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The Horse Boy: A Father's Quest to Heal His Son Hardcover – April 14, 2009
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Amazon Exclusive: Temple Grandin Reviews The Horse Boy: A Father's Quest to Heal His Son
Drawing from her own experience with autism and her distinguished career as an animal scientist, Temple Grandin has provided readers with extraordinary insight into how animals think, act, and feel. Her books include The Way I See It, and the national bestsellers, Thinking in Pictures, Animals in Translation, and Animals Make Us Human. We were eager to hear what Grandin thought about Rupert Isaacson and his family's quest to go to the ends of the earth to help their son. Read her exclusive Amazon guest review to find out.
This is a fascinating book. It is the tale of a family's journey to Mongolia with their five-year-old son who has autism. The family travels to the northern remote areas and lives with the nomads and herders away from the cities. I loved the descriptions of the nomad way of life, and that they were so accepting of a child with autism. Rowan loved baby animals and the people did not mind when he grabbed a baby goat and climbed into one of their beds with it. During the trip, Rowan developed improved language and behavior. He also had a magical connection with horses. There are many wonderful passages about Rowan’s exploits with a Mongolian horse named Blackie.
Rupert Isaacson was surprised at how accommodating the Mongolian people were. They tolerated Rowan's pushing, yelping, and joyful rushing about. At the end of the book the family get a rude awakening when a German tourist who was a psychologist disapproved of bringing a child with autism to a national park to view wild horses. I was interviewed by Rupert Isaacson before he wrote his book and we discussed perhaps the shamans and the healers in some traditional cultures had autistic traits. Their rituals with rhythmic chanting and repetitive movements have similarities to autistic "stims." When I was little, I went into a calm trance-like state when I rocked and dribbled sand through my hands.
Children with autism need to be exposed to lots of interesting things and new experiences in order to develop. One of the reasons the trip to Mongolia was so beneficial was that Rowan could explore lots of fascinating things such as horses, streams, plants, and animals in an environment that was QUIET. The Mongolian pastureland was a quiet environment free of the things that overload the sensory system of a child with autism. There were no florescent lights or constant noise and echoes. Some individuals with autism see the flicker of florescent lights which is like being in a disco with strobe lights. When I was a child, loud sounds hurt my ears.
Parents and teachers can duplicate the benefits of this trip without having to travel. Horseback riding is a great activity. Many parents have told me that their child spoke his/her first words on a horse. Activities that combine both rhythm and balancing such as horseback riding, sitting on a ball, or swinging help stabilize a disordered sensory system. There are lots of places you can take a child to explore nature such as parks, brooks or a field with tall grass. Children with autism need to be shown interesting things and encouraged to do new things. Everywhere Rowan went he was asked questions and encouraged to talk about the things he was looking at. You need to find QUIET, interesting places away from crowds of people, florescent lights, traffic, and noise, where you can engage the child and keep him tuned in. This is a great book and everyone who is interested in autism, animals or different cultures should read it. --Temple Grandin
From Publishers Weekly
In this intense, polished account, the Austin, Tex., parents of an autistic boy trek to the Mongolian steppes to consult shamans in a last-ditch effort to alter his unraveling behavior. Author Isaacson (The Healing Land) and his wife, Kristin, a psychology professor, were told that the developmental delays of their young son, Rowan, were caused by autism. Floored, the parents scrambled to find therapy, which was costly and seemed punitive, when Isaacson, an experienced rider and trainer of horses from his youth in England, hoisted Rowan up in the saddle with him and took therapeutic rides on Betsy, the neighbor's horse. The repetitive rocking and balance stimulation boosted Rowan's language ability; inspired by the results, as well as encouraged by such experts as Temple Grandin and Isaacson's own experience working with African shamans, Isaacson hit on the self-described crazy idea of taking Rowan to the original horse people, the Mongolians, and find shamans who could help heal their son. The family went in July, accompanied conveniently by a film crew and van, which five-year-old Rowan often refused to leave, and over several rugged weeks rode up mountains, forded rivers and camped, while enduring strange shamanic ceremonies. Isaacson records heartening improvement in Rowan's firestormlike tantrums and incontinence, as he taps into an ancient, valuable form of spirit healing. (Apr.)
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This is an earthshaking book. The author, Rupert Isaacson has done a real service to parents of "diagnosed" children of any age by showing how beliefs and leaps of faith can change outcomes. By the time you read my review, the story of a father taking his autistic son to Mongolia to ride horses and visit shamans has been well covered by other reviewers. The genius of this book is in showing that there is a world of holistic help out there for those who seek it. You don't have to travel to Mongolia; there are shamans in every country of the world who have kept up with ancient practices.
For several years I have been occupied in writing my own memoir about my son, except in this case the diagnosis was "schizophrenia." Once I realized, as the author of this book did, that our family was on own our own in finding real help for schizophrenia, that's when it began to get interesting and rewarding, if you have an open mind and are willing to suspend disbelief.
The huge contribution of The Horse Boy is in showing how relevant shamanic healing is and how quickly it can work compared to taking a conventional medical route. In fact, the conventional medicine route has failed schizophrenia, and it seems to have done the same for autism. Autism and schizophrenia, to my way of thinking, are not medical conditions, although they masquerade as medical conditions. Major Western religions and western "science" has convinced us to reject shaman practices as the naive beliefs systems of primitive peoples. My experience with shamanic practices with my own son have convinced me that Hermann Hesse was absolutely right, that science is in the stone age compared to ancient wisdom.
Isaacson has meticulously documented the changes that his son experienced almost immediately following each shamanic ceremony. When my own son underwent an assemblage point shift, using quartz crystal wands and heated gemstone lamps, I saw a lasting change in him within five minutes of getting up off the table. When my husband, my son and I undertook a shamanic therapy based on Zulu practices called Family Constellation Therapy, we were told to just walk away from it, not discuss what we had observed, and the magic would happen. The magic happened for my son several months later. He emerged from his almost non-verbal shell into a social young man.
The author did so many things right. He looked past the autism diagnosis and marvelled at the magic associated with the condition. He was uneasy with the day program his son attended, which he felt only reinforced his son's autistic tendencies. I felt the same way about the day program my twenty year old son attended. I wish more people would think about what these programs are reinforcing beyond patient behaviour. There is a vast mental health industry out there that needs constant feeding.
It's better to believe in magic. Magic has a lot to offer these conditions that drugs and day programs cannot. One of my big criticisms about the "official" lack of progress in schizophrenia is that we have been led down the garden path when it comes to the role of the family background in producing these conditions. This is where the drug companies really score big. It's not parenting, it's faulty brain chemistry, they console us, all the while prescribing drugs (far too many) which are supposed to allow our relative to "function." Shamans doesn't believe in that sort of drug company nonsense. They go straight to the source, and yes, it's usually found in our complex family backgrounds. Believing in family curses is what shamanism is all about. The Old Testament of the Bible is awash in curses,but the modern church steers us to the cheerier aspects of our religion, embarrassed about the quaint way the ancients saw the world. As the Horse Boy attests to, a death in the family, especially one that is tragic and young, has a ripple effect down the generations. Karmic debts have a way of accumulating. Restless ancestors have a way of interfering in the present. The good news is that you can clear this. The bad news is that many people are frightened of the focus on the family and prefer to believe that their relative has a damaged brain.
A fabulous book that deserves an even wider audience.
Hopefully by sharing Rowan's story you will inspire others to think out of the box for ways to help autistic children.