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Piper182 01-28-2013 12:34 PM

Asperger's and Riding
Ok guys... I need help here. I'm sorry it's longish but I wanted to give as much info as possible.

I posted a few days ago that I teach riding and I had a high anxiety student and asked for some help. Now, my boss has apparently decided to challenge me as much as possible.

There is a 22 year old "volunteer" at our barn with Asperger's Syndrome. She also has a large tendency to lie and has extreme anxiety, especially with confrontation. Her riding instructor of 8 years has officially become sick of her and refuses to teach her anymore. She is a very clingy girl and although she went to college for horses, she does not really know very much. Anything out of her comfort zone is hell.

My boss has asked me to take her on. I have taught her before. She rides with her outside hand up and her inside hand crossed over the withers claiming all horses are fighting her. When I make her drop her reins, it gets better, but things go back to the way they were the next lesson. The lessons are the same each time.

She apparently used to jump and my boss would like me to help her get back to that. My thought is to stick her on a lungeline, take away her reins and see her jump small on a good horse.

Any other ideas of how to deal with this girl??? She gets very defensive and upset and then she will text me 30 times a night about everything and anything. Boundaries have been set up, but she forgets them within a few weeks.

How do I help this girl to improve while keeping my cool and not being mean, which was her last instructors approach and it was horrible to listen to her lessons. Thanks in advance.

boots 01-28-2013 07:53 PM

Put your "boundaries" in writing, number them, and be prepared to explain what they mean over and over. Put the definitions in writing, right on the same page as you write your rules.

Don't take the student's anger, anxiety or frustration personally. She may just be used to expressing this way and it may be a step in how she processes. You may be able to suggest other ways to express those emotions, but don't expect to see immediate change. But, I bet the girl will think about it and over time you'll see an improvement.

Some, though not all, people with Asperger's Syndrome and other disorders on the Autism spectrum have sensory integrative disorders. Without writing a book on those, I may suggest: trying to talk more quietly or keep it normal, raising or lowering your voice (see what gets her attention), give extra time for her to organize a response - whether it is physical movement or verbal, suggest homework exercises that will both strengthen and improve balance. Have her keep a chart of which ones and on what days she does them. Name your emotion -- if she does something that causes 'near death' to herself, the horse or someone else and you scream (of course) explain you were scared. If you are angry that she does a), b) or c) state first that you are angry. If you are happy, use the word. If she lies call her on it, but know that sometimes (though surely not always) people with this disorder have a bit of trouble differentiating "real" memories from "imagined" memories. Simply state that "x" is not true, or that you did not experience the same thing, or that while it could happen - it didn't. And move on.

I hope you two adapt to each other and you end up having a cool time teaching her.

upnover 01-28-2013 09:11 PM

I taught a kid who was somewhere on the Autism spectrum, I don't know if he was actually labeled "asperger's" but I know he was highly functioning and was not in a special classroom but never made eye contact, had a flat voice, etc.

I'm trying to remember what it was like, as it was a few years ago... but the "comfort zone" thing was definitely a big issue. Changing from one arena to another was BIG DEAL and he did not cope well with it at all. I found that giving him lots of advanced warning (in two weeks we're going to ride in this arena. Next week we're going to ride in this arena, etc) helped him out a little. He never wanted to change anything so warnings made it less of a big deal. I also tried to stick to a very specific routine just to help him out. The hard part was knowing when to make him suck it up and do it my way, or to be sympathetic and go with the way he wanted to do things. He seemed to like it when I spoke to him in a very matter of fact tone. And things were very black and white to him so I had to speak to him very literally. Although, I don't know if that was the aspergers or just his personality. I don't know if that helps out at all but that's all I can remember. He only rode with me for 5 or 6 months so I don't remember everything. But I do remember I had to start ever lesson reminding myself that it could either be frustrating or a situation where I was going to learn how to teach a different method. In the end I ended up liking him quite a bit. He was a funny kid and was a little sad (although a little relieved) when he quit for the winter. Good luck!

Shropshirerosie 01-28-2013 09:58 PM

Boots gives brilliant advice. Be literal - always. She will find it hard or impossible or to understand implications or analogies. Be factual, be patient.

Two books for you to read:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

The Town that Drowned by Riel Nason

Both fictional novels that contain characters with Autism. In the first one the protagonist has Aspergers.

Everyone with Aspergers is different, but these books will both give you an insight into the autistic world. If you only have time for one book, go for the Mark Haddon one. It is FABULOUS and in my humble view the world would be a bit of a better place if everyone read it. My brother has Aspergers; grew up with it way before autism was on most doctors radars so was undiagnosed. It humbled me when I read it.

upnover 01-28-2013 10:10 PM

Ok, I just re-read my post and I sound like a terrible person! "Relieved" probably isn't the right word. It wasn't like he was a nuisance or that I didn't like him, in fact I liked him quite a bit. But he was a challenge and I had to figure out how to best work with him so that he could learn in a way that was comfortable for him. He always kept me on my toes.

Saddlebag 01-28-2013 11:21 PM

Piper I too taught a gal who continually fiddled with the reins altho I hadn't been told of her learning disability. I asked her to remove her bridle and put on the knotted halter and to mount bareback. She was fearful at first until I asked her if she was up to a challenge. All she had was one line, her lead shank. Her horse, who'd been in a constant state of confusion suddenly became a gem. She rode him with her left hand and the fiddly hand was now quiet. Her requests were now clear and she had a wonderful lesson.

Oxer 01-28-2013 11:23 PM

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^^ I don't think there's anything wrong with being a "little relieved", upnover. there is a young girl that rides with our team that has Asperger's and while she's a kind and bright young girl... she can also be exhausting and, even on the occasion, frustrating.

Saranda 01-29-2013 04:25 AM

I have Asperger's, I'm a rider and I used to be a horror to some of my instructors. boots already gave a wonderful and precise advice on how people with Asperger's sometimes see the world (especially about lying being actually distorted memories!), but if I can help with any information and experience, please, do ask.

One thing to remember - although the girl might seem different in the way she communicates, it is most likely that inside she is just like anyone else. The thing that differs is the bridge from her inner world to the one we all share, and it is sometimes very frustrating not to understand and not to be understood in areas that seem so simple and obvious. In writing, I can express myself fully, as it is with many aspies, but, when it comes to direct talking and expressing emotions, there are some doors shut. So be patient and in no moment treat her "special" - that would just deepen her frustration and difficulties to percieve everything in the true light of the matter.

Piper182 01-29-2013 09:14 AM

Thank you all so much, I truly appreciate the help. Boots, you make some amazing points and Saranda I will definitely take you up on your offer if you don't mind. Thank you all.

p.s. upnover, even though i love teaching, there are many kids that I'm not exactly sad when they take a break. I never want them to quit, but sometimes it is nice to get a break. :)

NBEventer 01-29-2013 11:46 AM

I used to teach a girl with Aspergers. The biggest thing I noticed with her is she had a very hard time communicating what was going through her mind and that would lead to outbursts.

She became very attached to me and thrived off a set routine. What I ended up doing with her was sit down and make a "list". It would almost be a check list for her. It was broken down to the very basics and we would set weekly goals. An idea of the checklist

-Find coach and say hello
-Check the board for assigned horse
-Get brushes and tack set up where horse will be cross tied
-Get horse from stall/padock and crosstie
-Brush horse starting with curry comb, then hard brush, soft brush and pick out hooves
-Put brushes back in kit
-Start tacking up boots on horse, saddle pad, saddle
-Check with coach to find out when to bridle

The list would go like this. She loved having her check list. We had another one for when she was on and starting to ride. It would start with warming herself and her horse up. Arm circles, toe touching, walk halt transitions etc

It seems really silly but she really thrived off having this routine and her goals. The goals would be so simple and basic. One week it was "go entire week without being told to check diagonal" or "work on two point" just little things.

Now my student was only 15. So you might need something a little more advanced then this but I have done similar things with other students that had LD's.

Good luck and if you ever need advice or have a question feel free to pm me. I tend to get handed all the students with LDs for some reason lol and I actually really enjoy it. Its great having these small goals and seeing how excited they get when they reach their goal. One kid is so excited that shes started learning stride control. Another one of my kids just about peed herself from being so happy and excited she mastered a half halt. I just love it :-)

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