“My son Archie is 15, non-verbal, severely autistic and an adrenaline junkie speed freak. There’s nothing he likes more than surfing big waves tandem, or riding roller coasters – and anything he does needs to be fast.
He likes horse riding, too, but hasn’t always got on that well with the better known disabled riding activities – I think of them as being a clash of cultures. They do great things for a lot of people, but they don’t really do fast, and Archie doesn’t really do anything else.
There are more specialist organisations and camps for children with autism – the best known of which are the Horse Boy camps. These were set up by Rupert Isaacson – who told the story of how his son Rowan, who has autism, underwent a healing process via a relationship with horses in both a book and film of the same name. The camps have been going in the UK for a few years now. We attended an early camp back in 2010 – and found that while horses themselves may not be a magic key for everyone, spending time as a family in a judgement-free space, outside in the open and in an accepting environment can be healing. And, yes, horses might help.
My memories are mainly idyllic – a word not often associated with severe autism. We stayed in a yurt which Archie and his brothers, Joseph and Louis, loved, and although we weren’t at an exclusive Horse Boy campsite there were so many of us taking part we didn’t really notice anyone staring. That feeling of safety in numbers was a lifeline. I felt no need to apologise for any unusual behaviours. The children could all be who they are. Siblings could socialise with other siblings without having to explain or be embarrassed by anything. Volunteers helped Joseph and Louis to toast marshmallows, and we were able to join one of our neighbours outside their campfire once the children were asleep – a bit of a first for our camping trips. Four years later we still meet that particular family most years to have a surf, swap a year’s worth of news and share some food and wine. …”