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How Equine Assisted Therapy Can Improve the Quality of Life for Individuals Diagnosed with Autism, Ages 2-18

By Haley M. Haggerty

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As stated by the Autism Speaks incorporation, autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the United States. Current research confirms that autism now affects one in every 88 children and one in every 54 boys. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the reasons for the increase in prevalence of autism spectrum disorders are not completely understood. Some of the increase is due to the way that children are identified, a diagnosis according to characteristics on a wide spectrum, although exactly how much is due to this factor is unknown. It is likely that reported increases are explained partly by greater awareness by doctors, teachers, and parents. As more children are being identified as having autism, these children and their families need help more than ever. There is no medical detection or cure for autism, so how can life be improved for children who are diagnosed with an incurable disease such as autism?
One method that professionals and families have tried is Equine Assisted Therapy. Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) is a program that uses horses and equine assisted activities in order to achieve goals that target the individual physical, mental, and emotional needs of a child with autism. Not only does the program focus on the skills acquired in learning to ride a horse and take care of a horse, it also focuses on the development of a relationship between a horse and rider that can improve the quality of life for a child diagnosed with autism. This program uses a team approach to be successful by surrounding the child with people such as an occupational therapist, the rider’s parents, and a certified equine instructor. There are several studies included in this paper about the benefits EAT provides to a child diagnosed with autism and how EAT can improve the quality of life of the child. Other methods such as music, dance, and art therapies are currently being researched but have yet to provide conclusive evidence of success. The data presented here is valuable for families and therapists who are interested in a program that can potentially improve the areas of life and struggles that a child diagnosed with autism encounters.


Katie Carroll

Date 2014
Publication Title The Spectrum
Volume 3
Pages 1-22
Publisher College at Brockport
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal-assisted therapies
  2. Animal roles
  3. Autism
  4. Children
  5. Equine-assisted activities
  6. Farms
  7. horse based treatment
  8. Horses
  9. Mammals
  10. therapy animals