What is Puzzle Ponies?
Puzzle Ponies is an Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) Program dedicated exclusively to children and teens on the autism spectrum. Of the children in treatment at Flying High Farm, an EFP practice devoted to youth, more than 40% of these children are diagnosed with autism, Asperger's Syndrome or Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD NOS). This prompted the genesis of Puzzle Ponies, a psychotherapy practice for youth that incorporates ponies to best meet the various needs of this diverse group of children. Professionals in the EFP field believe that horses can teach young children the concept of unconditional love, improve their problem solving skills, social skills, language abilities, and also serve as a metaphor to children for people, places and challenges in their life. These challenges can be especially difficult for children with PDD.
Puzzle Ponies is currently staffed with two Massachusetts-licensed social workers who are also Massachusetts Licensed Riding Instructors and NARHA Therapeutic Riding Instructors. Puzzle Ponies currently has two pony co-therapists – Duncan and Pixie - who work alongside the two clinicians. NARHA is the acronym for what was formerly known as the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association.
Why the focus on autism?
As many as one in 150 children in the United States are affected with pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) and the latest numbers in Massachusetts report that 1 in 122 children in our state are diagnosed with a form of autism. These children are often characterized with poor social/communication skills, delayed language skills, obsessive or repetitive routines, physical clumsiness, and behavioral challenges. The number of children diagnosed with PDD is rising at an alarming rate. For example, in California the number of children diagnosed with autism has quadrupled during the past fifteen years. There is much speculation as to why these numbers are increasing, but what is more important is the fact that services need to be made available to these children in order to provide a higher quality of life.
How does Puzzle Ponies help children with autism?
Puzzle Ponies works toward optimizing the child’s currently level of functioning thereby enhancing the ability, and desire, to interact with other people. Through grooming, caring for and riding the ponies, children with PDD are exposed to a variety of stimuli that they cannot control. This can be especially challenging and overwhelming for children who thrive on routine, but it provides them with an opportunity to be exposed to these situations and practice the skills to safely and effectively deal with life in general. EFP targets behaviors associated with autism in the following ways:
To help improve a child’s interpersonal skills, the therapist will:
To help encourage language skills, the therapist will:
To help reduce obsessive or repetitive routines and encourage flexibility, the therapist will:
To help improve fine and gross motor skills, the therapist will ask the child to:
To help minimize behavioral challenges, the therapist will:
The pony itself provides the therapist with a multi-sensory tablet around which to build an intensive treatment plan. The pony’s behaviors, unpredictable at times (stomping feet to get rid of flies, nickering to a friend, turning its head toward child in search of a treat - these are typical pony behaviors and do not pose a risk to the child) offer the challenge of being flexible to a child who prefers rigidity and routine. Once the child realizes the reason behind the behavior – Pixie is whinnying to Duncan because she misses him, Duncan is turning his head toward the child to nip at a fly on his shoulder, Duncan is rubbing his head on the child because his head is itchy, Pixie is reaching her head out because she wants a treat – the behavior isn’t as worrisome. Talking about the behavior also engages the child in conversation and encourages him to put himself in the pony’s shoes to consider why the pony would act in this way. Seeing another’s point of view is a challenge for people living with autism.
How do I get my child involved in Puzzle Ponies?
To start your child at Puzzle Ponies, contact Christine Randle at 978-582-7103 or email@example.com. Christine will set up an intake appointment to meet you and your child and determine if Puzzle Ponies is the appropriate program for your child. If so, regular weekly or biweekly appointments will be scheduled. For answers to some FAQs, please click here.
High Farm, Inc.
Christine Randle, LICSW
Lunenburg, MA 01462
© 2003 Flying High Farm