URC

Therapy in the Lives of Children with Disabilities

Stacy Truelove
The Master’s College


Abstract

According to the United States Census Bureau in the year 2000, 8.1% of Americans between the ages of 5 to 20 are considered as having a disability (www.census.gov). The purpose of this study was to determine whether or not consistent involvement in either occupational therapy or therapeutic riding makes a positive difference in the lives of children with disabilities. The survey instrument included a personal data sheet requesting demographic data in addition to the responses to the ten survey questions. The survey instrument was distributed to parents of students who participate in the Carousel Ranch program in Acton, California, April 7-8, 2006. STATPAK was employed to examine the data and the one dimensional Chi-Square test was used for data analysis. The Review of the Literature indicated that there is a potential benefit that either occupational therapy or therapeutic riding has in the lives of children with disabilities. The survey conducted by the researcher indicated that the parents of students involved in therapeutic riding at Carousel Ranch agreed that therapy does make a difference in the lives of their children with disabilities. The results of this survey align with numerous other studies Because eight out of the ten computed Chi-square values were greater than the tabled Chi-square values at the 0.05 level of significance, both research questions were statistically significant. Therefore it was determined that with consistent therapy these children with disabilities who are involved in either occupational therapy or therapeutic riding, potentially have more opportunities to be involved in society.

INTRODUCTION

Children with disabilities will most likely be involved in some form of therapy during their lifetime. Through therapy there is an expectation that there will be much improvement in a child’s disability. “Parents and caregivers naturally feel that individuals with disabilities need appropriate therapy…” (Hirsch, 1998, para. 19). Two different forms of therapy that will be studied in this thesis are occupational therapy and a newer form of therapy, therapeutic riding. This study will investigate whether or not occupational therapy and therapeutic riding make a positive difference in the lives of children with disabilities. Current research suggests “All of the therapies share a common goal: improving, or preventing regression of, functional abilities” (Hirsch, 1998, para. 3). Additionally, research suggests that participation in therapy “enables the child to participate fully in all roles and functions that are meaningful and important” (Majnemer, 1999, para. 1). Children with disabilities who are involved in a consistent form of therapy may reap bountiful benefits for their lives.

Children with Disabilities

Disability can be a frightening word to people. It means that there is something wrong. In today’s world where perfection is the goal, disability is often seen as a major flaw. However there are thousands of families each year that cope with the challenge of raising a child with a disability or disabilities. One example of a disability--“Generally speaking, children with mild mental retardation are delayed in terms of social and emotional functioning. They usually exhibit lower levels of self-esteem and a more unfavorable self-concept than their peers without mental retardation” (Tarva-Behring & Spagna, 2004, para. 20). Families face the challenge of trying to help their children function to the best of their ability in a world of perfection where their disabilities are often looked down upon as imperfection. There are hundreds of options that these families can choose to help their children succeed. “Children with disabilities or who are at risk for disabilities often require intervention in motor and communicational development, so occupational therapy, physical therapy, or speech-language therapy are frequently involved” (McWilliam, Young, & Harvalle, 1996, para. 2). “All the therapies share a common goal: improving, or preventing regression of, functional abilities” (Hirsch, 1998, para. 3). The two types of therapies addressed in this research are occupational therapy and therapeutic riding.

Therapy Selection

“All therapists work with individuals to help them develop or maintain age appropriate skills or tasks. . . and evaluate any physical limitation that could affect these skills” (Hirsch, 1998, para. 3). There are families that choose not to enroll their child in therapy. “Some people have trouble understanding why a child would need a therapy having to do with an ‘occupation’” (Hirsch, 1998, para. 5). The remainder of this review of literature will address the need for children to learn specific occupations. Significant factors to consider when evaluating a possible therapy option include: “The evaluation, goals, and treatment program should be uniquely designed to fit the child’s needs” and, “Parents and caregivers should be important partners on the therapy team. It is essential to respect what they feel is important and helpful” (Hirsch, 1998, para. 13-14).

Occupational Therapy

Occupational Therapy is one of the most common forms of therapy that is sought out for a child with a disability. “The purpose of occupation therapy is to maximize a child’s functional potential in all environments (home, school, and community). This enables the child to participate fully in all roles and functions that are meaningful and important to her and her family” (Majnemer, 1999, para. 1). This form of therapy is significant because it helps the child with the every day tasks of life such as, brushing their teeth on their own, putting things in order, and writing in order to do better academically. Also, “Treatment is child-centered: goals focus on activities that are most important to his stage of development. Activities used are meaningful and engaging to him” (Majnemer, 1999, para. 8).

Occupational therapy involves, “. . . activities to reduce or minimize difficulties [and] deficits, to prevent disabilities in functional skills, to maximize independence, and to maintain health and a sense of well-being” (Majnemer, 1999, para. 7). It is necessary because it covers such a broad range of issues that may need to be addressed in a child’s life. “Occupational therapy aims to enable clients to engage in self-directed daily occupations in the areas of self-care/self-maintenance, productivity (school, work), and play or leisure” (Rodger & Ziviani, 1999, para. 2). It can allow a child to successfully perform the little details in life that others do not have to think about, thus helping them to more easily adapt in society. “A major goal of occupational therapy is to enhance a person’s ability to interact competently or effectively in his/her environment” (Rodger & Ziviani, 1999, para 2). It appears that occupational therapy can contribute to a disabled child acquiring proficiency in needed life skills.

Therapeutic Riding

A newer form of therapy that parents are considering is therapeutic horseback riding. Historically, Animal Therapy has been used as an effective tool because, “Children with pervasive developmental disorders have shown a marked improvement with animal therapy” (Pitts, 2005, para. 5). Animal Therapy has mainly been used to help with emotional disorders and social issues. “One of the reasons that animal assisted therapy may be beneficial for children with pervasive developmental disorders is that animals can act as transitional objects. ‘Children can establish primary bonds with the animals; these bonds can then be transferred to humans’” (Pitts, 2005, para. 6). Smaller domestic animals such as cats, dogs, birds, and rats have generally been used for the purpose of animal therapy; however, therapeutic riding involves the use of horses. Because of the use of horses parents may initially be skeptical about this form of therapy because of the higher risk factor; however, once the children interact with them they are inclined to realize the difference that the horses can make in children’s lives. “As a work assistant or simple companion, the contributions of animals to enhanced quality of human life has been documented, both formally and informally, throughout the ages” (Heimlich, 2001, para. 1). The horse is no different from other animals that have been used in therapy because they love the attention of the children and often give reciprocal attention to the children as well. With horses there can be a fear factor for some of the children; this can help therapeutically as well because normally by the second or third riding lesson a child is excited about the horse. The result can be that the child was faced with a fear and then overcame it.

Children with social issues may also benefit from the horses because they are not an animal that everyone is able to interact with. Frequently the horse becomes a spring board for conversation in social settings. “Riding gives freedom. Riding also gives us a wonderful sense of accomplishment, a challenge, and a goal whether it’s a ride on a summer day or a ride in the show ring. Therapeutic riding programs can include grooming, leading and riding” (Trapani, Beth, Parise, & Joy, 1995, para. 8). The activities forementioned, along with grooming, leading, and riding are all ways that children are able to form bonds with their horses. “One of the things that happens with the therapeutic riding is that it gives a person a tremendous boost to their self confidence. Being able to control this big animal is something that gives people with disabilities a great boost to their sense of themselves” (Pianoforte, 2000, para. 2).

Not only are the emotional and social needs helped out with riding therapy, but physical needs are met as well. “Riding can improve balance, coordination, posture and confidence. It increases upper body strength in head and neck and can help increase concentration span or assist in developing cognitive skills such as recognizing colors or figures” (Trapani, Beth, Parise, & Joy 1995, para. 7). There are several different methods of riding that can be utilized to accomplish these goals. The first method is Vaulting; with vaulting a child is required to exert much physical ability in order to move about on the horse. It is beneficial even for children with physical limitations because there are numerous exercises that cause them to use weaker parts of their bodies, thus strengthening them. Another specific benefit, especially for children with walking and balance difficulties is, “…, the horse’s movement will make your body move as if you were walking” (Trapani, Beth, Parise, & Joy 1995, para. 3). Also, “When you are sitting on the horse, the animal’s legs moving in sequence, and if you relax, your legs will swing as if they were on the ground. This is the real key to horseback riding therapy” (Trapani, Beth, Parise, & Joy, 1995, para. 3). A rider can feel the horse’s movement while riding, thus helping everything from leg placement and use, to the hips, the middle body, all the way to the top of the head (Lehrman & Ross, 2000, para. 2).

Another form of riding that is significant is Independent Riding. When a student practices traditional horsemanship, which includes riding both English and Western forms of horsemanship, they are engaged in Independent Riding. This can be particularly exciting and helpful for a student, because it includes all of the areas needed in therapy: emotional, social, and physical. Pianoforte reiterates this concept by stating, “Horseback therapy improves balance and posture, develops coordination, mobilizes trunk and pelvis, strengthens muscles, improves attention span, promotes independence, and improves social integration” (Pianoforte, 2000, para. 2). Research suggests that Therapeutic Riding is unique and beneficial for the child with disabilities. “Mixing fun with beneficial treatments is what therapeutic riding is all about” (Pianoforte, 2000, para. 3). It may initially appear that a child would not learn life skills from this form of therapy; however, further analysis suggests that they may be receiving life skills that increase their emotional, social, and physical stability.

 

METHOD

The purpose of the study was to determine whether or not consistent involvement in either occupational therapy or therapeutic riding makes a positive difference in the lives of children with disabilities. The following Research Questions were generated:

1. Are children with disabilities that are involved in therapy more proficient in life skills than those who are not involved in therapy?

2. Does consistent therapy reap favorable benefits in the lives of children disabilities?

Method of Data Collection

The survey instrument used in this study determined whether or not consistent involvement in either occupational therapy or therapeutic riding makes a positive difference in the lives of children with disabilities. A personal data sheet requested demographic data in addition to the responses to the ten survey questions. The survey instrument was distributed to parents of students who participate in the Carousel Ranch program in Acton, California on April 7-8, 2006.

Statistical Procedure

STATPAK was employed to examine the data; the desired scale of measurement was ordinal-- “A scale of measurement in which the measurement categories from a rank order along a continuum” (Brown, Cozby, Kee, & Worden, 1999, p. 372). The subjects sampled for this study were the parents of students who participated in the Carousel Ranch program in Acton, California. Thirty-two copies of the survey instrument were distributed; 32 were returned and 32 were used in this study. The One dimensional Chi-Square test was used because it measures, “frequency counts in different categories” (McMillan, p. 202). A .05 level of significance was used to test the results of the study. Data retrieved from the demographic portion of the survey instrument were reported in percentages and figures.

Assumptions and Limitations

The following assumptions were recognized for the study:

1. Meaningful data can be collected by the use of a questionnaire.

2. The subjects possessed adequate background to provide the information needed.

The following limitations were recognized for the study:

1. This study reflects data collected only during the spring semester of 2006.

2. This study was limited to selected parents of children with disabilities.

RESULTS

The subjects sampled for this study were the parents of students who participated in the Carousel Ranch program in Acton, California. Thirty-two copies of the survey instrument were distributed; 32 were returned and 32 were used in this study. The population distribution by method of therapies involved in, the study indicated 3.1 % Occupational Therapy; 56.2 % Therapeutic Riding; 34.4 % both forms of therapy; 3.1 % neither; and 3.1 % chose not to answer the question. The population distribution by child’s age is indicated 3.1 % at less than 1 year – age 3; 59.3 % at ages 4-10; 28.1 % at ages 11-17; and 9.3 % at ages 18 and over. The population distribution by years involved in therapy is indicated as 6.25 % at less than one year; 34.4% at 1-3 years; 31.2% at 4-6 years; 28.1% at 7 or more years; and 0% at not applicable.

Table 1
Summary of Responses to Survey Questions

Survey

Question

Scale Number

1  2  3  4  5  6

No response

Total

Responses

Computed

Chi-Square

Value

Tabled Chi-

Square

Value

1

n/a

1

31

-

-

2

n/a

0

32

-

-

3

n/a

0

32

-

-

4

26  5  0  0  1  0

0

32

33.8125

5.991

5

24  5  1  1  1  0

0

32

62.3750

9.488

6

10  8  8  0  1  4

1

31

8.5161

9.488

7

17  6  6  0  0  3

0

32

14.2500

7.815

8

15  7  6  3  0  1

0

32

18.000

9.488

9

13  9  7  1  0  2

0

32

11.8824

9.488

10

10  6  6  1  2  6

0

32

10.2258

11.070

11

21  7  2  0  1  0

1

31

32.8710

7.815

12

19  9  3  0  1  0

0

32

24.5000

7.815

13

22  5  2  1  1  1

0

32

64.7500

11.070

Research Question One

Are children with disabilities that are involved in therapy more proficient in life skills than those who are not involved in therapy? Questions 7,8,9,10,11, of the survey instrument located in Appendix A addressed this Research Question.

Because the computed Chi-square value of survey questions 7, 8, 9 and 11 is greater than the tabled Chi-square value, it can be concluded that (a) parents have seen their children with disabilities become more independent through therapy, (b) parents have seen an improvement in their child with disabilities concentration span, (c) therapy has helped maintain or develop age appropriate skills or tasks children with disabilities, and (d) children with disabilities in therapy show an increase in coordination.

The findings of survey question 7 aligns with research conducted by Majnemer who states that occupational therapy helps to, “…maximize independence, and to maintain health and a sense of well-being” (1999).The finding from survey question 8 is consistent with the research of Pianoforte who says that therapy, “…strengthens muscles, improves attention span, promotes self-independence and improves social integration” (2000). The finding from survey question 9 aligns with Hircsh who states that, “All therapists work with individuals to help them develop or maintain age appropriate skills or tasks, and evaluate any physical limitation that could affect these skills or tasks, and evaluate any physical limitation that could affect these skills” (1998). The finding of survey question 11 aligns with Trapani, Beth, Parise, & Joy who state that therapy, “…can improve balance, coordination, coordination, posture, and confidence” (1995).

Because the computed Chi-square value of survey question 10 is less than the tabled Chi-square value it can be concluded that therapy does not help improve the development of cognitive skills such as recognizing colors and/or figures. This finding does not align with Trapani, Beth, Parise, & Joy who state that therapy can help, “…assist in developing cognitive skills such as recognizing colors or figures” (1995).

Research Question Two

Does consistent therapy reap favorable benefits in the lives of children with disabilities?

Questions 4,5,6,12, and 13 of the survey instrument located in Appendix A addressed this Research Question.

Because the computed Chi-square value of survey questions 4,5,12, and 13 are greater than the tabled Chi-square value, it can be concluded that (a) children with disabilities benefit from therapy, (b) therapy has met the expectations of the parents, (c) because of riding, children with disabilities have shown an increase in their upper body strength, and (d) therapy for children with disabilities has helped meet the needs of their family.

The finding of survey question 4 aligns with the research of Pitts who states that, “Children with pervasive developmental disorders have shown a marked improvement with … therapy” (2005). The findings of survey question 5 aligns with the research of Hirsch who states that, “All the therapies share a common goal: improving, or preventing regression of, functionable abilities” (1998). The findings of survey question 12 align with the research of Trapani, Beth, Parise, & Joy who state that, “Riding can improve balance, coordination, posture and confidence. It increases upper body strength in head and neck… ” (1995). Also, the finding of survey question 13 aligns with the research of Majnemer who states that, “The purpose of …therapy is to maximize a child’s functional potential in all environments (home, school, community). This enables the child to participate fully in all roles and functions that are meaningful and important to her and her family ” (1999).

Because the computed Chi-square value of survey question 6 is less than the tabled Chi-square value, it can be concluded that parents have not been able to set goals with their child’s therapy.

The finding of survey question 6 does not align with the research of Hirsch who states that, “Parents and caregivers should be important partners on the therapy team. It is essential to respect what they feel is important and helpful ” (1998).

Findings

The results of the One-dimensional Chi-square test suggest that parents have seen their children with disabilities become more independent through therapy and have seen an improvement in their child with disabilities concentration span. Also, therapy has helped maintain or develop age appropriate skills or tasks children with disabilities as well as an increase in coordination. The results suggest, as well, that children with disabilities benefit from therapy; therapy has met the expectations of the parents; because of riding, children with disabilities have shown an increase in their upper body strength, and therapy for children with disabilities has helped meet the needs of their family. The results also show that that therapy does not help improve the development of cognitive skills such as recognizing colors and/or figures and that parents have not been able to set goals with their child’s therapy.

DISCUSSION

Within the stated purpose and findings of this study, the following conclusions appear warranted:

1. Children with disabilities that are involved in therapy are potentially more proficient in life skills than those who are not involved in therapy among the population sampled for this study.

2. Consistent therapy can reap favorable benefits in the lives of children with disabilities among the population sampled for this study.

The results for this study suggest that children with disabilities who are involved in consistent therapy, that includes either occupational or therapeutic riding, are potentially more proficient in life skills than those who are not involved and can reap favorable benefits in their lives. These children generally have an increased concentration span and they are more independent because of their involvement in therapy.

Children with disabilities who are involved in therapy often experience an increase in upper body strength and more coordination. Also their therapy has helped meet the needs of their parents and children have been able to function better in their roles in their family. With consistent therapy these children may have more opportunities to be involved and interact in society. The involvement of these children in therapy appears to benefit not only their lives but also the lives of the people around them.

Recommendations for Further Study

This study provides some information regarding children with disabilities who are involved in a consistent form of therapy reaping bountiful benefits for their lives. Additional questions pertaining to children with disabilities who are involved in a consistent form of therapy warrant further investigation; thus the following recommendations for further research and study are offered:

1. This study should be replicated, using a different population to determine if children with disabilities who are involved in a consistent form of therapy may reap significant benefits for their lives.

2. A study should be conducted to determine if children with disabilities need to remain in therapy for their entire lives.

3. The effects of single parenting in the lives of children with disabilities should be analyzed.

4. The effects of a blended family situation in the lives of children with disabilities should be analyzed.

5. The difference that a child with disabilities makes in the life and character of a sibling should be analyzed.

References

Brown, K.W., Cozby, P. C., Kee, D.W., & Worden, P.E. (1999). Research methods in human development. Mountain View: Mayfield.

Heimlich, K. (2001). Animal-assisted therapy and the severely disabled child: A qualitative study. Journal of Rehabilitation, 4, 48-54.

Hirsch, D. (1998). The role of physical, occupational, and speech therapy in the overall care of children with special health care needs. The Exceptional Parent, 5, 74-80.

Lehrman, J. & Ross, D. (2000). Therapeutic riding for a student with multiple disabilities and visual impairment: A case study. Journal of visual Impairment and Blindness, 2, 108-109.

Majnemer, A. (1999). Occupational therapy. The Exceptional Parent, 6, 51-52.

McWilliam, R.A, Young, H.J. & Harville, K. (1996). Therapy services in early intervention: Current status, barriers, and recommendations. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 16, 1-16.

McMillan, J.H. (1992). Educational research: Fundamentals for the consumer. New York, NY: Harperscollins.

Pianoforte, K. (2000). Horsin’ around. Exceptional Parent Magazine, 11, 80-83.

Pitts, J.L. (2005). Why animal assisted therapy is important for children and youth. The Exceptional Parent, 10, 38-39.

Rodger, S. & Ziviani, J. (1999). Play-based occupational therapy. International Journal of Disability, Development, and Education, 3, 337-365.

Tarver-Behring, S. & Spagna, M.E. (2004). Counseling with exceptional children. Focus on Exceptional Children, 8, 1-12.

Tripani, Beth, Parise, & Joy. (1995). Physical benefits of riding. Accent on Living, 4, 74.

United States Census Bureau. (2000). United States census 2000. Retrieved April 19, 2006, from www.census.gov.


APPENDIX A

Therapy in the Lives of Children with Disabilities
A Survey

My name is Stacy and I am on staff at Carousel Ranch. When I am not here I am a full-time student at The Master’s College. This semester I am in the process of writing my undergraduate thesis. The topic of my thesis is: “Therapy in the Lives of Children with Disabilities.” I would appreciate your participation in my research by answering the following questions to the best of your ability. Thank you so much!

Demographic Questions:

Circle One.

1. My child is involved in the following therapies?

Occupational    Therapeutic Riding    Both    Neither

2. My child’s age group:

Less than 1 year- age 3     Ages 4-10     Ages 11-17     Ages 18 and over

3. My child has been involved in therapy:

Less than a year 1-3 years    4-6 years    7 or more years    Not Applicable (N/A)*

Survey Questions:

Circle One.
N/A*
Strongly
Agree
Strongly
Disagree
4. My child has benefited from therapy.
 1  2  3  4  5  6
5. The therapy has met my expectations as a parent thus far.
 1  2  3  4  5  6
6. I have been able to set goals with my child’s therapy.
 1  2  3  4  5  6
7. My child has become more independent through therapy.
 1  2  3  4  5  6
8. My child has shown an improvement in their concentration span.
 1  2  3  4  5  6

9. The therapy has helped maintain or develop age appropriate skills or tasks for my child.

 1  2  3  4  5  6

10. My child has shown an improvement in developing cognitive skills such as recognizing colors and/or figures.

 1  2  3  4  5  6
11. My child has shown an increase in coordination.
 1  2  3  4  5  6

12. Because of riding my child has shown an increase in their upper body strength.

 1  2  3  4  5  6

13. Consistent therapy for my child with disabilities has met the needs of my family.

 1  2  3  4  5  6

 

 

Thank you so much for your help!!


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