Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism

Blog #162~ Horseback Riding Therapy

Blog #162~ Horseback Riding Therapy


Horseback riding therapy, also known as Equine Assisted Therapy, involves interactions with horses for individuals with and without special needs, including those with physical, cognitive and emotional issues.  Hippotherapy is another term used by physical, speech, and occupational therapists to reach their patients on a personal level.


There are many benefits such as motor, emotional and sensory sensations that come with riding a horse. Horseback riding gently and rhythmically moves the rider’s body in a manner similar to a human gait, to improve  in flexibility, balance and muscle strength.

At age one, my son Nick was unable to sit up by himself due his low muscle tone, which is a trait of having Down syndrome.

Nick at age one…..


We had to prop him up in the high chair, so he wouldn’t slide down or slump to either side.  Nick was receiving physical, occupational and speech therapy in his early intervention program.  Shortly after his first birthday, we enrolled him in a horseback riding therapy program.

Person’s having Down syndrome please note:

“Prior to considering hippotherapy as a treatment strategy for your child, it is important that they have current cervical x-rays to ensure the atlantoaxial joint (or C1-C2) is not at risk for dislocation.  Some people with Down Syndrome also may have a condition known as Atlantoaxial Instability — a misalignment of the top two vertebrae of the neck. This condition makes these individuals more prone to injury if they participate in activities that overextend or flex the neck. Parents are urged to have their child examined by a physician to determine whether or not their child should be restricted from sports and activities that place stress on the neck injury.”

In less than nine months, of incorporating the horseback riding therapy, we noticed a vast improvement in Nick’s posture both in strength and endurance.  At first he couldn’t tolerate a helmet as it weighed him down, (as you can see in the first picture of this post).  But soon, he not only wore a helmet, but was able to keep his head upright, along with and sitting up better.

Nick with his brother, Hank, taken nine months after starting horseback riding therapy…


We decided on horseback riding therapy, initially to help our son gain trunk strength.  However, we soon realized there were many additional benefits that came along with it.  Not only did Nick ride on top of the horse, he also learned how to care for the horse by feeding, patting and brushing them.  This helped to create an emotional bond and opened up new sensory experiences that he couldn’t get in a clinical setting.  Riding a horse helped to wake up the sensory preceptors, making for a fun and motivating experience for him.

Horseback riding therapy was a wonderful experience for our son with special needs. The horses were gentle friends that helped Nick get stronger, build relationships through unspoken communication, and taught him about responsibility.  That’s what is in my noggin this week!


Follow Nick:

Facebook and Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism

Instagram #nickdsautism

Twitter @tjunnerstall



Posted in Down syndrome

Blog #32~ Cheers to Good Health

Blog #32~ Cheers to Good Health

Over the weekend, we took Nick over to the clinic to get his blood drawn.  I say we, because it is no longer something I can do alone.  Nick is strong and getting his blood drawn requires some muscle power. At least 3 people to hold him down and one nurse to do the procedure. Just when you think you have him locked down another appendage will wiggle out and break free. I am not sure which is worse this or trying to bathe a cat.  I can’t say I blame him.  I am not a big fan of blood draws either.  I turn my head the other way so I don’t get light headed and pass out.  Nick did a decent job and recovered quicker this time.  Of course his arm then becomes incapacitated the rest of the day.

Nick is a lefty but can’t seem to use that arm to eat…….. 🙂

Last year it was much worse, they had to draw three viles of blood instead of one.

Walking upstairs from the lab last year……

Still obsessed with the arm later in the car…..I think he’s milking it 🙂

One more, of arm immobilized… doesn’t seem to affect his appetite 🙂

There are health issues that can occur with having a child with Down syndrome. People with Down syndrome have an increased risk for certain medical conditions such as congenital heart defects, respiratory and hearing problems, Alzheimer’s disease, childhood leukemia, and thyroid conditions.  In addition, all children with DS should be screened for Atlantoaxil subluxation or dislocation. This is done with a cervical spine X-ray.  If the distance between the axis of the first vertebra and the second vertebra is more than 4.5 mm restriction from sports is advised. Nick’s registered at 3mm so it was under the limit and thus no restrictions in physical activities. Many of these conditions listed above are now treatable, so most people with Down syndrome lead healthy lives.  For more information about Down syndrome read Blog # 7 Mama Mia.

I am very grateful that Nick has been healthy and he has only had a few minor problems over the years. Well with the exception of when he was born.  Nick was in ICU for a week and kept on oxygen and had tubes strapped all over him to monitor his vital signs.  The neo natal specialist noted that he was having trouble breathing.  A few days later an ultrasound was done that showed no signs of having any heart defects but rather a valve in the lung that was not closing properly. Fortunately, this was something that closed on its own. He was discharged after a week and sent home with a monitor that was used at night as a precaution. Besides this initial scare, his health issues have been minor.

He had his share of ear infections growing up. Here he is with his brother Hank and Grandpa Tommy back when we lived in Texas.

“Mom, my ears hurt I need some Amoxicillin.”

Nick has had a few sets of ear tubes put in over the years.  This is an outpatient procedure and seemed to help eliminate the ear infections.  At age three, he had his tonsils and adenoids removed. It is so hard to see your child in pain isn’t it?

Poor little guys looks so sad here….. 😦

From a health standpoint, we have had it easy compared to a lot of kids with and without special needs.  My first prayers in the morning are always for good health for my family and friends.   It is a gift that should never be taken for granted. “He who has health, has hope; and he who has hope, has everything.” Arabian Proverb  That’s what is in my noggin this week.  Until next Monday, cheers to good health!