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Horse power for active healing

When Rupert Isaacson and Kristin Neff's son Rowan was incontinent, prone to screeching tantrums and had no clear language, no friends and seemingly no hope at age five, they brought him to Outer Mongolia to be treated by shamans. They say Rowan was healed there.

Rowan's autism was diagnosed when he was three.

Autistic children, typically, don't play with others. They don't make gestures such as pointing or waving. They may not answer to their name. They may have started to speak, but language often drains away. They often express themselves with self-stimulation such as flapping their arms, repeated jumping, slapping themselves and head banging.

For many parents, woo-woo cures hold out a mythic hope: special diets, drinking and playing in pure water from special wells or chemical therapies.

The Isaacsons tried all this with Rowan, and more. Only two things helped: riding a horse with his father calmed him, as did a trip with travel writer Rupert to Bushman healers.

Rupert persuaded his developmental psychologist wife Kristin that they should bring Rowan to Mongolia, a centre of shamanism, to be treated by healers, including the great shaman Ghoste.

The treatments, filmed by director Michel Scott for a movie now backed by the Autism Society of America, included both parents being beaten with rawhide whips, the whole family drinking reindeer poo soup, and Kristen being told to wash out the evil spirit that had inhabited her woman's parts during pregnancy -- with vodka.

Whether it was the shaman drumming, the long trip across Mongolia as a family or the horses, Rowan changed.

He had never used a toilet. Now, suddenly, he took off his pants and crouched. Days later he was using toilets by himself.

He was making friends, with the Mongolian guide's son, Tomoo, then with other children. He was riding by himself; starting to speak, to communicate -- even to tell stories.

At home, Rowan continues to work with horses. The shamans advised that he keep riding and he go to a shaman each year. The Isaacsons now run a children's horse-therapy centre at their Texas home. Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL) is increasingly popular for children with developmental difficulties. Advocates say the rhythm of riding stimulates parts of the brain that other exercises don't, and that horses secrete the calming neurohormone oxytocin in their sweat.

Rupert Isaacson isn't worried about the science. "Rowan is still autistic," he writes. "His essence, his many talents, are all tied up with it.

"He has been healed of the terrible dysfunctions that afflicted him -- his physical and emotional incontinence, his neurological firestorms, his anxiety and hyperactivity."

>>>WHAT IS AUTISM? Autism is a disability, according to Irish Autism Action, which affects normal brain development in areas of social interaction and communication. Typically, autistic people show severe communication difficulties, difficulty in social relationships, repetitive activities and have an obsessive and narrow range of interests.

Irish Society for Autism www.autism.ie Horse Boy Foundation www.horseboy foundation.org