Autism is a persistent developmental disorder characterized by impaired social behaviors, sensitivity to sensory stimuli, and repetitive or obsessive behaviors. I read an article on CNN this morning about a young boy dealing with severe autism who was able to demonstrate unusually effective behaviors with a combination of horseback riding and shamanistic treatments. His father describes him demonstrating pointing behaviors, “a milestone he had not yet reached” after a few days of working with the shamans. Horseback riding also seemed to sooth the boy. One of the doctors working with the child noted that although people often think of horseback riding as being effective because of the relationship with the horse, it is actually the movement of the horse that is so soothing for some children dealing with autism spectrum disorders. Applied Behavioral Analysis, one of the stand-by treatments for autism, is also being used with the child and he is currently reading at a 3rd grade level.
At the end of the day, I think that there a lot of elements of mental health treatment that we just don’t understand. Some things seem to work and others don’t, and the effective things don’t always fall solidly into the realm of Western Empiricism. I love science for the objectivity of it – nothing is unequovically true, it is only not proven false. The openness these parents demonstrated in seeking alternative treatments for their son left me inspired.