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Horses and iPads help children with autism communicate

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
A unique program helps children with autism communicate.

Children with autism are learning to express themselves with the help of horses and iPads thanks to a program called Strides©.

Tina Caswell, a clinical faculty member in Ithaca College’s Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology in the U.S. is combining the two types of therapy in conjunction with Southern Tier Alternative Therapies, Inc. (STAT) that have been used in the separately to help children with autism develop social skills, but have seldom been used together.

According to an Ithaca College press release, 40 percent of kids with autism are nonverbal.

The therapy consists of giving children iPads with speech-generating applications and they put them on horses where Caswell says the children do well.

“It’s the first time the children have been on horseback, the first time many of them are using iPads with speech software, and more important, the first time they’ve had any kind of access to self-expression”, Caswell said.

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She adds that parents say they are now experiencing their first two-way conversations with their child.

“Since iPads are so light and mobile, the children can easily use them while they ride horseback, feed the ducks, or simply go for a walk,” said Caswell. “Using the iPads in all kinds of varied and engaging environments keeps the children from getting bored and encourages them to communicate at a higher level.”

One autistic 7-year old named Luke formerly said few words. His only expression to his parents was for requests, such as “I want a drink”.

After 8-weeks of intensive, personalized support from the Strides© program Luke is able to share his feelings, have two-way conversations and has even talked about how he lost a tooth.

Caswell said she is seeing a lot of “firsts” in her work with children with autism thanks to horses and iPads.

Image credit: Adam Baker/Ithaca College