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Donkey Therapy Helps Kids with Autism

autismtherapy294At Cultivate Care Farms, an outpatient care farm in Bolton, Mass., clients with mental health, addiction and communication disorders come to connect with animals and agriculture as a form of therapy. Care farming is a centuries-old model that originated in the Netherlands, and while it continues to be widely popular Europe, it is gaining momentum in the U.S. About 100 clients, all outpatients, visit Cultivate each week. They can work with horses, sheep and alpacas, but donkeys, in particular, have a way with kids on the autism spectrum.

Unlike horses, donkeys haven’t been bred to interact with humans for centuries. There’s a lot of attitude in burros. That, Megan Moran, therapist and site director said, is what makes them special. They’re small but feral. Approachable, but not easily charmed. Donkeys, it turns out, are a great metaphor for people.

“Their needs are pretty basic and concrete,” Moran said. “So when you have someone who has maybe a communication disorder, it’s not as hard for the client to decipher what it is that the donkey wants. And so, you can get a lot of cause and effect, which is really helpful, especially when clients are then needing to figure out how to navigate the real world.”

Eight-year-old Memphis looks forward to coming to the seven-acre care farm every week. He said it makes him feel calm.

“I feel happy,” He said softly, peering through blue-framed glasses. “The animals are covered in fur, and when you pet them, they feel soft.”

That’s part of the idea behind the care farm approach: taking therapy out of the formal clinical setting.

Andrew Lapin, founder and executive director of Cultivate, said what typically takes months in an office setting only takes weeks at the farm, adding that many clients with psychological disorders are thriving.

“I think it’s important that we consider donkeys more in treatment,” Lapin said. “We have put this huge emphasis on horses as these beautiful and majestic creatures, which they are. But we also forget that humans are all different, and there’s a lot of humans that don’t identify as beautiful or majestic, and there’s a lot of humans that don’t feel like that’s their story. But with a donkey you catch just about everyone.”

Excerpted from “Donkey Therapy On Care Farm Helps Kids With Autism” on WGBH online. Read the full story, or watch a video clip about donkey therapy:

Source: WGBH | Donkey Therapy On Care Farm Helps Kids With Autism, https://www.wgbh.org/news/local-news/2019/02/06/donkey-therapy-on-the-care-farm-helps-kids-with-autism |© 2019 WGBH

To schedule an evaluation or to get advice about your child’s challenges, call or email a CHC Care Coordinator at 650.688.3625 or careteam@chconline.org


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