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Volitional Change in Children with Autism: A Single-Case Design Study of the Impact of Hippotherapy on Motivation

Autism is a prevalent developmental disorder that affects numerous aspects of a child’s daily functioning, including but not limited to communication, social interaction, cognitive functioning, motor functioning, and sensation. The many impairments that characterize autism also have the potential to affect a child’s volition, defined by the Model of Human Occupation as a child’s interests, self-efficacy, and motivation to engage in new activities. The objective of this study was to determine the effects of a 16-week hippotherapy program on the volition of three children with autism. Using the Pediatric Volitional Questionnaire, two occupational therapists rated the three participants’ volition at three timepoints—before, during, and after the hippotherapy program. Visual analysis of the data using methods derived from single subject design research revealed an increase in participants’ volition over time. The study provides preliminary evidence that improved volition may be an important and under-recognized benefit of hippotherapy for children with autism.

This study examined the effects of 16 sessions of hippotherapy on the volition of three children with autism. Visual analysis of the data indicates that all three children showed an improvement in their motivation to engage in everyday activities as measured by the Pediatric Volitional Questionnaire (PVQ). Notably, these improvements were observed in a standardized play activity outside the hippotherapy sessions. The study findings do indicate that it may be possible to detect motivational change in children with autism who received hippotherapy. Anecdotal data suggest that one of the most obvious effects of hippotherapy is on motivation, while most studies of hippotherapy focus on other outcomes. This study provided preliminary evidence that, in one specific group (children with autism), motivation does appear to change in association with hippotherapy. It also provided evidence that the PVQ may be a particularly effective instrument for detecting change in motivation.


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