As the number of people diagnosed with autism increases (1 out of 88 children in 2008 compared to 1 out of 110 children in 2006 as stated by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention), it becomes increasingly important to find methods to help autistic people experience the world in meaningful ways. Autism can cause a person on the spectrum to be isolated and prevent them from engaging in interactions that would stimulate their cognitive functioning and social connectedness.
Recent articles in Autism Daily Newscast have discussed the means through which concerned parents, teachers, and related professionals have overcome communication impairments and strengthened cognitive processing in autistic persons. From film-making workshops to service dogs, the means to help autistic children have not only been creative, but effective. A father of an autistic son has discovered another creative and effective teaching method for autistic people – the Horse Boy Method.
Rubert Isaacson established the Horse Boy Method, the name derived from the bestselling book and film, The Horse Boy. Isaacson’s son, Rowan, was the horse boy. Spurred on by his son’s advancement in his ability to communicate with him through his experiences on horseback, Rubert expanded the horse therapy to other children with autism, discovering and developing techniques that addressed the unique challenges of autism along the gamut of the spectrum. In 2009, he started implementing the Horse Boy Method to camps in the U.S. and Europe.
The Horse Boy Method consists of six stages. The first stage, Environment, is ensuring a safe place that mitigates stimulation. The second stage, Sensory Work, identifies an autistic child’s particular sensory issue and the child is put bareback onto the horse. Repetitive movements caused by stress cease because the child’s intellect attends to being on horseback. Back-riding is stage three: the therapist/rider sits with the child in the saddle, speaking to the child from behind, which is perceived as less threatening to the autistic learner. The motion of horseback riding is pivotal as part of the method. Scientists believe that the feel good chemical, oxytocin, is released in the body through the rocking of the child’s hips. Additionally, studies show “any activity that causes you to find and re-find your balance from moment to moment opens up the learning receptors of the brain.”
In stage four, Perspective Taking, perspective-taking exercises are done in a game-like fashion to teach the brain to process the way a neurotypical brain does. Stage five is Academics: teaching subject areas such as math, reading, and history is possible after stage four with the aid of a horse and special equipment. Self-Advocacy is the sixth and final stage. Ahead of the therapist on their own horse, the autistic child advocates their ideas as though they were the teacher. The Horse Boy Method is not only inventive, but most importantly, it works. Autistic children are learning and expanding their linguistic capabilities and ability to interact with the world through the unexpected means of horseback riding and kinetic techniques.