“On one occasion, Steven was as usual carried away with the thrill of riding,” Claudine Pelletier-Milet writes in her book RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM. “He leaped off without losing his balance and in the most agile way. He rushed up to his mother, crying out, ‘Mom!’ and they hugged each other. His mother later told me that this was the first time she had experienced such a fond embrace.”
It seemed only a matter of time before Claudine had a chance to meet and work with Rupert Isaacson, author of the international bestselling book The Horse Boy, which tells the story of his and his wife’s journey across Mongolia on horseback to find healing for their son and for themselves as a family after their son, Rowan, was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. Rupert recounts how something extraordinary happened when Rowan encountered a neighbor’s horse—a new, profound calm fell over him. Rupert saw that his distant, unreachable son had a real connection with the horse, and when he began riding with Rowan, his son began to improve remarkably.
For years, Claudine, a French riding instructor, has been using equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAAT) to form and nurture lines of communication while encouraging a healthy and natural evolution of self in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Rupert read her book RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM and arranged to meet with her in France to discuss their common experiences, her methods, and his own Horse Boy Method, which is now being taught around the world in order to better help children with ASD. Astoundingly, today one child for every 88 born, and one boy for every 58, will be diagnosed as on the autism spectrum.
“We don’t try to teach riding as they do in regular therapeutic riding barns because autistic kids learn differently, so our program is tailored to that,” Rupert says in the December 2012 article “The Horse Boy Method” in Dressage Today magazine. “We are not an equestrian center. If a kid emerges as a rider, we go with it, otherwise we hope that we and our horses can serve them in the best way we can.”
Similarly, Claudine simply strives to use horses as a conduit to learning to exist in our loud, tactile, “real world,” which every day presents the autistic child with challenges.
“The pony carries them, rocks them, favors the acceptance of physical contact, and understands their efforts at communication,” writes Claudine in RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM. “It helps them build up an image of themselves by causing their posture to rectify itself, and it gives them free lessons in sensory awareness with its smells, sights, and sounds. It opens them to the real world.”
The experiences both Rupert and Claudine have shared in their books, and continue to share in their work with children and with other teachers, can go a long way to giving families and caregivers great hope for every autistic child’s future.
As always, it is the horse that gives us what we need to be strong, grow as individuals, and care for one another.
RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM is available from the TSB online bookstore.
Read the December 2012 article about Rupert Isaacson and the Horse Boy Method in Dressage Today by clicking on the image below: