Kids saddle up for unique program to overcome autism communication gap

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Conner Haupt has autism. His brother, Nathan, has ADHD. Communicating can be a challenge for both brothers.

However, thanks to a unique program offered through the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent, Conner and Nathan are overcoming these challenges.

The hospital is partnering with Morning Dove Therapeutic Riding in Zionsville to create a camp that helps children on the autism spectrum. The camp uses horses to help the kids learn valuable skills, like taking turns, using eye contact and developing relationships with others.

“We’re able to help them foster their friendships, and we’re able to coach them in learning how to interact with other kids their age which is a big deal,” said program director Kate Murphy.

For parents like Conner and Nathan’s mom, Kelly, the change is evident. “I’ve seen differences in my children,” Kelly said. “My children are now talking to other adults, other kids where they haven’t in the past.”

Sharon Worder, the manager of Pediatric Therapy Services at St. Vincent, said horses give them a chance to connect with autistic children.

“It’s been found children relate better with animals than they do with their own peers,”  Worden told Fox59.

Now in its second year, the camp is receiving rave reviews.

“The kids have responded very positively. They look forward to coming back each week,” Worden said. “They really have bonded with the horses. They’ve bonded with each other.”

Kelly Haupt agreed, saying the camp has made a difference in the lives of her boys.

“It’s baby steps, but that’s where we need to start, and I see them getting better,” she said.

To learn more about the camp, call 338-GROW or click here.