Hometown: Dream Catchers and WM Study on Therapeutic Riding Published

WYDaily.com is your source for free news and information in Williamsburg, James City & York Counties.

Findings from a joint study by nonprofit Dream Catchers at the Cori Sikich Therapeutic Riding Center and the College of William & Mary School of Education were published in this month’s Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

The study found that therapeutic horseback riding leads to symptom improvements for children with autism extending beyond the saddle and into the classroom, according to a press release.

“This study is significant because it demonstrates that the benefits of therapeutic riding transfer from the ring to the classroom, which is meaningful for teachers and parents,” said study researcher Sandra Ward, a school psychology professor specializing in assessment at the William & Mary School of Education.

“We’re excited to be able to share the results with a wider audience through this respected journal and look forward to continuing to study therapeutic riding’s impact on children with autism and other disabilities.”

Researchers found that children with autism who participate in therapeutic riding show statistically significant improvement on the Gilliam Autism Rating Scale 2, specifically on the social interaction subscale. This improvement is documented in riding lessons and in the classroom.

With fewer symptoms, the children demonstrated calmer behavior, improved relationships with others and greater engagement in learning.

The results also indicated that the symptoms are reduced only with continued therapeutic riding. After a six-week break from the riding lessons, the degree of autism symptoms returned to pre-riding levels. Once back in the saddle, the children’s symptoms rapidly improved and benefits quickly regained.

The research, which represents one of the few quantitative studies completed, followed 21 elementary school children with autism over a 30-week period in therapeutic riding classes at Dream Catchers and in their classrooms.

The national peer-reviewed Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders advances the understanding of autism, and focuses on all aspects of autism spectrum disorders and related developmental disabilities. The article, titled “The Association Between Therapeutic Horseback Riding and the Social Communication and Sensory Reactions of Children with Autism,” is available online to subscribers only right now and will appear in a printed version of the journal at a later date.

The study was conducted by Sandra Ward, Ph.D. with William & Mary, Kelly Whalon, Ph.D. with the University of Florida (formerly with William & Mary), Kim Wendell, B.S. and Nancy Paschall, B.S. with Dream Catchers at the Cori Sikich Therapeutic Riding Center, and Kat Rusnak, B.S. with Boston University (formerly with Dream Catchers). Wade Johnson, M.D., provided guidance on the study.