HELP FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH ASPERGER'S & HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM

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Equine Therapy for Aspergers Children

"We have heard that therapy using animals is an effective method for treating symptoms of AS. Is there one animal therapy that stands out above the rest, or one that is recommended more often?"

Typical treatment programs for Aspergers (high-functioning autism) focus on behavior modification and improvement. The complexity of the behaviors is gradually increased in an attempt to help the person continue developing. Medication is sometimes prescribed to people with Aspergers, but only to control symptoms like hyperactivity or seizures. There's currently no known cure for Aspergers.

Research into animal assisted therapy is fairly new. However, even among professionals who believe more research is in order, there's a general consensus that therapy animals can be a highly beneficial addition to treatment programs for kids with Aspergers.

Equine assisted therapy seems to have the best results. The rhythmic motion of riding a horse causes the kids to focus on the movement - which is slow, deliberate, and relaxing. The youngster indirectly learns how to focus better, which is aided by the calming effect of riding. Some equine therapy ranches have a policy of letting the horse pick the youngster, rather than "assigning" the youngster and horse to each other. It's a unique method that has had excellent results. A staff person will lead a youngster to a horse, and watch for the horse's reaction. If the horse dips his head or nuzzles the youngster, it's an indication that a bond is being formed and the youngster has been "chosen".

In addition to the movement experienced when riding the horse, tactile senses are stimulated. The horse's skin is fuzzy, the mane and tail are rough, and the nose is soft. Discovery of these sensations often helps draw a youngster out, stimulating development of his or her verbal communication and interest in other physical objects.

Motor skills are also developed as the youngster learns to ride, and eventually groom and tack. Equine therapy offers a safe, secure environment where a therapist or other staff person will be close at hand as new skills are learned. These new skills, and the youngster's continued improvement upon them, increase her self-confidence, which increases her desire and willingness to learn skills at home and/or at school. Learning is no longer scary, but fun, interesting and rewarding.

A youngster's ability to interact socially is often improved as well. The therapy sessions teach the youngster how to interact with the counselor and staff people. Group sessions allow the youngster to work and play with other kids and counselors, to learn how to handle relational conflict, and how to help others. Counselors who have consistently included equine assisted therapy in their development programs for autistic kids always have stories to tell of the dramatic improvements they see in the kids. Not only is basic communication and motor skills improved, but many kids experience improvements in their overall moods. Kids who before experienced angry outbursts or who rarely smiled are suddenly calmer, and smile more readily and frequently.

As with other types of animal assisted therapy, the introduction of the animal seems to calm and soothe kids. The playful nature of animals seems to draw autistic kids out of their "shells". Kids who start to isolate themselves have become more open as a result of equine assisted therapy. Often, they begin making eye contact with the animal first, then with other people. Soon after that, the youngster often becomes more relationally open; again, with the animal first, then with people.

Working with an animal such as a horse offers the youngster with Aspergers a safe, non-judgmental and tolerant relationship in which to practice both verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Communication is power when a command such as "Giddyup!" or "Giddup!" makes the horse go and "Whoa!" or "Ho!" makes it stop.

The Aspergers youngster can also learn to recognize the impact of his own behavior on others while working with a horse. If he yells at a horse, the animal won't come near him. If he speaks gently, it will.

During equine therapy, a licensed mental health professional will use the structured activity, whether feeding, grooming, haltering or even riding the horse to help the youngster to meet specific goals. The youngster may be asked to interpret how the animal is feeling by observing non-verbal cues, or to practice taking turns talking and listening while having a conversation with the therapist about the activity. He may join a group of other kids at the stable to discuss various aspects of horsemanship, practicing communication skills and age-appropriate topics of conversation.

In a challenging world, the Aspergers kid with horsemanship skills will have new (and age-appropriate) topics of conversation, new communication and social skills to apply to human relationships, and of course, a new friend in a therapy horse.

My Aspergers Child: Methods for Preventing Meltdowns at Home and in the Classroom

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We have horses. My daughter has been around them all her life. She is 9 now and trail riding by herself. We have noticed a huge change in how much more loving she has become. She has always been affectionate towards adults but now it is completely without hesitation. Being around the horses really relaxes her; especially after a stressful day at school :) JPO

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the Aspergers child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

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Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and the Asperger’s child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

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Research reveals that the divorce rate for people with Aspergers is around 80%. Why so high!? The answer may be found in how the symptoms of Aspergers affect intimate relationships. People with Aspergers often find it difficult to understand others and express themselves. They may seem to lose interest in people over time, appear aloof, and are often mistaken as self-centered, vain individuals.

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Online Parent Coaching for Parents of Asperger's Children

If you’re the parent of a child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism, you know it can be a struggle from time to time. Your child may be experiencing: obsessive routines; problems coping in social situations; intense tantrums and meltdowns; over-sensitivity to sounds, tastes, smells and sights; preoccupation with one subject of interest; and being overwhelmed by even the smallest of changes.

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Parents, teachers, and the general public have a lot of misconceptions of Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism. Many myths abound, and the lack of knowledge is both disturbing and harmful to kids and teens who struggle with the disorder.

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