The Impact of an Equine Facilitated Learning Program on Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Erdman, P., Miller, D. & Jacobson, S.

Washington State University

The purpose of this study was to assess the impact of an equine facilitated learning program on youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who were paired with typically developing peers. Even though there has been an increasing interest in the field of animal assisted interventions and the benefits for youth with ASD, to date there is no research on using equine facilitated, peer assisted learning programs, emphasizing ground work rather than riding, with youth with ASD. An exploratory, mixed methods case study design was used with 3 youth with ASD and 3 youth without disabilities. An equine program based on a natural horsemanship framework that emphasized groundwork was implemented over 10 weeks of after-school sessions.  Data from behavioral observations, parent interviews, and the Social Responsiveness Scale indicate that the three youth with ASD improved their social awareness and social cognition, with two of the youth also improving their social motivation. Implications for future research and practice are discussed.

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Keywords: autism spectrum disorder, equine facilitated learning, human-animal interaction
Posted in 2015, Volume 3, No. 2