Date of Award


Document Type

Capstone Project

Degree Name



Occupational Therapy


Therapists work with many children with many different diagnoses. One of the most prevalent diagnosis is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). According to recent statistics, available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with ASD; which is a developmental disability that can cause social and behavioral challenges (CDC, 2016). ASD can also be defined as a complex group of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by deficits in social interaction and verbal and nonverbal communication, as well as restricted, repetitive interests (APA, 2016). Therapist also work with individuals who have other diagnoses and deficits, including but not limited to, cerebral palsy (CP), developmental delay, genetic syndromes, and intellectual disabilities (ID).

When looking at the multiple deficits that could exist in children, employment of multiple treatment strategies and interventions is important. Occupational therapy services work towards enhancing client participation in performance of activities of daily living (ADLs), instrumental activities of daily living (iADLs), education, work, leisure, play, sleep, and social participation (AOTA, 2015). Occupational therapists focus on the goals that parents have for their children (Schaaf, 2015). The input of the parent and collaboration between the therapist and the parents is very valuable making the treatment not only client-centered, but family centered.

Parents pursue both traditional and non-traditional treatment strategies in order to improve function in their children. The child is directly affected by the vast amount of needs, but the parent is also indirectly affected, as they need to provide the services and fulfill the needs of their child. Parents of children with ASD report more parenting stress symptoms then those parents of typically developing children (Lai, 2015). Parents need a treatment strategy that will help their children meet functional milestone and develop into independent young adults.

Hippotherapy (HPOT) is a treatment strategy that utilizes purposeful manipulation of equine movement to engage multiple systems in order to achieve functional outcomes (AHA, 2016). Speech language pathologists as well as occupational and physical therapists are licensed to practice hippotherapy utilizing the horse as a treatment tool. Research has been conducted supporting the efficacy of hippotherapy as part of an integrated treatment program. HPOT is a treatment strategy that addresses many of the deficits observed in children. Equine-movement facilitates developmental milestone achievement and motor coordination including balance and coordination through core strength (Ajzenman, 2013). Additionally, HPOT targets sensory needs by providing skilled sensory input to reach optimal levels of arousal and creating neurological pathways employing both sides of the brain while completing functional tasks astride the horse (AHA, 2016).

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© 2017 Autumn O'Hara.