Letting Kids with ADHD Take the Reins
By: Jane Sandwood
ADHD isn’t easy to deal with, for kids or their parents, but it’s a fairly common condition that many families face. Approximately 6.4 million American children, or around 11% of the population between the ages of 4 and 17, have been diagnosed with ADHD, and this number continues to rise. Without the appropriate support, ADHD can begin to interfere with an individual’s social development and education.
Many parents use medication to help control ADHD symptoms in their children. However, medicine alone isn’t always a substantial enough treatment plan. Taking advantage of behavioral therapy programs can also help to reduce hyperactivity and improve attention span. One ADHD treatment option that’s becoming increasingly popular is equine programs for kids. Children who exhibit ADHD symptoms interact with horses under the supervision of a certified Equine Specialist and a licensed mental health professional.
Horses give children with ADHD the opportunity to observe their own behaviors and actions from an objective angle. Horses, like many animals, mirror ourselves and our actions, which gives children the chance to see, analyze, and alter to their behaviors as they interact with their four-legged partner. Kids also get the chance to practice their social skills using a nonjudgemental sounding board. After each session, a trained therapist helps participants to understand their actions better and consolidate what they’ve learned. According to the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl), there are currently more than 4,800 certified instructors and equine specialists trained to help children with special needs.
Types of Programs
In equine therapy programs, children learn how to ride, groom, feed, and interact with horses. Not only is it a fun and challenging hobby that they can carry with them into adulthood, but it also helps to build essential life skills in a safe and supportive environment.
Equestrian programs can cater to individuals, or children can join others in a group program. Group equine therapy has been shown to be more effective than traditional school counseling programs when it comes to improving the academic behaviors of at-risk students. Group programs also give children with ADHD the chance to interact with others their age in a relaxed, nonacademic setting.
The Benefits of Equestrian Programs
Working with horses can help children with ADHD to gain confidence and eliminate problem behaviors such as inattention or a lack of focus. Preliminary studies indicate that therapeutic horse riding has a positive effect on children with ADHD, offering benefits such as:
- Improves kids’ ability to stay focused and on task
- Decreases aggressive behaviors
- Reduces depression and anxiety
- Improves ability to adjust and adapt to everyday situations
- Increases confidence and self-esteem
- Helps hone social skills
- Improves motor skills
- Builds a sense of personal responsibility
Children with ADHD can greatly benefit from equine programs designed to target common behavioral issues associated with the diagnosis. Parents can find hundreds of specialized PATH Intl. Centers located throughout the U.S. or check out other local nonprofit and volunteer programs.