Posted by: myautisticmuslimchild | August 5, 2010

Horses, donkeys, sheep help with autism

I found this article at autism news.  It is really interesting how so-called “unorthodox” therapies help our children with autism. As for my son, I noticed how well he responds to animals (well as long as not a small dog, he is scared of tiny dogs). He is a totally different child when he is around animals, he seems to connect with them better than with people at times.

Dr. Marvin Anderson, holding his lamb Rose, uses animals as part of treating patients with Autism.

The Autism News

By Vanessa McCray | Traverse City Record-Eagle

CEDAR — Dr. Marvin Anderson picked up a spindly legged lamb and draped it over his shoulders.

The doctor moved to Cedar around 2000; he lives on an organic farm with his wife Jill, sheep, goats, rabbits and miniature donkeys. More recently, Anderson launched a solo practice called Abba’s Place on the farm property. He deals with autism, environmental sensitivity and diagnostically challenging cases.

“(For) years, I went around with a stethoscope draped around my neck, and I’ve sort of replaced it with a lamb,” Anderson, an internist, said.

He is among several local health care providers who are incorporating animals into patient visits and treatment. The approaches range from local ranches devoted to therapeutic horseback riding and equine-assisted counseling to a visit with a bunny or donkey that Anderson can hold out “as a plum” for his young patients.

Connecting with animals is just one method Anderson can use when meeting with autistic children. He may recommend a gluten-free diet, run tests and work on detoxification.

“One of the main things I do is clean up their diet, and then basically what I do is work on the gastrointestinal tract,” Anderson said, who also specializes in nutrition.

Horse lovers, too, are finding ways to help people with conditions such as traumatic brain injury, autism, behavioral and abuse issues and disabilities.

At Charity Hill Ranch, between Kalkaska and Rapid City, Chris O’Connell offers therapeutic horseback riding. She grew interested in the method after her daughter was injured in a car crash and responded well to horse-based therapy. Now, O’Connell’s specialty is working with traumatic brain injuries.

She consults with a patient’s occupational and physical therapists. The horse’s movement mirrors the person’s and stimulates the brain and core body muscles, O’Connell said. She may, for example, work with a cerebral palsy client with clenched hands to open their hand and use it to hold the reins.

“We truly teach a skill. We teach them the skills to ride a horse, but those skills fit within a therapy goal,” she said.

O’Connell said Charity Hill is a nonprofit organization with 14 horses. She moved the operation from St. Johns to the Rapid City area this year. Her goal is to offer overnight camps and recruit volunteers.

Another local horse therapy resource is PEACE Ranch, just outside of Traverse City on Hoosier Valley Road. Its name stands for “professional equine assisted counseling and education.” Jackie and Paul Kaschel have worked in the area for 20 years offering family, marriage, addiction and other counseling services. The nonprofit ranch extends its services to include equine programs for at-risk youth, single mothers, autistic children and clients with a variety of disorders.

The ranch offers equine assisted counseling — on-the-ground activities that “provide a pleasant context for working out issues,” Jackie said. Therapeutic riding was also recently added to the ranch’s services. Working with the horses builds self-confidence, Jackie said.

“It’s fun, and in order to have any positive movement you have to be motivated. And so, kids that come out for therapeutic programs are motivated,” she said.

Cheer Marie Fleis of Mesick sought Anderson’s help at Shepherd of Hope Clinic in Traverse City years ago for her son who was diagnosed with autism.

“I was trying to find a doctor in the area that would work with autistic patients in terms of some of the alternative means — seeing if there’s other help out there,” she said.

Fleis has seen improvements in her son after diet changes, other medical interventions and speech therapy. Fleis plans to schedule her son’s first appointment at Anderson’s farm-based clinic.

“He knows internal medicine, and he’s been continually learning … to better treat his autistic patients. And, now, he’s decided to incorporate the animal therapy that seems to be helping with a lot of kids,” she said.
Magdeline, left, and Teresa are two donkeys among the animals Dr. Marvin Anderson uses as part of treating patients with Autism.

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