Equine Assisted Therapy, Hippotherapy, Pragmatic Language and Social Skills, Speech and Language Development, Speech and Language Therapy, Speech Language Pathology in Motion

Hippotherapy as a Speech Therapy Treatment Strategy for Pragmatic Language Deficits

Hippotherapy can be used to address a wide variety of speech and language goals (see my blog on Hippotherapy as a Speech Therapy Treatment Strategy).  Virtually any goal that a Speech Therapist works on in a clinic setting can also be addressed using hippotherapy as a treatment strategy.  Addressing these goals on the moving horse often enhances the results.  Here are a few ways how a therapist may use hippotherapy to address Pragmatic language deficits:

The position of the patient, and the horses movement can be used to encourage eye contact and joint attention skills

Pragmatic language deficits can range from mildly delayed to severely impaired.  To learn more about pragmatic language click here.

Patients with pragmatic language deficits may be working on early social skills such as responding to their name, responding to social greetings, making eye contact, and joint attention.  Or, they may be working on higher level social skills such as gaining another person’s attention, initiating, maintaining terminating and shifting conversations appropriately,  understating subtle social cues, repairing communication breakdowns, using and understanding non-verbal social signals, using and understanding facial expressions and understanding what type of communication is appropriate for the situation.

Speech therapists work with patients to address pragmatic language deficits in a variety of settings.  Often group therapy and therapy in other natural social environments is recommended and is most beneficial for addressing pragmatic language deficits.

Patients have opportunities to interact with all members of the hippotherapy team including the horse.

Pragmatic language deficits can effectively be addressed using hippotherapy.  Hippotherapy is a unique speech treatment strategy in that it involves more then just the patient and the therapist.  There are typically 2-3 people and a horse working as part of the hippotherapy team.  Because the sessions are typically conducted at a farm, there are often also other children and adults who the patient may cross paths with during the session.  There are opportunities to work on a wide range of pragmatic language skills with all of these people in a naturalistic manner during a speech session using hippotherapy as a treatment strategy.

Under the guidance of the speech language pathologist, patients are encouraged to greet, introduce themselves, appropriately initiate, maintain, shift and terminate conversation topics.  Patients can develop social relationships with others in this natural setting.  They learn the names of the people who assist in the hippotherapy session and learn to thank them and their horse at the end of each session.

Patients can work on skills such as requesting help when needed.  Objects can be placed out of the patients reach and they can be encouraged to ask for help to get the items.  The patient may also need to ask for help getting on and off of the horse and with position changes.  Being able to seek out others, gain their attention, and ask them for help when needed is an important social skill.

The horse and the horses movement can be used by a speech therapist to encourage social skills such as eye contact, and joint attention.  For example, if the patient is not attending to an activity the horses movement can be modified or stopped.  Often this change will encourage the patient to orient and attend to the immediate environment.  Patients naturally make eye contact with the therapist when these changes occur.  If a patient is having difficulty paying attention to or responding to pragmatic cues the horse’s movement can be stopped to help bring the patient’s attention back to the therapist.  The therapist can reinforce eye contact by having the horse walk again after a patient makes eye contact.

Playing catch on a moving horse is a great way to work on joint attention skills and turn taking!

Patients have the opportunity to work on turn taking skills during interactions with others and during all activities.  Activities such as games, playing catch, basketball, holding a toy and many others can be incorporated into the session to address turn taking skills.

While working with a speech language pathologist, patients can work on understanding verbal and non-verbal social cues, facial expressions, and recognizing and repairing communication breakdowns.  They can also work on understanding what type of social interaction is appropriate for various situations and when interacting with different people.

All of these opportunities for social interaction make hippotherapy an excellent tool for addressing pragmatic language deficits when provided by a specially trained speech language pathologist.

Speech Language Pathology in Motion is a private practice located in Hauppauge and Islandia NY.  Visit our website to learn more about us: www.speechinmotion.com

Tina is the owner of Speech Language Pathology in Motion, a private practice on Long Island, NY. Her continuing education has included training in numerous speech language pathology treatment techniques including animal assisted therapy, Hippotherapy, PROMPT, DIRFloortime, The SOS Approach to Feeding, NDT, LAMP, and TEACCH. Tina has been recognized as a board certified hippotherapy clinical specialist (HPCS) since 2011 and is one of only ten SLPs in the United States to hold this credential.

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© 2012 – 2015, Tina M. Rocco, M.A. CCC-SLP, HPCS. All rights reserved.

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