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Equine Therapy and iPads Help Nonverbal Children with Autism Speak

June 22, 2014

According to Autism Speaks, an autism advocacy organization, approximately 25% of children on the autism spectrum are nonverbal. Many families are finding hope through alternative therapies to help their child learn to communicate with the world around them. Strides, a program offered by Southern Tier Alternative Therapies (STAT), uses equine (of or relating to horses) therapy and iPads programmed with speech generating software to help encourage communication. It is one of three equine therapy programs offered by STAT free of charge to families in 12 counties across parts of New York and Pennsylvania.

What is STAT?

STAT is run by volunteers and is a not-for-profit organization that provides programs for individuals with special needs through animal-assisted, recreational and educational based activities. Catherine Markosky founded the organization after her son, who was also diagnosed with autism and declared nonverbal, used equine-assisted therapy to help him learn how to walk.

It is the effect on the senses while riding a horse that helps children relax and focus.How can equine therapy and iPads help?
In an article published by Democrat and Chronicle, Tina Caswell explains that it is the effect on the senses while riding a horse that helps children relax and focus. She is a clinical assistant professor at Ithaca College and a facilitator of the Strides program. Caswell, along with her graduate students, uses the iPad program to encourage the rider to use their verbal skills. Each child uses an iPad specifically programmed with images of activities they like to do. Using the touch screen they can tap on the image of the activity and the software speaks a sentence or word that the child can then repeat. For many children in the programs offered by STAT, this is the first time they are able to communicate in some form.

What other programs are offered through STAT?

  • The Riding Connection is an equine-assisted therapy program for children with special needs.

  • The Promise Project is a 12-week summer program for at-risk teens. It’s located in Fargnoli Farms in Apalachin and combines two evidence based interventions, Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) and Sean Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens.

  • STAT also offers an autism-friendly summer camp in Ligonier, PA.

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