HOrse Riding in Special Education for autistic chi..
HOrse Riding in Special Education for autistic children
Date du début: 1 sept. 2015,
Date de fin: 31 août 2017
Therapeutic horse riding is the use of horse riding, in order to achieve goals that enhance physical, emotional, social, cognitive, behavioral and educational skills for people who have disabilities. Therapeutic riding is not only focusing on physical health, but it creates conditions for building skills at multiple levels. The process of therapeutic riding encompasses also the development of a relationship between the horse and the rider, not only by riding sessions but also by providing care to and spending time with the horse. The therapeutic riding is being implemented by a team of professionals, including physiotherapists, teachers of gymnastics, riding instructors, occupational therapists, speech therapists, psychologists, special pedagogists and social workers.
The use of therapeutic horse riding for children with autism is growing as it is a fun, engaging activity with lots of benefits at multiple levels. School students with autism and aspenger disorders, after therapeutic riding sessions have the following benefits:
- Emotional benefits: Children bond with their horses, create relationships and learn how to care them. There is anecdotal evidence that non-verbal children have started to talk to their horses, while children with sensitivities in touching and being touched have shown physical affection towards horses in the form of hugs and kisses. Children learn to care for the horses; creating an emotional connection that many parents don’t even realize is possible. Over time, feelings of empathy are fostered, which is something that many experts previously thought that children with autism were not capable of learning.
- Cognitive Benefits: Beyond the emotional bonds, horseback riding offers cognitive benefits. Children learn to groom their horses, creating the opportunity for growth when it comes to following instructions, recognising colors and shapes, and learning new vocabulary words. While these lessons can be tried in a classroom setting, this unique setting is less intimidating, allowing for improved results. There are even some activities that can be done while on horseback, like throwing colored balls into baskets during a ride. Integrating classroom-style activities combined with the calming effect of the animals can have a profound impact on an autistic child’s ability to learn new things.
- Sensory Benefits: While children with autism do not initially enjoy change in their routines, any hand flapping or meltdowns that start at the beginning of the first therapy session quickly fade away as they are introduced to their horses. Horseback riding engages the senses in a way that is not overwhelming, which is critical for autistic children. The touch of the horse’s coat, the sounds of the horse in the stall and the feel of riding, all create a calming sensory retreat that allows children to be more open to learning and communicating in different ways.
- Impact in the Classroom: A recent study at William and Mary College showed that the benefits of this fun activity are being seen in classrooms, with teachers noticing better sensory reactions and increased cognitive skills. Improved social interaction and interest in learning were also noted in children with autism who use horseback riding as a therapeutic activity.
Currently, therapeutic horse riding has been mainly used with people with cerebral palsy. The use of therapeutic horse riding for children with autism is still at initial phase and mainly used in the countries of Northen Europe (UK and Scandinavian countries). There is a need for developing competences and educational resources, to boost the use of therapeutic horse riding in special education.
The objectives of the project HORSE are:
- To foster equity and inclusion in education of children with autism, to enable these children to develop social, behavioral, cognitive and emotional skills and promote quality learning through the use of horse riding
- To build capacity of teachers and educators in special education for autistic kids, so that they will be able to use horse riding in their classes.
- To integrate ICT learning resources in the educational tools for children with autism.
The operational objectives of the project are:
- To promote exchange of knowhow and experience in embedding horse riding in classes of autistic students, through the organization of workshops and mutual learning activities for staff and teachers of special education schools
- To train teachers and educators in special education for autistic kids, in therapeutic horse riding, through the organization of structured courses consisting of theoretical classes, observations, practical work and the creation of a Good Practices Guide
- To develop open educational resources in the form of animations and videos, for children that participate in horse riding sessions, to support them in creating routines
- To develop a framework for monitoring and evaluation of the progress of children with autism
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