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A systematic mapping review of equine-assisted activities and therapies for children with autism: implications for occupational therapy




McDaniel, Brittany Caitlin, author
Wood, Wendy, advisor
Hooper, Barbara, committee member
Bruemmer, Jason, committee member

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Equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAAT) are often used to promote the health and wellbeing of children with autism. However, the diverse body of literature investigating the effects of EAAT has yet to be systematically synthesized. This study aimed to determine the current state of knowledge pertaining to the use of EAAT for children on the autism spectrum in relation to their ability to participate in everyday occupations where they carry out their lives at home, school, and in the community. A systematic mapping review identified the empirical methods, treatment strategies, theories, and outcomes present in the literature. Database searching and a rigorous process of inclusion and exclusion identified 25 peer-reviewed papers relevant to EAAT for children with autism. Data were extracted from each paper and analyzed in Microsoft Access and Microsoft Excel. Eighty percent (20 papers) of the literature was research, all of which employed quantitative designs. The most commonly studied treatment strategies were therapeutic riding (10 papers) and hippotherapy (4 papers). A variety of theories for why EAAT may be therapeutic were proposed, including the movement of the horse, horse-human interaction, positive reinforcement, social interactions, and sensory processing. A variety of outcomes were studied, including communication, sensory processing, balance, autism severity, behavior, and quality of life. Strengths and gaps of knowledge are identified, leading to recommendations for future practice and research.


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equine-assisted activities and therapies
systematic mapping review
occupational therapy


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