Tyler is a four year old boy who came to his first playdate in August and has been coming on a weekly basis ever since. In her initial email to us his Mom, Emily, wrote the following:
My son has autism and we are having a really hard time ‘breaking through’. He is 3 ½ and he doesn’t speak. We have tried all sorts of therapies, in home and in a center and he has a really rough time connecting and we haven’t made much progress in about a year and a half. She suggested I reach out to you … can you help?
At his very first session Tyler was only interested in books in the house but his mom Emily was stunned because she said he usually tantrummed in the afternoon. Every afternoon. He didn’t here. In fact Emily said that her husband had said he thought it was a terrible idea to bring him out here at this time of day.
The next sessions Tyler spent the majority of his time dropping stones into a bucket of water. He was not that interested in interacting with our staff members and volunteers and only touched the horse, Betsy, once. When it was time to leave he was very distressed which his Mom told us was a common reaction to transitions.
Over the weeks Tyler began to interact with us more but still showed little interest in the horse, preferring to explore the woods on foot or splash around in muddy puddles. It took until his sixth session for him to even touch the horse again and we were all thrilled when he did. He was also still becoming very distressed when it was time to leave.
At his seventh session we decided to try just putting him up on the horse with a trained back-rider to see what happened. He was initially resistant but as soon as he was on the horse’s back he immediately stopped crying and went very still. He stayed up there for some time and was then escorted back to the car on horseback. When he was handed down to his Mom he was so relaxed he almost fell asleep and for the first time went calmly and quietly into the car.
What happened next was even more amazing. Before this session he had no words whatsoever but in the course of the next week he began using two fairly consistently.
One month later he has 11 words which he is using on a fairly frequent basis and new words are coming all the time. His most recent session took place this weekend and after he had thoroughly explored the puddles in the round pen he got up on Betsy and played word games with the volunteers. We had put words (such as rock, leaf and stick) up around the arena and the game involved riding to the words and then trying to find the objects to match. One of the words was ‘horse’ and when he heard it spoken he smiled and then wriggled to get down. Once on the ground he ran right over to the horse toy which was hanging on string and twirled it around before heading off to explore something else. At the end of the session he got back on Betsy to be escorted back to the car and in a whisper repeated rock, ball, horse, leaf under his breath. It was a magical moment.