Studies have shown that having a child with autism in the family can have a significantly negative impact on parental and sibling psychological well-being as well as family functioning in general.
In recent years clinicians have begun to advocate the use of family based, as opposed to child based, interventions for children with autism and other developmental disabilities.
This is in part because factors such as social support and non-conflicting sibling relationships can serve as protective factors for the parents and siblings of children with autism.
Additionally studies have also shown that high levels of parental stress and anxiety as well as intense feelings of isolation and loneliness will not only cause intense psychological distress to the parents of children with ASD but will also negatively impact the child themselves.
For this reason one of Horse Boy Method’s most unique and powerful features is its focus on serving the whole family.
We have found time after time that if you take care of the siblings and parents of a child with autism as well as the child themselves then the impact we can have on a families’ life can be significant. Below is an example of one such family.
The Autisitc Son
Juandi (10) has been a regular visitor at New Trails for playbased therapeutic sessions around the horse for nearly two years now. He is a sweet-natured, loving, happy little boy who loves to spend time outside in nature with our horses. He also happens to have an autism diagnosis. Since his first visitor in October 2011 his winning smile and loving embrace has made him a firm favorite with many of our staff and volunteers.
Over the years Juandi has blossomed into a confident and happy rider who loves nothing more than being long-lined through the woods on one of our therapy horses at a walk or (preferably) trot. Whilst he rides he loves us to the sing songs from his favorite movie (the lion king) to him or talk to him about the plants and animals that we see. When he’s not riding one of our therapy horses he is typically found hanging out with the volunteers and working students on the swing set or trampoline or helping to paint one of the horses.
It isn’t until home time that we begin to see Juandi’s cheeky side come out. As soon as his Mom starts to head towards the car Juandi is normally to be found running in the other direction whilst laughing with what can only be described as glee.
Recent research indicates that the siblings of children with autism often suffer with one study indicating that over 80% of siblings have little to no involvement in childhood activities.
This has been found to lead to feelings of anger and frustration which often results in a damaged relationship between the child with autism and their siblings. For this reason providing services for the siblings of children with autism is an important focus of a Horse Boy Playdate.
Juandi’s older sister Maria often accompanies him out to New Trails, not only to spend time with her brother, but also because she just happens to love horses.
It wasn’t long before we discovered that she was a talented jumper and now, whilst Juandi rides in the woods or plays with the volunteers Maria has a jumping or dressage lesson with Rupert.
She is now easily jumping over 3 foot on her partner in crime, Clue (who by the way has often just finished a therapeutic riding session in long-lines with Juandi or sensory session for Mom, Gemma).
Maria also enjoys playing with the smaller animals or spending time with our younger volunteers and working students.
And that brings us to Juandi’s mother, Gemma, who, along with the rest of her family, has become a much loved and valued member of the Horse Boy Tribe.
She (and her children) are frequent visitors at the regular BBQ’s and fires that we host and for the past two years she has chosen to have Juandi’s birthday party here at New Trails.
She is a busy mother of six who spends her life ferrying her children between school, therapy appointments, dance classes etc.
And on top of that she’s an autism Mom and so party to all the extra anxiety and stress that that can bring so when she comes to us we try to give her as many opportunities as possible to relax – and where better to do that than on the back of a horse.
Gemma was kind enough to put down in her own words what Horse Boy means to her and her family.
A Testimonial From Mom
‘When I received the diagnosis that my little Juandi has autism, the whole world changed to me, and to my family, as well. I wanted to know what to do to heal my son. A friend told me of the Horseboy book. I read it and it touched my heart!
I contact them and ......our healing journey began!!
When I started the playdates, I learned that the most important thing in my son's life, living with his autism, is to be happy. We all, started joining his world....entering in it, sharing his interests and feelings. That is what we learned at Horseboy. Juandi is so happy every time he arrives to the farm.
The whole environment surrounding him, makes it possible....the horses, the farm animals, the trees, the calmness, but most of all, the wonderful people that welcoming us every week, that give us a sincere smile, a supportive hug, an enthusiastic attitude and their LOVE!!
My daughter Maria, who was recently diagnosed with healthy issues, has found in this marvelous place, the strength and happiness that she carries in her soul every week until it is time again to ride the sweet horses. Horse boy is my spiritual and emotional therapy as a mom of an autistic child.
Horseboy is....OUR OTHER FAMILY!!!
We can always count on them!!’