STUDENTS WITH ASPERGER’S DEVELOP SOCIAL SKILLS THROUGH INTERACTION WITH HORSES
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In this video clip, a social thinking instructor points out the benefits of non-mounted equine-assisted activities as her students, who are all young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome, are seen engaging in activities with semi-wild Florida Cracker horses on a 4700-acre nature preserve and then directing specially trained horses through an obstacle course utilizing appropriate non-verbal communication.
Dr. Temple Grandin, one of the leading experts on autism, has pointed out similarities between how individuals with autism and animals appear to think. The similarity lies in the fact that both groups think primarily in pictures–that is, visually. Hence, one can see that persons “on the spectrum” may be comfortable and build confidence from interaction with other visual thinkers, thereby practicing and honing non-verbal communication skills, which can later be transferred to interactions with other humans. Communicating with horses on the ground enables these individuals to focus solely on body language, eliminating the sometimes, confusing world of socially-related language skills.
Additionally, individuals with autism often experience high levels of anxiety, and therefore may easily relate to horses, which happen to be animals of prey and, therefore, operate out of a fear-based decision-making process. Individuals with autism can often identify with these animals and their emotional reactivity.
Other benefits of working with horses come from their non-judgmental nature, which allows individuals who are deemed “different,” and who may have been rejected in human social circles, to feel socially accepted and welcomed.
Horses can also provide opportunities for persons with autism to practice the art of reading intentionality. This is an important element of what is known as “social thinking,” which refers to the ability to judge what others are thinking and perceiving, so as to formulate appropriate actions and responses in social settings.