Equine Therapy Program Helps Autistic Children Communicate

A special program in Apalachin, New York, combines equine therapy and iPads with speech-generating software to help low and nonverbal children develop communication skills. Strides, a program developed by the Southern Tier Alternative Therapies (STAT), is in its second year, and is seeing great success in allowing Autistic children to gain new experiences, build various skills, and be able to express themselves.

Romeo, a five-year-old child that participates in the program, used to be non-verbal. Now he is expressive, and his family is thrilled. His grandmother states, “He’s starting to use sentences and ask questions.” She continues, “Being able to communicate his needs has really helped with his behavior. He rarely has meltdowns anymore.”

Strides is a volunteer-run program, which serves more than 200 families a year. It is one of three equine-assisted therapy programs offered by STAT, and the company has provided over $250,000 in scholarships over the past seven years in order for children to be able to attend the program. The program is free of charge thanks to grants and community support.

Tina Caswell, clinical assistant professor of speech-language pathology and audiology at Ithaca College, facilitates Strides along with her graduate students. They use iPads to help children practice various communication skills. Children use the iPads to express what they want to do, and when and where they want to take the horse for a ride. The software speaks to the child, who then is given the opportunity to repeat the words back. Caswell has customized the software for each child; for example, Romeo likes to ride the horse by the creek, and he is able to touch an image of the creek on the iPad and repeat what it says.

Caswell has observed that children are much more relaxed once they are riding on the horse. The sensory experience of riding a horse can help dissipate a child’s nerves, allowing them to become more attentive and focused. For many children participating in Strides, it is the first time they are expressing themselves verbally, or with the iPad software. “When you give kids the horse, the iPad, and the motivation, you can get great things out of them,” states Stacy Horton, mother of a child in the program.

Caswell’s goal of the program is to promote communication and language development beyond the equine therapy. The program allows Caswell to work with families in their homes on how to use the software to build communication abilities in each child. For the original article and additional information on STAT, please click here.

The ICare4Autism International Conference will be discussing the importance of technology in assisting children with Autism, as well as the road to opportunity, on July 2nd in NYC. This conference is just a few days away – you won’t want to miss it, so now is the best time to register! Please click here to select your tickets.

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