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Perceived Benefits of Equine Therapy for Children with An Autism Spectrum Disorder

Katie Hall

Student ID: 20543319

December 1st 2014

Rec 270: Research Design Applicable to Leisure Studies

Professor Heather Mair


Research question and method of approach

Over the years, psychologists have studied a wide variety of animal assisted

therapies as part of a counseling process for youth. One that is emerging to the forefront

is equine therapy in particular. I am extremely interested in narrowing in on the effects

that therapy involving horses can have on children diagnosed with autism. A particular

question in which I wish to gain more insight on is: What are the perceived effects of a

therapeutic riding intervention program on the social and psychological aspects of

children with autism spectrum disorders? I believe that using a quantitative approach is

the best method for this study, as I will be looking to establish a specific relationship and

determine causality through more structured research instruments such as questionnaires

and surveys. The aim of the study is to gain a more in depth understanding of behaviors

children with autism have, and the specific impacts that horse therapy can have on those

particular behaviors.

Participants and recruitment process

Due to the fact that many, if not all the children partaking in the therapy process

would have limited communication skills, I would deem it suitable to instead survey the

parents or guardians. Whoever is looking after these children would have a supreme

understanding of their childs autistic tendencies, and be able to give a more accurate

report on whether or not the therapy is having an affect on their childs behaviors. The

participants will be recruited from a community-based program that offers equine therapy

specifically for children with ASD. Due to a possible desire of some parents to remain

unidentified and not partake, the recruitment process would thus look different than seen

in a traditional study. It would be appropriate to firstly contact the program director at the

facility, and provide them with a document to distribute to parents. It will outline things

such as the purpose and procedures of the study, and commitments that would be asked

of them. Parents could then decide if this study is something they are interested in, and if

they would consent to being approached for further details. This way, if parents were not

interested, no issues of anonymity would have ensued. Subsequently, those who give

permission to be approached would have the opportunity to discuss in person any further

details. If they commit to participating, then informed consent would be contracted, and

signed by those parents and guardians.

Data collection technique

The substance of the data will be collected using a one-group pre and post-test

design. The experimental group will be compiled of all those who give informed consent.

Pre-test measures will be distributed to the parents of the group in the form of a survey,

compiled of questions using a 5-point likert scale. The questions will evaluate overall

social functioning, mental capacities, and behavioral conduct of the children. The scales

ask the respondent to rate the childs ability to perform each of the things described on a

scale of one to five, ranging from can not complete to does without difficulty.

Afterwards the children will undergo 12 weekly sessions of therapeutic horseback riding

provided by the facility. Post-test measures will then take place upon completion of

treatment. The post-test will be in the exact form as the pre-test questionnaire, which

allows for direct evaluation of any possible changes to a childs behavior. The total mean

score of the childs social skills, as well as specific questions within the questionnaire can

be compared between pre and post-test to determine if there is indeed a causal

relationship transpiring.

Ethical considerations

There are several ethical considerations that need to be taken into account, mainly

due to the fact that this particular research involves individuals, which could be

considered a vulnerable group in society. The research process will offer

confidentiality and anonymity for the participants. Ensuring the researcher does not know

which questionnaire associates with each participant is imperative. It should also be taken

into consideration that participants should not feel forced into participating in the study,

and also if they wish to withdraw at any point that it be respected. Lastly, the data being

collected through the surveys is of a personal nature, and it is of the utmost importance

that it be protected and not shared with anyone outside of the research process.


Although this study has been designed to be as sound as possible, it is not without

its limitations. The nature of this particular study does not allow for random sampling,

and there is also a lack of a control group. Secondly, there is a possibility of spuriousness.

For example, participants could be registered in other therapy procedures, be taking

medications, or be influenced by unrelated factors that could be the actual cause of a

behavior change if one does occur. Finally, an additional limitation could come from the

subjectivity of the respondents filling out the surveys. As there isnt a set scale for what

true improvement is, there could be differing ideas across respondents grades. Further,

one could portray a greater or lesser improvement in functioning than has actually

occurred. Nevertheless I believe a study of this nature is extremely relevant to our field,

and the question I have posed is one of which society could surely benefit from acquiring

more information on.