental disabilities improve sensory processing and develop fine-motor skills. Unlike many other treatment tools, children find horses exciting and motivating, tapping into their social-emotional needs to connect. Children who typically have difficulty focusing to sit are unable to run away from fine-motor demands while on the horse. At the same time, the vestibular (balance sense) stimulation provided by the horse’s movement and proprioceptive (body awareness sense) stimulation to muscles and joints as the child bounces promotes sensory integration and attention to tasks. All of these factors contribute to making the hippotherapy farm an ideal setting for teaching children who have autism or other developmental disabilities. Hippotherapy Helps to Develop Eye-Hand Coordination and Visual Perceptual Skills Promoting hand skills while the child is riding may be as basic as asking for high fives, pointing to indicate “go” or popping bubbles. Hand activities such as pulling the reins to stop and say hi to a parent also promote communication skills. Many children enjoy tossing balls into a basket or hoops over cones while the horse is stationary or moving depending...
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