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Your Dollars @ Work: Providing a Unique Therapeutic Opportunity

This post below is by Jennifer Hitz, Grants Coordinator, and Megan Giordano, Equine Director, of Leg Up Farm. Opened in 2010, Leg Up Farm is a nonprofit therapy center, located in Mt. Wolf, Pennsylvania, whose mission it is to enrich the lives of families with special needs children through customized therapeutic experiences. Since its opening, Leg Up Farm has provided therapy and education services to over 1,200 children, over 20% of whom have had an autism diagnosis.

York County, Pennsylvania, like most other locations across the country, is facing the challenge of providing quality education programs to students with special needs while also receiving reduced dollars to do so.

In fact, teachers have been reporting that, because of restrictions in their school district budgets, support services, as dictated within each student’s IEP, have been limited.  As such, over time, the teachers have witnessed these services becoming stagnant and no longer having a comprehensive impact on the needs of their students.

Leading Change – A New Look at Providing Therapeutic Services to Students Affected by Autism

Through the Regional Grant program of Autism Speaks, the staff of Leg Up Farm realized it had an opportunity to support local schools by providing enhanced therapeutic opportunities to students attending autism support classrooms. 

The Regional Grant funding allowed Leg Up Farm to further develop a group equine curriculum it had created jointly with a special educator, called Leading ChangeLeading Change utilizes therapeutic horsemanship activities, which include the creative, non-traditional and stimulating nature of the Leg Up Farm facility and its barnyard animals (i.e. horses, ponies, donkeys), to foster increased self-awareness, self-reliance and self-confidence levels within the students served. Specifically, group modality is employed to teach students how to better interact with others, explore their individual triggers and coping mechanisms and overcome obstacles, among other important life lessons.

Previously, the curriculum had only been utilized with children attending emotional support and neurological support classrooms. Through work with the selected autism support classrooms, Errorless Teaching methods were incorporated into the Leading Change curriculum, including the repetitive use of flashcards, icons and reviewing of rules and program expectations at the start of each session.

Project Impact

Over the course of fourteen weeks, nine middle and high school students affected by autism participated in the program and achieved personal success.  For one student, his school day was typically spent pacing the classroom.  By the end of the Leading Change program, he had not only dramatically reduced his pacing during the sessions, but he had gained the ability to concentrate on tasks at hand, including completing standard barn chores and independently riding a horse.  For another student, his main struggle daily was combating anxiety.  As such, he was extremely introverted and soft spoken.  The movement of the horse helped him to reduce the anxiety he felt, in turn, he spoke louder while riding which translated to his time off the horse as well.  For him, Leading Change helped him to find his voice.

A Note of Thanks

Thank you Autism Speaks for allowing Leg Up Farm to expand and enhance the Leading Change curriculum.  The benefits seen in the students were impactful and inspiring.  We are excited to utilize the enhanced curriculum with other children who are affected by autism.

Your Dollars @ Work is a blog series highlighting the important work of past recipients of Autism Speaks grants to give you a glimpse into how your donations are changing lives of so many in the autism community! Check out previous entries here.

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.