It always nice to hear from people that have used the services at Horses for Causes, one autistic boy came for therapeutic riding. Niall (not his real name) was not very confident, as with most Autistic Spectrum Disorders, he came with a long catalogue of problems, issues and difficulties. The team at Horses for Causes became firm friends with his parents and Niall’s siblings, we have always kept in touch.
Today Niall returned not for therapeutic riding but for another equine assisted activity, this time working from the ground. His mum told me that Niall had become upset over an incident at school, because he could not understand or process what had happened he had become quiet and withdrawn.
Niall’s two best friends at school had been fighting at school, they both lied to a dinner lady to get out of trouble, (one of the boys told his dad that he had lied to which his dad said don’t worry it’s ok) unfortunately in Niall’s black and white world social stories don’t cut it, there is no acceptance of ‘sometimes people do lie’. No matter how much his mum tried to explain to her son, Niall would get upset, he began to distrust his friends – what would happen if they lied to him too, he feared as they would get older they would get in trouble and why would a parent say it’s ok to lie?
I spoke to a co facilitator and discussed ways in which we could help Niall, it was so complex but as always we managed to pull something out of the bag.
The event or incident had happened before Christmas 2016, we were now in the middle of January 2017 – to go over the event was meaningless, although I am not from a mental health training background I am aware of cognitive behavioural therapy so we decided to look at thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Why do things leave us feeling the way we do, and why we react to them the way we do?
In the session we laid a triangle shape of poles on the ground in a small exercise pen, our equine aid was Dusty, a pony with lots of character. Our other visual aids are a handful of facial icons, similar to those smileys you have on iphones, these are A4 laminated sheets with colourful smiles, sad faces, angry faces etc.
We asked Niall if he could recall a happy memory and asked him to choose some faces that reflected how he felt at that particular time, then place the faces on the sides of the triangle. Each side of the triangle representing thoughts, feelings and behaviour. All went well until we asked about a sad moment, Niall found it difficult to explain and wanted mum that had been present to talk for him. I suggested to my co facilitator and Niall’s mum that we all come up with a sad or not so happy scenario. In turn we spoke to Niall and each other about their ‘sad’, each example giving a thought, how did that make us feel, what we did with that feeling. Obviously our intent was not to choose an example of bereavement so we became mindful and careful about our ‘sad’ stuff, but after each person had spoken, Niall would hug that person because I assume he thought it would make things better.
During all this, the facilitators had notice Dusty was trying to eat a holly bush, it was brought to everyone’s attention, Niall decided that it wasn’t very nice and Dusty should not eat it so went over tapped him on his side and told him not to eat it. Strangely enough Dusty stopped eating and followed Niall away from the holly bush. In any equine assisted learning session as facilitators we are always looking at what the horse does and relay more about our observations, Dusty takes a look at the triangle and takes a great interest in a smile icon, he walks around the triangle and then walks through the triangle and over some of the laminated sheets. Niall laughed, in fact we all did.
‘Dusty has just walked all over my thoughts and feelings”
But then Dusty returned to the holly bush.
We can guide our friends away from trouble but if they choose do whatever that’s up to them, unfortunately we cannot stop them! The message was simple and even for a young boy with autism it was easier to understand.
‘He’s a bit like my friend’
Thank you Dusty.