CAS Reflection: Service
Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA)
- Demonstrate that challenges have been undertaken, developing new skills in the process.
Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) is an organisation that provides equine therapy for those with disabilities, be in cognitive, physical, or sometimes even both. In our service, we work with young children who have disabilities such as cerebral palsy (CP), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), down syndrome, or those who display issues with the movement of/ control over certain body parts and motor skills. Our group is partnered up and then assigned one of these children and we have to assess their riding ability and how they’re improving as the weeks pass by. As of right now, all of us have taken the role as side walker regardless of whether any of us have had experiences with horses or not. We have to walk on the sides of the horse and interact with our rider to make sure they have proper posture and are able to follow commands said by the instructor efficiently.
The child that my friend and I were assigned is a young boy with ASD. When we first flicked through the paperwork to get a general consensus as to what he was like as a rider, I wasn’t too worried. I thought I had an idea of what autism was like so I didn’t anticipate that the sessions would be too stressful. Turns out, that idea wasn’t as clear as it should have been. Our first session with our rider seemed to be a little distressing, for both the child and myself honestly. Without the proper training or briefing on his condition, I wasn’t able to work well with him. This could be seen as he wouldn’t listen to me or my partner when we tried to help him sit straight while riding the horse (which is something he tends to not do as proficiently) or even when we were trying to help him with his stretches. He seemed to be slightly agitated as well which made it even more difficult to communicate effectively with him.
In between this session and the next, I knew that I had to learn how to work effectively with him in order for him to feel more at ease during each session. Since I take HL Psychology, I went to my teacher to ask her for a general summary of what the cognitive disability really was as well as how I could go about approaching the rider. I also looked up ASD online as well as talked to my mother (who studied child psychology in university) about my struggle. All of that put together led me to a better understanding as to why our rider seemed to be so on edge for our first session. I learned that people with autism tend to want to do things a certain way, and any little change can cause them to become agitated, which would explain why our rider was uncomfortable during our first session as he had never worked with us before. My psychology teacher told me to continue approaching him the same way so it becomes routine and it will, therefore, lead him to become more comfortable as each session goes by.
Using this advice, our next session ended up being a lot more fun for my partner and I as well as our rider. He was a lot calmer and he began listening to us a lot better. By the third session, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all established a good relationship as he always double checks with us to see if we’ll be there the following week and he seems so much more comfortable with us. He has also been able to keep his back straight for longer periods of time which is a major improvement from the beginning. I feel really proud of him as well as myself for being able to get through to him in such a short amount of time, but I do know that there’s still a lot more to do in that sense due to his ASD, but I’m really happy with the fact that we’ve been able to become comfortable with each other.
(His face has been blurred for privacy)