Here is an overview of The Horse Boy Story and Method by Rowan’s teacher, Jenny Lockwood. I highly recommend both the documentary film and the book ‘The Horse Boy’ as well as the Horse Boy Method of teaching academics which will be posted next month, mid December. Even if you do not have access to horses, the Horse Boy Method can be utilized for teaching children on the autism spectrum. It is even possible for an autistic child to draw or paint on a horse!
Rupert Isaacson, a lifelong horse fanatic, was devastated when his 2 year old son Rowan was diagnosed with autism. Gone were his dreams of one day sharing his passion of horses with his son…or so he thought. Rowan seemed unreachable, however, whenever his dad took him into the woods behind their house, his tantrums and stimmings seemed to calm down. One day, Rowan ran away from his dad and got through the fence into their neighbor’s property and in amongst his horse herd. Rupert had been keeping his son away from horses – thinking him unsafe around them. However, that day he witnessed something extraordinary. Instead of trampling this squirming, babbling little child lying on his back among their hooves, the horses backed off gently. Then the boss of the herd, a mare called Betsy, came over and began to lower her head in front of Rowan, to lick and chew with her lips. This is the sign of equine submission. Rupert, Rowan’s dad, had never seen a horse voluntarily make this submission gesture to a human being before. Clearly something was passing between the horse and the little boy so Isaacson talked to his neighbor Stafford, who owned Besty, and got the key to his saddle room.
For three years father and son rode every day through the woods and fields of Central Texas and – first through Betsy, then spontaneously, Rowan began to talk, to engage with his environment and other people. In 2007 Rowan, his dad, and mother – Kristin Neff, a psychology professor at the University of Texas – took a journey across Mongolia on horseback, going from traditional healer to traditional healer, shaman to shaman, looking for healing. They went out with a child still tantrumming, still un-toilet trained, and cut off from other children. They came back with a child no longer tantruming, toilet trained and able to make friends. Rupert wrote a book about his family’s adventure, and also produced a film which documented the trip. Both are titled ‘The Horse Boy’
After returning from Mongolia, the Isaacson family started the Horse Boy Foundation to help make horses and nature available to other children, autistic or not, who might not otherwise have access to them. Over approximately seven years of working with autistic children and horses Rupert stumbled upon a number of techniques that seemed to bring about better verbal communication with his son. Soon after Rowan’s success Rupert began working with other local children on the spectrum to see if what had worked with Rowan and Betsy would also work for them. After a couple more years Rupert realized that he had a system of techniques in place that targeted different types of autism spectrum challenges. Since 2009 he has been working internationally with the Horse Boy Method™ at camps and centers in North America and Europe.
The horse boy method is a simple six stage process. It starts by addressing the environment, then the child’s sensory issues. It is then that we can move on to back-riding with the child which allows us to incorporate perspective taking, rule-based games, academics and finally self-advocacy. Everything we do from back riding, to family camps, to sensory work, to tricks where the child can cue the horse through word or gesture, to creating the best possible environment for the child to explore, to promoting social interaction is all aimed at achieving direct communication.
As well as working directly with children on the autism spectrum at family camps and play dates the horse boy team also trains other people in the methods that Rupert, Rowan and Betsy discovered in order to reach as many children as possible. For more information please visit our website at www.horseboyworld.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
And watch this space for more information regarding how the Horse Boy Method can be employed to teach academics to children on the autism spectrum…even if you do not have access to horses.