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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Writer/Curator/Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project. Contributing Author to Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood, and Concepts of Normality by Wendy Lawson, and soon to be published Gravity Pulls You In. Writing my own book. Lecturer on autism and the media and parenting. Current graduate student Critical Disability Studies and most importantly, mother of Adam -- a new and emerging writer.

“There is no hope unmingled with fear, and no fear unmingled with hope.” -- Baruch Spinoza

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

 

The Burden of Proof

Adam and I have been busy. He's typing out more sentences and we're talking a lot about how he feels about things (as opposed to the barrage of questions about what he knows which is a very ABA way of questioning children). Even though I know Adam has a lot to say, there is always more than what I think I know, which is why parenting is humbling experience. Adam likes Van Gogh's "spots" (referring to pointillism) he said to me yesterday. Then, in writing on a keyboard later he said, "I like the ocein," when I asked him what he liked about Florida. Even though a parent can intuitively KNOW one's non verbal or quasi verbal child is intelligent, I think we can't really know what lies within anyone until it is expressed. I am not saying do not assume a person is intelligent or that they are not communicating without words - we know that communication is more than words. It's just that words and symbols are very powerful.

These moments of clarity, punctuate my belief that to really know one's child is an act of guidance and then ultimately in letting-go. We just do not know, therefore we must be very aware of our own limits in thinking about things. It is why we have the phrase "make the least dangerous assumption." It is why I believe that our children are so incredibly awesome. It is, if I were to talk esoterically about knowledge, the difference between creating changeable frameworks that we apply to all kinds of things for our own understanding, versus realizing that nature and humanity cannot be framed. Every time we try, the picture shifts. So imagine the most amazing things!

So now I am going to explain how I felt when I took Adam to a popular horse-back riding program here in Toronto for kids with special needs (not the subsidized one so I'll keep you guessing). Adam, who is averse right now to putting on things around his ears, had a riding helmet thrown on his head as soon as we arrived in a big barn on a cold day. A big strange guy came up (we're talking on his first day), and threw him onto a white horse, without even introducing himself. Whoa! I expected them to introduce Adam to the horse, let me come along for the walk, get used to the helmet. I did not even expect that Adam would be on the horse the first day!!

"We know what we're doing, " the big-guy said to me, trying to reassure me. "Don't worry," his partner joined him from the side as Adam was swiped away from me high on the horse's back. "We work with autistic kids every day." That was a red flag. I felt my innards tense. Anyone who says that "they know what they're doing"...be forewarned. It is the reason I am writing this post. None of us knows a child that well.

Adam cried and cried and cried. "I want to go...I don't want to!" he bellowed as they said "touch your legs." And he did -- in the midst of crying, his little round face all red, his eyes tired of not being listened to, yet responding to them obediently in hopes that they would finally listen to him.

"Say, 'move on Snowman,'" they asked. He would have said anything to get them to let him off the horse. His little voice was becoming raw, and still so small and fragile. "Move on Snowman," he said between gasps of mucous-filled air.

Now I'm getting pissed (with myself and the situation), while hoping that maybe he might calm down and begin to enjoy himself. I am putting on a fake smile, waving at him, trying to reassure him that I'm right there at the end of the long barn. I am feeling pressured from our old ABA days that I'll be judged for wanting Adam off the horse, and am distressed at my uncertainty at this point of what to do. I hate those stares I get from instructors that I am just the mom and they are the "experts." There are some of you out there that I'm sure will know what I mean! How terribly arrogant those stares can become.

"Is your child high or low functioning?" asks one dad as he approaches me while I am absorbed with Adam and his safety. I feel like I'm on the wrong planet, in the wrong place. Is it worth it to go on a diatribe how there's really no such thing as I listen to his feet squishing towards me in the mud. Do I need to justify Adam's intelligence despite the fact he is autistic? I move away and end up responding with little interest, "I don't think of him that way," and leave it at that. The dad looks confused as I leave him in the muck infused with the scent of horse.

I mumble in hopes that the parents who tried to also reassure me: "Yes, we remember when our kids cried in ABA," would hear me as I said aloud to myself, "They don't respect him. He is saying he wants to go." Yes, I am doing it on purpose, but also because I am feeling under attack. I move away and focus on my Adam some more, sucking in the air between my teeth, pondering my next move, feeling their eyes on me, then back to their own children. I watch the other kids as they obediently follow directions. Yet, I don't want Adam to just follow directions. I am proud, actually, that he remains upset and tells them that "he doesn't want to." I am not happy he is upset, but at least it is human. His will has not yet been broken.

"Can I get him off, please?" I ask the two 'instructors,' not realizing that this was an ABA horseback riding program. At least it wasn't stated on their website. They look at me as if my intervention will blow their break-the-kid's-will-and- they-will-begin-to-enjoy-it-approach to obedience. I pull Adam off the horse and also take the helmet off that has been visibly bothering him through the entire ride. His pants were bothering him and the instructors didn't help him out or even acknowledge his discomfort. "Walk on Snowman," and "touch your legs," seemed top of their agenda. Adam's responses pleased the instructors. After all, isn't much of the purpose of intervention to please the adults who do it? (Pause for self-reflection).

"Calm down Adam." I crouch to his level and pat stroke his head, being very quiet. He stops crying immediately. "Let's look at Snowman together." I pat Snowman, I wear the helmet. Adam is watching me. "Do you think you can try again?" He pulls away, but I ask him to give it another try. We are not the giving-up kind of folk. He tires of crying as he whimpers, still very unhappy. We finish quickly after that.

"Many of our kids cry like that and eventually they get so tired of crying they begin to enjoy it," says the big-guy who has decided to follow us to the car. Adam's hands feel like ice and I am anxious to get him warm again. I am trying to give the "go away," body language. "Uh huh," I say un-enthused. I want to attend to Adam whose eyes are still red and watery.

It just may be that the kids learn to enjoy it -- the big-guy might be right. In fact, I don't doubt it. Yet, if Adam had been given time and patience, he may have gotten on that horse willingly as I have put him on ponies many times before. Adam loves so many things and he is usually not averse to new experiences.

But when I was EXACTLY Adam's age, my dad also put me on a great big horse and I freaked out. BECAUSE I COULD SPEAK AND WASN'T LABELED AUTISTIC, he took me right off and respected my desire to have nothing to do with horses for a while. I may have gotten used to it if someone forced me. But forcing wasn't the point. Forcing Adam has never worked for him (or me for that matter). Patient introduction and persuasion helps us get through the fear-factor. With myself as a child, I eventually wanted to do it on my own. I have a healthy respect for horses and don't ride them often.

You see, I wanted Adam also to enjoy himself. We get sick and tired of therapy. Everything for disabled and autistic kids is "therapy." You can't find ONE program -- be it a music teacher or anything unless it is labeled as "therapy" therefore "making the child better" [than they are]. We are not looking for therapy anymore and I hope there are clinicians and professionals reading this in order to be hired as teachers, not therapists -- people who can open up new worlds and help with filling in gaps where we need extra help, and hopefully who have fun engaging with Adam. We are looking for equal opportunity to learn and be a part of many programs. We are looking for a chance to learn new things. Adam wants to be with other kids. We are looking for people with patience and maybe some understanding of the nature of autism and an understanding of how Adam might be good at learning these new things.

Because he's autistic, and I have to assume this as I did not see evidence to the contrary, those instructors ignored his requests, they didn't give him a break until I intervened, nor did they understand Adam's NEED, be it because of autism or not, to be gently introduced to the idea of riding horses.

Finally, I am upset that ANY therapist has such control over us as parents -- that they make us feel unsure about our parenting. It is particularly so right now in our autism community. Those seeds of doubt must exist in every parent. Be it from teachers and other people in positions of authority telling us parents what our kids should be doing and how they should be doing it -- parents need to have greater confidence in the way they want to parent no matter what kind of child they have. This might be even more important for parents with special needs children to assert these needs and desires.

In autism, and I introduce this sentence as such because that's what I am on the journey with, there is a difference between teaching skills and letting a child know their value and enabling expression. One cannot exist in isolation of the other, yet too often the focus is always on teaching skills. So here I was, standing there, letting my gut wrench primarily because I didn't realize that the "we know what we're doing" people were practicing ABA. And if they didn't do it knowingly, they did it anyway. They assumed that Adam should comply with their requests, to prove and show what he knows. Some might call compliance a form of skill-teaching or a basis from which to learn new skills. This program wasn't about enjoyment. It was about obedience. Adam had to prove himself in an environment that expected little of him, with people who cared nothing of him, and who thought that they knew everything there was to know [probably] about autistic children. That is the world that we are creating for autistic people, folks -- a place where all of Adam's energy must be placed on proving his value and his intelligence, not enabling and valuing his expression, or letting him move on in life without the burden of proof.

Needless to say, we won't be back there. Who knows if they have truly created a horse-aversion for the rest of Adam's life. Yet, we will try again another time, if Adam wants. Some experiences we try end up being terrific. We try regular programs, "special" programs -- some are good and others not. Yet, I have to say, I am grateful that Adam does not go to an autism school, at least here in Toronto. I would fear that he would always be so incredibly underestimated.

26 Comments:

Anonymous Jackie said...

I am very saddened by your experience with this facility. I volunteer at therapeutic riding program here in Ohio, and while it's called "therapeutic," it's run more like regular riding lessons than therapy. Our instructor Randy is amazing, and all he cares about are the horses and the students. He never pushes students before they're ready, and works with them individually on different elements of riding to hone different skills. His emphasis is on having the kids connect with the horses so that they can build a relationship and work as a team. I've never seen so many smiling, happy faces at once.

I don't blame you for not going back to this facility. I'm sure for every good program or instructor out there, there are five more who aren't very good. I hope this doesn't completely turn you off on horseback riding for Adam ... it's a lot of fun for anyone. I love seeing the students,no matter their situation, get on a horse and just soar. And even better, it doesn't take words to communicate with horses.

2:17 PM  
Blogger kristina said...

I think this center needs to read your post----it's for similar reasons that, despite Charlie's swimming ability, we have chosen (for the time) not to pursue a Special Olympics swimming program. The emphasis in the program at our local YMCA is on .... competition and winning; the director told us Charlie could only participate if he knew the strokes and if there were no behavior problems. I am hopeful that the Special Olympics basketball program that we just found has a better understanding; so far, I like the instruction style (true, the coaches are parents). It's structured with room for roaming around if need be; there are expectations, but it's not that Charlie has to do it at once in order to be accepted.

Charlie would have been not much more thrilled as Adam was to have a helmet plonked on his head.

We've yet to try horses yet.....

2:36 PM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

Jackie,

Can we come and try your program? This is exactly what we were looking for.

Kristina,

I probably should write them a letter outlining our expectations and our actual experience. I was truly amazed at how little they understood autism. Sure, other kids might have liked it fine, but rushing him into it was just plain insensitive.

It's really a Catch-22 with this "special programs" or any kind of program. The kids have to meet some sort of "normal" expectation to participate. If you're autistic, you're expected to not be able to do anything. What about just regarding a person as a person?

Whatever happened to Person in our hood?

3:10 PM  
Anonymous Mik said...

"If you can measure it you can fix it" a slogan used in industry to resolve problems, which is also the criteria to obtain funding in the social arena and ABA fits into this formula.
Unfortunately many (if not most) parents tend to look for results in their children that follow this pattern. In the minds of most fitting into an existing social structure is everything and in spite of the higher level of education and preaching by the "liberated" folk to accept differences, for most it is difficult. That is until confronted by contrasting environments and retreating into the comfort of previously held mantras is no longer an option.
What happened to Adam is very unfortunate and had it not been for the ignorance of a concept (i.e. ABA) the individual involved might have been more accommodating to Adam, rather than blindly believing he was doing good. Even the most liberal minded of us is likely to fall into this trap.
The only solution to the problem is awareness and Estée your efforts on this regard are commendable.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Ange said...

I cried reading this post (still crying). I'm there so many times, at family functions, at school, everywhere. I unfortunately do not have as much confidence and I have much social anxiety (the more I want to say something it gets stuck in my throat. It repeats viciously in my head but I can't get it OUT!) and I have let some pretty horrible things happen to my older child during times of confusion and desperation and not knowing what to do and feeling so much pressure to make him comply (e.g., such as here: http://miscthing.blogspot.com/2008/01/it-took-two-years.html and here: http://miscthing.blogspot.com/2007/11/wrong-thing.html). With each experience I have learned more, gotten my voice, and have worked toward change. But it hurts. And it takes it's toll. The little one has had much less pressure than his older brother, and his growth is amazing. We still expose our boys to many things, but slowly, and wow what a difference. Thank you for this post.

4:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He walks into the door in his bouncy kind of way. As usual the teacher tells him to "calm down" and as usual he does not do so.

The teacher proceeds to talk about how when he is in kindergarten that nobody will want him because his behaviors are so bad. He pushes at her and says something like, "stop that" I think to myself, "he understands her". His so called behaviors increase as he stubbornly fights the teachers requests to "behave and conform"

She takes him to a room and about an hour later, they return. His cheeks and ears are red. He calmly walks over to me and says to me over and over, "I will be good. I am sorry, I will be good - I am sorry... sorry, sorry, sorry".

He gently puts his arms around me and lays his head on my shoulder. The teacher tells me to ignore him. I stare at the floor. She leaves and he climbs in my lap and I wrap my arms around him and tell him that he is sooo awesome as I kiss his forehead. He takes his hands and lightly touches my face and says to me again... sorry, sorry, sorry.....

Tomorrow I WILL go back and I will tell him again how awesome he is. I will laugh at his beauty as he walks backwards down the hall pretending he is blind. I WILL NOT tell him to "walk correctly" I WILL NOT take away his beauty for he shines so much.

Thank you for your blog Estee. I agree with all you share. So sad that so few people understand what you are really saying.

I wish I could teach this boy to ride a horse as HE chooses. One day his little light will not shine as he will be broken inside. :(


Response by a depressed, long ago broken, hurt person with autism.

7:15 PM  
Anonymous leila said...

My son is afraid of animals and he's always refused riding ponnies, let alone horses... So we haven't taken him horse riding yet -he's only 4 anyway.

But one thing that is not therapy but has been really good for him is gymnastics (with typical peers). In the first few classes the instructor let me sit with him and direct him and help him focus so he wouldn't just run away to the other side of the gym. Now he watches the teacher with attention most of the time, follows the sequence of exercises correctly, and only has trouble understand some of the language/instructions during the initial circle time/warm-up.

7:56 PM  
Blogger kyra said...

i'm so glad you left that place with no intentions of returning. there is nothing therapeutic in forcing and then ignoring a child! on a horse, no less! think of how high up that is for a kid! on such a huge and powerful animal! not to mention the sensory assault of jamming on that helmet. it made me angry to read about, Estee! that man showed NO sensitivity to Adam at all!

if you decide to try horseback riding again, i hope you're lucky enough to find a place like the farm where fluffy rode for about a year before we moved out of state. the OT was sensitive, skilled, experienced, and built fluffy's sense of competence, confidence, and pride. it was an extremely positive experience for him. i've been looking for someone that good to continue with it here but haven't had any luck yet.

10:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Many of our kids cry like that and eventually they get so tired of crying they begin to enjoy it" [quoth the aba faux-equestrian dude]

And there I was thinking that that's what Stockholm Syndrome was all about! Silly me. ;-}

11:57 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

I am so sorry about your experience with this program...therapeutic riding can be amazing when it "works". I don't know how far you want to travel, but there is an excellent program just outside of Guelph, with wonderful and caring instructors and a lot of support. If you'd like some information about it I can pass it on to you.

I agree with what you're saying about therapists and "parental guilt", and it's my impression that it's been getting to be a bigger problem over the years (my children were diagnosed 12 years ago). While we have generally had wonderful therapists, workers, and specialists, it used to be a given that we would receive lots of support in terms of how people dealt with us- everybody was more than willing to take into account that my 3 children, even though they are all on the spectrum, had completely different needs and needed absolutely different approaches. It seems that there is more of a tendency now to assume that there is one program or approach that fits everyone, and if you don't go along with it, then you are the one at fault. I realize that this cookie cutter approach is a result of politicking, but it's still extremely frustrating as a parent. I certainly don't envy anyone whose child is only being diagnosed at this time.

5:55 AM  
Anonymous fw2 said...

I have the little one in the Woodstock Gym Club. Amazing place. He's in a small group with 3 other NT (although I'm certain one has ADHD) boys. There's other gymnastics going on around them.

I think there's a very fine line between pushing/showing and not helping. I emailed them after the first week b/c they were more or less letting him do his own thing. I got an extremely positive reply and we chatted before last Sat's session. Now they are pushing/showing but at his speed. Ie. instead of just swinging off the rings, see if you can get him to get his feet up. Run beside him, show him - hand over hand or side by side. B/c he is trying, but doesn't know how.

They took that suggestion and ran with it.... I had a lot of steps broken down to explain what I meant.

It's an excellent program.

I too volunteered in h/s at a theraputic horse program in Vineland. We NEVER did that to children.

I also have an EA this week I don't like (supply). Monday she told me my son was "emotional" and wouldn't read with her. I wrote her back and told her 6yr olds were emotional whether or not they were autistic and that 6yr olds like being read to. So if she read one page and he the next... he'd probably read with her.

They are children.

Sheri

9:25 AM  
Blogger LAA and Family said...

I haven't jumped on the horseback riding bandwagon around here yet, and I live in a good area for horseback riding! I've listened to several area riding facilities sell their programs for special needs children at special education advisory committee meetings and a special needs parent's support group. I'm paraphrasing here, but I always hear things like "it's (being around horses, riding them, caring for them) is so good for them." Well, for a child who likes animals and horses, I'm sure it is. I consider my son and our family. His Dad does not like animals and I, after years of dreaming of owning a horse, found I was frightened of riding them when I eventually tried taking lessons. My son screams when he sees dogs and cats. Considering all of this, I am certainly not going to rush him into a horseback riding situation! Don't get me wrong, I'm not against these programs in the least, it's just that you can't lump all special needs kids together and think a particular method or therapy is going to do wonders for them.

Maybe Adam will be more open to the experience in the future with a different approach. I'm sorry for him and for you for what you went through!

5:19 PM  
Anonymous -Brian- said...

As a autistic adult, I have found that any form of authoritarianism has been far, far more harmful than beneficial in any way. The defence "there has to be rules!" is so arbitrary, as though there is no room for flow in any part of human life; life is like the steel in a razor's edge as those who defend authority see it.

I was very fortunate, in my elementary and high school years (back in the fifties and sixties) to have teachers who could see that sheer authority "do as I say!" was more harm than good, and if it wasn't for those teachers, I would not have had any friends, at all, during those years. They not only showed respect, but, many times, came to my defence in disputes with other peers. One time, when I was at home for a day (because of a cold), according to one fellow pupil, the teacher spent over an hour telling the class how worthy I was, and the next day, they all seem to treat me more respectfully.

Yes, support has been there, at least for me, but the authoritarian approach to issues still reigns strong in many areas, particularly in government agencies, who's help is limited by their "mandate" and their "policy", similar to those who rely on the ABA mandate...

7:47 PM  
Anonymous fw2 said...

Brian - it's not just those with autism that suffer, it's us parents as well. B/c I knew better. We'd had TVCC's IBI in the door with the eldest and I told them I would NEVER put my son in that program. Granted he was mild and in the end didn't qualify.

2nd time around, I was desperate. I knew my youngest was sitting right there... right there... and I couldn't reach him to connect the pec's, signs and objects for him to communicate. We needed more therapy and we didn't have the $$$. 30min/2 weeks of Tyke talk was not enough. They claimed to be different and they weren't. Except now they were in my living room not in a closed door room.

It took 8mths before my youngest received 5 actions against others when he clawed his male therapist. 8mths... and we were all miserable by then.

I read this post, answered it and did a questionaire for another friend with an ASD son today (who I have met)http://irishwhiskey66.blogspot.com and now I can't shut it down. I went and wrote it in my journal.. hoping to put the confusion and guilt into words so I could get over it once more.

I am hoping... it was a much more tramatic experience for me than it ever was for him. Yet, there's a letter in my file that says we are not longer part of their program, but I'm still upset.... how wrong is that??

S.

4:10 PM  
Anonymous -Brian- said...

fw2 wrote:

"it's not just those with autism that suffer, its' us parents as well".

I was never, in my post, suggesting that it was "just" those within the autistic spectrum who were "suffering"; any more than those parents who wrote other responses to the article were suggesting that "just" parents suffer. I was just speaking about my own personal experiences (as a person on the spectrum) as much as the parents were speaking about their own personal experiences, and no reflection on what others have been through, at all.

Each person can only speak about what he or she has been through, and this is no hint, stated or otherwise, about what any others have endured and sacrificed over the years...

9:44 PM  
Blogger Sharon said...

Poor Adam. What a callous attitude those people had. Can I ask, why was he asked to touch his legs? What does that have to do with horse riding? I know nothing about riding, and am trying unsuccessfully to imagine a connection. Or was it just a random request to test the child's compliance? If so, yuck. Actually, the whole thing is horrible anyway.

5:57 AM  
Blogger Jen said...

"Can I ask, why was he asked to touch his legs? What does that have to do with horse riding?"

It helps with balance, and it also often helps a child to gain confidence in his seat on the horse, as well as in the assistant instructors' ability to control the horse while he's on top of it.

6:51 AM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

Jen,

I don't know -- it seemed to be response oriented. The reason I say this is because they demanded that Adam say "move on Snowman" while the horse stopped, before the horse could move on again. I don't see how this was important to enable a child to enjoy the ride or for "therapeutic purposes" or relaxation. When a child is distressed, it is a sign to pull back and move in a different way. It is NOT behavioural (thus, putting the blame on the child for not performing).

To the person who called me "ignorant," I wish I didn't accidentally delete your comment from my blackberry so people could how nonsensical your comment was -- I gather you are either an ABA therapist or the owner of the stable. Of course we prepared Adam for horses!! He's been on ponies many times with me! I told him about the helmet and he wears hats now all the time which is something I got him used to. Adam gets used to so many things fast if he is encouraged -- not forced. Adam is no dummy. He is just a child who was forced to do things much too quickly and with complete strangers who did not introduce themselves to Adam, even -- they just threw him on the horse!!!!

As I said, when I was a child I was put on a big horse and freaked out. I was respected and they let me off. Adam was not respected and I want to know why. What I wrote is exactly what happened.

I don't see how "I didn't prepare Adam," which is what you wrote. That's utter nonsense. It makes for no excuse that the program should not be recommended for ANY child in my opinion, let alone an autistic one. I have been teaching Adam successfully for five years (with autism). I don't see how you have the right to comment on how I prepared him and thus putting the blame on me. What I blame myself for is not previewing the program before I let Adam go. It is what I plan to do from hereonin.

BTW: We have replaced this program with a regular swimming program. The teacher is great, gentle and Adam has no trouble following instruction. I get rather miffed when people think that autistic people can't follow instruction or that they are unaware of what is being said.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Jen said...

Grrrr...again, I am so sorry that you had such a bad experience. I was speaking in general terms about why instructors theoretically do things, but their instructions make no sense in the context that you've described. I am sorry that Adam had such a bad experience with it as I know that a lot of kids benefit from it and absolutely love it. I would love to know privately which stable this was, as it's quite possible that they need a re-certification or at the very least an inspection. The last thing that any program should do is make a child (or parent) MORE stressed. I think that in the end almost everything comes down to the particular people involved in a program, and I am sorry that you and Adam had such a bad experience. Not all CanTRA programs are like that.

I'm glad that he's enjoying swimming, and that you've found a good instructor.

8:54 AM  
Anonymous gigablonde said...

I'm so sad reading your post. I worked for three years with a little girl who has autism and saw many of the things you describe. It was such a difficult thing for me. Working with her was a joy, she is a precious, precious child ... but the things people would do ... it just broke my heart and I felt like people really needed to be better informed. I saw one great woman work with her who exposed her to things she would initially balk at but she exposed her GRADUALLY. That was the key. Small doses ... tiny in fact. It's my hope that more people will grow to understand how to work with these wonderful children.

4:29 PM  
Blogger JC said...

We've been doing therapeutic riding for a year now and the benefits have been amazing. We go to a NARHA certified place which, if you have one near you, is what you should look for! The first time we went they spent so much time trying to encourage him to get on the horse (taking it REALLY slow) that I got frustrated and asked if I could just throw him on as I knew he had no intention of getting on, but once he GOT on he'd do fine. And that's the way it went. However, after about 30 minutes into the 50 minute lesson he started asking to get off. They kept telling him the lesson wasn't over yet. My son asked again and then let loose in a tirade of insults and threats like, "I'm going to kill you" etc. He was just so upset and overstimulated by the end. I told the instructor after class that if he asked to get off he should be LET OFF as he would never get back on if they didn't listen to him. She explained they usually keep the kids on the horse the entire lesson, but if I thought it was better for him that would be fine (key here is that good instructors will listen to the parent even if it goes against what they "normally" do). So I made an agreement with my son (who was four at the time) that he only had to ride for 10 minutes and any time after that he could get off and they would listen to his requests. So next time he lasted about 20 minutes and they let him off as soon as he requested. Next time he lasted about 30 minutes, the following time 40. Now he jumps on and lasts the entire time and enjoys himself. A quality place should alter things to each individual child and accept parental input.

As for walk on, and touch your legs, etc. it was explained to me that the kids are learning to be responsible for their horse, and the games they play of Simon Says (touch your head, touch your legs touch your shoulders) are to not only encourage balance and using different muscles, but also listening skills, following directions, etc. and that will carry over for when the kids get advanced enough to ride alone. My son now rides mostly independently and teaching the kids "walk on" and "ho" immediately sets the stage for eventually being fully independent on the horse (and they really do have to listen and follow directions well when riding for safety reasons). Now he has to follow directions AND control his horse in terms of steering the horse right or left, around poles, start the horse, slow the horse, stop the horse, etc. All I can say is it has made him feel SO incredibly good about himself to be able to control this huge animal, be good at it, etc. His self esteem has flourished, his flexibility has increased and the sensory benefits have been amazing. Therapeutic riding has been one of the BEST things we've ever done so it's really worthy to find a facility you like. Also, on really bad weather days they sometimes just take care of their horse--brushing, etc. and that has been huge for him too.

Even just being around the horses and learning to care for them and how to interact with them has been amazing. It's hard to explain why it's made such a difference but I'm a true believer in the horse/human connection now!!

They also have horse olympics where they use their skills to compete (everyone wins) in games. It's been just such a positive experience for my son--especially self esteem and confidence wise, but the sensory has been amazing too.

1:19 AM  
Blogger JC said...

I also wanted to add that my child refused to participate in Simon Says (touch your legs, etc) for about six months until he WANTED to participate and they would encourage him to do it but no one ever tried to force him to. The only thing they did force him to do was to say walk on and ho to control the horse, again, because they wanted him to take responsibility for his horse immediately and not just allow the lead walker to do all the work. He enjoyed it pretty quickly because he realized that he was controlling the horse by using words, which I guess felt pretty powerful to him.

1:24 AM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

Adam is really great at Simon Says. It definitely took him a while to learn it, and he does things like wave his hand backwards right now, but all people need to know is that through exposure, gentle teaching, the child will learn such things when their ready. I could never have FORCED Adam to play Simon Says or imitate at all when he was younger. He enjoys playing it with me now and he tells me what to do (his favorite which is "jump").

9:15 PM  
Blogger S said...

My 6 yr old's fav is Freeze Dance... "DANCE"... "FREEZE".. he loves it. Of course being 6.. he has to tell everyone when to dance or freeze.

Glad he's enjoying swimming. I just signed mine up for the spring session of gym.

S.

2:23 PM  
Anonymous mv said...

I think your comments about the riding centre are very helpful and I think that you should let the centre know how you feel. As a therapeutic riding instructor who teaches primarily children with autism, I REALLY appreciate feedback from parents about things they like and don't like about what I do. I am very concerned that the instructor did not listen to your concerns--at the end of the day, the parents have the right to have their child treated as they wish. JC your comments were great and very much in line with what we do at our centre. While I am trained in ABA and as such it is what I fall back on in my lessons, if a parent has a concern with ABA and asks that it not be used I make every effort to follow that request.
Sometimes putting the helmet on quickly and immediately on the horse and go is the best to way to approach the situation because the child becomes so interested in the moving underneath him that he forgets about not liking the helmet or the fact that mom is left behind. This is not always the case and instructors should make every effort to evaluate the situation so that is approached in a way that is best for each individual. If a child is clearly distraught and wants off the horse, we always allow this as soon as the child requests it appropriately (this varies from saying off to signing all done to a nod of the head when asked are you all done? or however the child can communicate with us). While "therapY" is part of therapeutic riding, the goal is to make it as fun as possible and for the rider to be as independent as safely possible. I am very saddened that your experience was not a good one and I hope you will try again at a different centre with more success. One thing to think about if you try again is to let the centre know your past experiences and some of your expectations so that you can feel more comfortable with what happens.

8:05 PM  
Blogger alice said...

i know this is a bit of an old post, but i found you through feebeeglee just today and was reading back a few entries.

i've worked with both disabled adults and autistic children for years now, and i really enjoy reading blogs from the parents of these wonderful children... i think we on the "therapudic" side get so wrapped up in what we think we're doing FOR you that we forget to work with you... so for me this is my way of keeping in touch with that side of the job.

my last job was at a horse ranch where we ran a job-training program for high functioning adults and a riding program for kids, and i encountered a lot of the same programs there! our "therapudic instructor" seemed very into the whole work-through-the-fear angle, instead of addressing the fear and working with it. after several disagreements with parents and other care-givers, she left... and we thought our program was done for! however... we learned that we didn't need to have a certified therapudic instructor to run our program, all we needed was riding instructors along side our "rehabilitation counselors". (can you tell by all these quotes that i don't really like all the buzz-words we have to use?)

we, the counselors, were finally able to create a program we could call our own. and in order to do that, we spoke to the parents. holy cow was THAT eye awakening! our program now included things like asking the kids to help us groom the horses so they could get familiar with them... and we did what you did for adam with the helmet, too! we found that the helmet made a LOT of kids uncomfortable, so we started wearing them as instructors too. seemed to make many of our young friends more at home.

ok i'm rambling at this point but i just wanted to say... i think a lot of the "therapudic" world is out of touch with just giving your kids a great Experience. you, as the parent, can then take it home and turn it into something to learn from. we're just here to help the process along :)

oh, and side note... the "adam speaks" video... wow. yes. do you mind if i pass the link along to a friend or two that i work with?

11:21 PM  

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