By Miss G Edmonds
For as long as I can remember I have always felt a natural empathy with non-human species; not aliens I hasten to add! This empathy is with the animal species equus, i.e. the horse. When I look back through photos spanning the 23 years of my life I can find many photos of me with horses and other animals appearing to be in natural harmony. I am never happier then when hacking out in the countryside, cantering across a field or just being around horses. In fact, a lot of the time I wonder if I actually relate better to horses than I can to people! The language of the horse is something I actually seem to innately understand. It is a complex language, which relies on visual associations. It can be learnt through theory and tapping deliberately into the psychology of the horse. Some years ago I began to consolidate what I felt I innately experienced around horses by reading material on the psychology of horses. It dawned on me that it already was quite natural to me, and that a lot of it I found I subconsciously already understood.
Around this time last year, I was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. This did not come as a shock to me as I had suspected as much for about a year and years earlier had suspected that there was something different about me. However, I had no name for what it was or even any idea that I could be on the autism spectrum. This was something I had only ever associated with the people I had got to know on voluntary befriending schemes and social groups that I helped out with at organisations such as Mencap and Barnardos. These individuals had severe learning difficulties who didnt relate, or who related in very challenging ways, to other people. Little did I imagine that I could have more in common with my autistic cousins than with neurotypicals! Although, I must admit that I always enjoyed the company of these challenging individuals but never knew why until now!
I also began to reflect recently as to why I also always felt so happy in the company of animals and most notably with horses. Whilst engaging in research on autism and Asperger syndrome I stumbled across the work of Temple Grandin, and realised that I knew exactly where she was coming from. I would dearly love to meet Temple someday as I fully agree and respect her theories and views on the humane and
successful handling of certain animals by viewing things from their point of view. In her article, Thinking The Way Animals Do, Temple explains a number of points which identify the links between the behaviour and outlook of horses and autistic individuals.
I have learnt through my own observation and experiences now that I am aware of my own autism, that those who handle horses and other animals in a wholly neurotypical way tend to achieve less of a bond and fewer trusting relationships with them. The two horses in the picture are called Gracie (the grey one) and Dan (the bay [brown] horse). I spend a lot of time around them both talking to them, caring for them and of course, horseriding!! They belong to Vicky Bliss, a psychologist who specialises in learning disability and the autistic spectrum. Vicky shares my approach to the horses, an approach has often been called natural horsemanship, which considers the good of the horse over human desires. This approach is championed by famous horse personalities such as US-based Monty Roberts and UK-based Kelly Marks.
In his book, Horse Sense for People, Monty Roberts describes his observations of traits autistic individuals and horses have in common. Such things are:
* fear of loud and unusual sounds
* thriving on routine
* distress at direct eye contact
* dislike of forced touch
* distress at unfamiliar sights and sounds
Monty Roberts describes his belief that, Perhaps it is not surprising that the horse, a visual thinker with an extraordinary ability to sense the intentions of its rider, is quite comfortable being ridden by autistics and, furthermore, is able to cope with their often unusual behaviour. (Taken from Horse Sense For People: 2000: p. 45.)
Hence, from my own experiences I can now understand and feel very glad that my Asperger syndrome has significantly enhanced my relationships with animals, especially horses. This example of unusual skill is one of many factors that support my view that the unique psyche of the individual with autism has an enormous contribution to make to our world. I believe that the autistic way of thinking, which is often highly creative, unusual and alternative can only serve to enrich the lives of others when allowed to blossom in the appropriate environment.
Miss G Edmonds
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