Experiences of equine assisted therapy for females with autism spectrum disorders
Purpose: This research indicates females with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) have a diverse clinical presentation compared to males. Furthermore, females with ASD are often diagnosed later and typically experience greater levels of mental health difficulties. Evidence suggests that clinic-based verbal interventions for ASD have limited efficacy; therefore, alternative therapies, such as equine-assisted therapies (EATs), are gaining recognition. The purpose of this study was to directly explore the experiences of females with an ASD who have undertaken EAT. Design/methodology/approach: Five female participants with a diagnosis of ASD were recruited from two equine therapy centres. Participants were aged between 15 and 30 years and undertook semi-structured interviews, which were analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis. Findings: Three superordinate themes emerged: the difficult experience of the social world, the process of EAT and the emotional impact of horses. Originality/value: Directly exploring the experiences of females with ASD highlights benefits from engaging therapeutically with horses, building confidence and independence to transferring this into more effective social communication with other people. Offering emotion-focused therapeutic complementary interventions for females with ASD should be forefronted to help remediate the impact of difficult and sometimes traumatic earlier experiences in the social world. This requires increased funding for EAT, combined with larger-scale research projects to evaluate this.