How a Horse is Helping a Child with a TBI
Traumatic brain injuries can cause a host of physical, social, cognitive, emotional and behavioral effects on a person. The outcomes of TBI can range from complete recovery to permanent disability or death. There are several causes of TBI and in most cases there are many lobes of the brain that are affected. TBI is a major cause of death and disability worldwide, especially in children and young adults.
Let me tell you about a sweet, 8-year-old boy who we get the pleasure of spending time with on our farm for Equine Assisted Learning. This young boy had a routine surgery at the age of 6 and in the recovery room was given a medication that caused him to have a stroke. The effects of the stroke then caused a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). His Mom describes him as a previously “chatty” and outgoing child. Since the TBI he suffers from difficulty word finding and recall, expressive aphasia (difficulty speaking what he is thinking), decreased memory, difficulty reading and writing, involuntary movements, decreased lower extremity strength and trunk control and when he gets nervous he begins to laugh excessively and needs re-directed to stop the laughter. He loves to play with the hose so during our sessions we use that as a reward. He responds very well to visual cues and we use a behavior chart during his session. We also write a plan for the session and he gets great enjoyment by crossing activities off the list.
Let me walk you through a session we had last week:
The goals of this session were to work on personal recall, writing letters he is having difficulty with, colors, word finding and expression. We use our 24-year-old gray quarter horse, Connie for his sessions as he has developed a connection with her.
- We started with grooming and we worked on body parts. I would ask him to groom Connie’s neck, shoulder, back, hip and then also ask him to point to those places on him. He would get every one correct except the hip; we worked on that a lot. When grooming we also watch which hand he chooses to use the most and his upper extremity strength to determine if he is developing a dominant hand again
- Next we worked on personal recall. I showed him Connie’s stall as her home and then I asked him to tell me who lives in his home- his response- mom, dad, sister (Correct). I then showed him her food bucket and asked him where he eats dinner. He first said in his room, and then said in the pantry so he got close. We discussed the difference between the kitchen and the living room and his bedroom. I then asked him to tell me about his home and asked where he lives, he could recall city and even his address.
- We then worked on some letters he is having trouble writing- Z,S,d,b and Y. We wrote these on Connie with chalk, his challenge with these letters is he writes them backwards, when that occurred, we would write the letter, he would trace ours then write it a few times. The last round he got all letter correct! He finds enjoyment writing on the horse as compared to sitting at a table writing on a piece of paper
- Next we played “eye spy” with items around the barn and on Connie to work on colors- (eye spy something red- he would guess Connie’s halter, etc)
- Last activity was “tell me about Connie”. He had to come up with 6 words to describe her while looking at her. He said, “soft, white, pretty, has a mouth, dirty and nice”.
- Finally since he had all smileys on his chart I allowed him to play with the hose by filling up our horse’s water buckets. He also got to feed Connie a carrot out of the feed bucket, which gives him much enjoyment!
Some sessions are much more challenging than others as every day can be different for a person with a TBI. At Crossroads Corral he is able to further is learning with the help from a horse named Connie. I am so grateful to a wonderful volunteer, Tracy, who is an Occupational Therapy Assistant and friend who helps with his sessions. With her OT brain and my PT and EAL brain we are able to be creative and conduct meaningful activities with the horse that promote his learning and growth. He has become very loving to Ms. Connie giving her a kiss on the cheek and saying, “I love her”. He also has grown quite fond of us, holding our hand as we walk around the barn. There is no doubt that he is building a connection, which is something he has struggled with according to his Mom who is a Physical Therapist and extremely devoted to his care. We are so thankful to his wonderful family who allows him to spend time with Connie and us on the farm!
Post Published by Lindsay Brim
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