Author(s): Gabriels RL, Pan Z, Dechant B, Agnew JA, Brim N,
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Abstract OBJECTIVE: This study expands previous equine-assisted intervention research by evaluating the effectiveness of therapeutic horseback riding (THR) on self-regulation, socialization, communication, adaptive, and motor behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). METHOD: Participants with ASD (aged 6-16 years; N = 127) were stratified by nonverbal IQ standard scores (≤85 or >85) and randomized to 1 of 2 groups for 10 weeks: THR intervention or a barn activity (BA) control group without horses that used similar methods. The fidelity of the THR intervention was monitored. Participants were evaluated within 1 month pre- and postintervention by raters blinded to intervention conditions and unblinded caregiver questionnaires. During the intervention, caregivers rated participants' behaviors weekly. RESULTS: Intent-to-treat analysis conducted on the 116 participants who completed a baseline assessment (THR n = 58; BA control n = 58) revealed significant improvements in the THR group compared to the control on measures of irritability (primary outcome) (p = .02; effect size [ES] = 0.50) and hyperactivity (p = .01; ES = 0.53), beginning by week 5 of the intervention. Significant improvements in the THR group were also observed on a measure of social cognition (p = .05; ES = 0.41) and social communication (p = .003; ES = 0.63), along with the total number of words (p = .01; ES = 0.54) and new words (p = .01; ES = 0.54) spoken during a standardized language sample. Sensitivity analyses adjusting for age, IQ, and per protocol analyses produced consistent results. CONCLUSION: This is the first large-scale, randomized, controlled trial demonstrating efficacy of THR for the ASD population, and findings are consistent with previous equine-assisted intervention studies. CLINICAL TRIAL REGISTRATION INFORMATION: Trial of Therapeutic Horseback Riding in Children and Adolescents With Autism Spectrum Disorder; http://clinicaltrials.gov; NCT02301195. Published by Elsevier Inc.
This article was published in J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry
and referenced in Journal of Nursing & Care