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Archive for the ‘therapeutic horseback riding’ Category

This week I took a departure from reading historical fiction and autobiographies as part of the 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge to read a book that is relevant to what is currently happening in my life.  It is called A Special Mother – Getting Through the Early Days of  Child’s Diagnosis of Learning Disabilities and Related Disorders

This book, written by Anne Ford, presents a guide for mothers whose child is diagnosed with a Learning Disability (LD). The book is written in a conversational tone and there are many sections that feel like the reader is joining a group of women (all of whom have a child with a LD).

The book begins by discussing mothers’ intituition and their feelings that “something’s not quite right with my child.”  A Special Mother continues through the stages of denying that anything is seriously wrong, the eventual diagnosis, and advocacy.

For me, I could identify with many of the mothers who shared their experiences with knowing something wasn’t quite right with her child, but not being able to pinpoint the cause.  Olivia, who was adopted as a ten-month old infant from China, was diagnosed with a host of medical problems and developmental delays when she had her initial evaluation at the University of Minnesota’s International Clinic. (The referral said she was a healthy baby with no medical problems.)

By the age of three years old, at my request, she was evaluated by several teachers and therapists in the local school district who helped identified some special needs and a plan for reaching developmental, cognitive, and speech goals. 

For about two years, she worked with this team of professionals who provided guidance and therapy to help her reach her goals in combination with therapy and learning activities that they asked that I would do at home with Olivia.

Olivia Playing with Oodles of Ooze
Olivia playing with Oodles of Ooze
that I made for her.  It was meant to
strengthen her hands and
get her comfortable with different textures.

Concurrently, Olivia was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (a.k.a. Sensory Integration Dysfunction) and went through an intense ten-day, full-day program at Special Children Center in Hudson, Wisconsin.  She had many follow-up sessions to help address on-going issues that were too great for the district to handle.

Olivia on Blackie
Olivia doing therapeutic horseback riding in 2007.
She was 4 years old in this picture.

Olivia also began therapeutic horseback riding at age three through Courage Riders and later participated in River Valley Riders’ program as well.  These two programs provided physical therapy, occupational therapy, cognitive therapy, speech therapy, and body/muscle strengthening…not to mention a love for horses and horseback riding. 

When she first began riding, she could barely sit up straight (she was hypotonic which basically means she had no muscle tone in her hips or upper arms/shoulder area) and couldn’t put more than one word together. Her language was at a standstill for a long time, and most of it was being done through American Sign Language. 

Within the first six-week session of therapeutic horseback riding, she put her first two words together!  It was huge breakthrough.  Now, five years later she can sit straight up on a horse and can compose multi-word sentences.  In fact, she is almost always talking.  She even still remembers some of the ASL signs she used as a toddler and young child. 

Exercising While Riding
Olivia exercising while horseback riding

For the past five years (from age 3-8 years old), Olivia has been seeing an opthamologist on a quarterly basis since she is legally blind in both eyes (without glasses).  Her left eye is substantially worse than her right eye, so it was recommended that she wear a patch on her right eye so that her brain would be forced to use her left eye.  In this way, it would strengthen her vision and prevent a complete loss of vision in her weaker eye. 

She also was receiving nightly medicine in her eyes so her lashes wouldn’t scratch her corneas.  About eight months ago, her lashes began moving away from her corneas and no longer were scratching them.  This medicine has been stopped which has been nice.

Olivia Sewing a Wool Felt Pencil Case
I had Olivia work on a variety of projects while she wore
her patch so it would even further help use the eye.
Here she is doing embroidery and
making a wool felt pencil case

Which brings her to second grade where I was noticing persistent challenges with speech/communication issues.  So, in Fall 2010, I approached the school district and requested an evaluation of her speech skills.  She qualified for services and has been going to speech therapy once a week since November 2010. 

Each week, her speech therapist (Laurie) gives Olivia several books to read at home.  She started at a very basic level since I had intentionally waited to have her begin reading. (I was following the Waldorf philosophy in terms of reading as I had done with my older daughter, Sophia who waited until the end of first grade/beginning of 2nd grade to read. She is now in 4th grade and reads at the late-5th grade level and has a comprehension level of an early-7th grader.)

Homeschooling Outside
Olivia trying her best with Explore the Code
part of her reading/language arts lessons

At this point, I wasn’t noticing anything much different from Sophia’s start in reading.  Reading was difficult for both of them, but they forged ahead with their reading assignments.  However, within a few weeks, Olivia’s ability to recall simple words that she read in previous weeks was not strong.  She would get highly frustrated with reading – almost to the point of tears.  This was very unlike Sophia’s reading experience.  I expressed concern to Laurie.

Laurie and I agreed to wait a bit longer to see if reading became any easier for Olivia.  It did not.  At that time, I requested testing for both reading and math (since she must use manipulatives in order to arrive at the right answer). 

I met with a group of eight women who made up the special education team/school administration.  I had to make a presentation about Olivia’s skills, concerns I had, and provide samples of her work. 

Olivia Doing Math with Shells
Olivia doing math with manipulatives.
She’s using shells on this day, but also uses sticks,
rocks, and other natural items.

After reviewing the materials and listening to my concerns, the team decided to move forward with testing while doing concurrent at-home interventions and testing for six weeks.  Although they didn’t anticipate the interventions/testing to improve during the six weeks, it is a necessary step in the paperwork they need to file with the state.

Olivia now has gone through a battery of tests by a special education teacher, an occupational therapist, speech therapist, and psychologist.  I’ve completed quite a few questionnaires and checklists that provide a different view of Olivia (from both a parent and teacher perspective). 

At this stage, it looks like she will qualify to receive services under the “learning disability” label.  I’ll know more specifically what her challenges are next week, but at this stage I do know that one thing she is definitely struggling with is short-term auditory memory and a bit of perceptual reasoning.  The tests that the different professionals did all will reveal more specific problems and areas with which she will need assistance.

So, going back to the book I read this week, A Special Mother, it was with interest that I read about the evaluation/assessment process, the written report, evalutation meeting, and IEP (Individualized Education Program).  The latter three items are forthcoming during the first two weeks of April, so it was valuable to get an overview of what to expect, read about a child’s educational rights, and see the wealth of resources available for parents of children with LD, autism, and other developmental learning disorders. 

Even though I’ve been through the process when Olivia was much younger, it is a bit different now that she’s moved from the “developmental delays” label and into the “learning disabilities” label.  The former, to me, is more transitory and something that can be worked through whereas the latter is, as it notes in A Special Mother, “…a neurological disorder.

“In other words, it results from a difference in the way a person’s brain is ‘wired.’ A learning disability means that a person of at least average intelligence will have difficulty acquiring basic academic skills that are essential for success at school and for coping with life in general.”

With more than three million children in the United States having been diagnosed with a learning disability, having books and resources for parents is invaluable.  It’s even more meaningful when the book was written by a parent whose child has a LD.  In Anne Ford’s case, her daughter Allegra has severe learning disabilities; and it provided the motivation to become an advocate for children with LD.

Reading about the experiences of Anne – as well as many other mothers profiled in the book – helps mothers realize that they are not alone…and that they can help their child to thrive.  I would highly recommend this book.

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Went to a miniature horse gathering over the weekend. There was such a wide range in the size/shape of the miniature horses – some being quite tiny and petite while others were more stocky.

All the miniatures were hooked up to carts and were pulling 1-2 people. Here the cart drivers are getting instructions for the first activity.

What are the benefits of cart driving for the horse?

Ponies and miniature horses are often ideal for driving as many breeds and bloodlines have been bred for that purpose. Even a miniature horse can pull an adult in a cart. Driving can also be a great second career for a pony or small horse that has been outgrown by his young rider.

Driving is an option for horse and pony owners who are unable to ride or those who prefer not to. Driving provides training and exercise for a horse and gives owners quality time with their equines without ever having to put a foot in the stirrup.

What are the benefits of cart driving for the driver?
Both Sophia and Olivia have done therapeutic horseback riding, and now are interested in cart driving (as well as continuing with horseback riding). I wanted to find out what the benefits are to cart drivers, and found that the benefits are very similar to therapeutic horseback riding:

– Increases self-confidence and awareness
– Normalizes high or low muscle tone
– Develops pre-ambulation skills and strength
– Improves balance, posture, coordination
– Motivates learning and self-discipline
– Helps in the development of interpersonal relationships

The Next Step

Clearly, it would be a great benefit to both the girls. It would be ideal if there was someone who no longer wanted their driving equipment and wanted to pass it along. I wonder if there’s someone out there who wants to do this….

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As I think back on the past week, I am grateful for…
:: gentle horses and volunteers who help my daughters in therapeutic horseback riding.
:: the continual visits by the hummingbirds who visit the feeder throughout the day.
:: seeing how happy Sophia and Olivia were when they passed to the next level in swimming.
:: being able to take daily bike rides, especially those around 8 p.m. when the moon is rising.

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The girls made make-shift reins from a lead rope, a saddle pad from a blanket, and a cinch from a rope. During the past week or so they have progressively added more items and weight to Bailey’s back – from a blanket first, then a stuffed animal, then an American Girl doll, then Olivia, and finally Sophia.

Bailey has been excellent, and seems proud and happy to give the girls rides. At this point, she walks around the penned in area only. The goal is to get her to eventually give rides in the pasture and then be able to do trail rides (there are some pretty trails and roads right around here).

This is something they have wanted to do for a long time. On the first day of homeschooling for the 2010-11 school year (on August 5th), they were successful with riding Bailey around the penned in area. It was a memorable first day of 2nd and 4th grade, to say the least.

On the second day of homeschooling, we took a field trip to the library. Olivia found a book on horse training (on her own), and Sophia read parts of it aloud on the way back home. It looks like it will be an interesting (and rewarding) year-long project both the girls can work on.

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Sophia and Olivia rode horses in a parade about an hour south of here. This was the first time they rode in a parade. Needless to say, this will be something both girls remember for years.

There were a lot of volunteers for the therapeutic horseback riding program she and Olivia are involved with this year. The horses were decorated…and were the riders to match their horses.

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The riders (including both Sophia and Olivia) are doing through the grove of walnut trees. There are pictures of horses attached to various trees.

The riders have to guide the horses throughout the trees, stop at the pictures, verbally describe and/or talk about the horse pictures, and then continue on to another picture.

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Olivia is doing a therapeutic horseback riding program now until the fall to help meet her sensory needs. (She has sensory integration dysfunction.)

This is one of the warm-up exercises that the children did. They also play games; learn to guide their horses through cones, over obstacles; gain skills in walking and trotting their horses; and (hopefully later this summer) jumping.

Therapeutic horseback riding has been so beneficial for both Olivia and Sophia – building their core muscle strength, improving their posture and balance, and communication skills. There are probably a host of other benefits that I don’t see, but are there each week for the girls when they enter the ring with their therapy horse.

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