Supporting World Autism Awareness Day
29th March – 4th April marks World Autism Awareness Week which aims to raise awareness and improve understanding of autism, change attitudes and break down barriers in schools, workplaces and society.
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world. One in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. Autism is a spectrum condition and affects people in different ways. Like all people, autistic people have their own strengths and weaknesses but it can affect numerous areas of a person’s life such as social communication and interaction and it can cause repetitive or restrictive behaviour, extreme anxiety and over- or under-sensitivity to light, sounds, taste or touch.
So how does this all fit in with Horses4Health? Well, it has been proven over the years and through numerous studies and real life practice that horses can help improve some of the symptoms of autism. A recent study by the University of Edinburgh found that ‘Hippotherapy’ – the use of horse riding as a therapeutic or rehabilitative treatment – significantly reduces the severity of symptoms and hyperactivity in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). After a study involving more than 20 children aged 6-9, researchers found that horse-riding had a positive impact on social functioning and reduced hyperactivity.
Another study published in the European Scientific Journal discovered that, as many children with autism experience problems with sensory processing, horse riding can also have a positive impact on sensory profile across all sensory dimensions such as visual, auditory, smell, tolerance and movement.
While collecting ‘real life stories’ for this website we had a number of people contact us with information about how horses and ponies have helped children with autism. One fantastic example of this is Gillian Uzuntock, who kindly let us share her son Sami’s story.
“My son, Sami, suffers has autism and ADHD and his ponies have really helped him. Some days he will be so overwhelmed after school, but a trip to the stables and a cuddle with his pony makes life so much better for him.
Horses and ponies have such a great calming effect on Sami. The bond he has with his ponies is amazing, it’s as if they know when he has a bad day as they look after him and let him hang off them. He cuddles them really hard because he thrives on physical pressure but other times he can be really angry, upset and loud and once again a cuddle makes him so much better and calms him down. He’d never accept a cuddle from me so seeing him get comfort from his pony means everything to me.
The photos are of his current pony Magic who Sami has worked extremely hard with after Magic was mis-sold to us as a rising seven year old. He was in fact much younger and had no concept of how to canter in a school, but I believe this actually made the bond between them stronger.
We’re not a family with lots of money but we get by and make huge sacrifices to have the ponies as we know how much it helps Sami lead as normal a life as possible. If he didn’t have his ponies I honestly don’t know how life would be for him”
Two of our supported charities, Riding for the Disabled Association, and HorseBack UK work with children and adults with autism and have had some great success stories over the years. For more information on their work, please visit their websites rda.org.uk and horseback.org.uk.
For more information about World Autism Awareness Week and to find out how you can help, visit the National Autistic society website at autism.org.uk.