What do I mean by this?

Horse Boy Method and learning are not just methodologies. Ok we now know, after 10 years of doing it and with two educational psychologists and a neuro-scientist now full time on the HB staff, that there is a basic science behind it all. the rhythms of the movements we create with horse and/or play equipment calm the over-active amygdala, replace the stress hormone cortisol with the communication and happiness hormone oxytocin and also stimulate the cerebellum (balance and precision) which in turn activates the pre-frontal cortex (reasoning and emotional regulation).

Ok. But for this methodology to work it has to be tempered with certain ethics, to make sure the application of the methodology is sound. With these kinds of ethics most methodologies, not just horse boy, are sound but without them a methodology merely becomes a set of commands against which any child, autistic or not, will naturally rebel, if only inwardly.

So what are these ethics? The first has to be self-compassion - we are going to make mistakes. We have to forgive ourselves. And guess what - it doesn’t matter as long as, crucially, we apologize to the child. That REALLY gets their attention. An adult apologizes and admits they're wrong? Really? How many people reading this ever experienced an adult apologizing to them even once as a child, let alone as a way of being brought up? But an adult that apologizes to a child shows to the child that his or her judgment is clear, and that therefore the child is in safe hands. And it takes pressure off the adult - because rather than thinking 'I must make no mistakes' and then falling to pieces when we inevitably make them, we know we can grow and recover and move on together. Phew.

Then there is following the child. Especially nonverbal kids can only show with their bodies what they want to do - kinesthetically. So see where they go, what they do with their hands, where they run to, and follow that. Stimming can then be turned into skill sets. Start where the child is, because that's where they are. We have to go fully into their world before they will trust us enough to put a toe into ours.

Then there is no pressure - what do we mean by that? We will ask a question and immediately model the correct answer a thousand times because frequently on the thousand and first time the child will spontaneously offer the right answer and then take the concept on from there. And if we always demand eye contact, the obvious giving of attention that many teachers and therapists demand, we shut the kid down. We can have faith: even with their back turned they are listening. Even when you know they know the answer to the question you've asked you can still give it to them - later they will confirm they know it through a treasure hunt or in conversation and then you can take the concept to its next stage. But when they know you won’t demand obvious attention all the time and won’t put them on the spot they will reward you with listening and the learning actually accelerates.

And then there is humor - at ourselves primarily. Shedding the need to be regarded as somehow dignified, an authority figure. That also breeds trust because all kids secretly know that adults who demand this kind of ritualized respect aren’t really sure of themselves. Add to that a sprinkling of wonder, exploration and do the whole thing in movement - on the trampoline, walking in the forest, playing in mud - until the child decides to be still...all these complete the picture of how to apply our methodologies.

It’s taken us ages to get this. In the early years I did the opposite of all these ethics and it got me precisely nowhere. And the little gains I thought I was making turned out to be empty and unconfirmed. Thankfully, however, gradually rowan and the other children trained us in the 'how' (ethics and application) as well as the 'what' (methodology). And with that training they gave we adults a great gift: happiness.

The Long Ride Home

The long awaited sequel of the Horse Boy.


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