How horses are helping kids with autism on this P.E.I. farm
'It's a place where they can just be themselves'
Alisha Wolf has developed a free program to help children with autism on her horse and hobby farm in York, P.E.I.
At Wolf Manor Homestead, about a dozen children with autism ride and care for regular and miniature horses, and also help look after goats, chickens and rabbits.
"This job, it's purposeful — the kids benefit from it, and I feel like I'm making a difference," said Wolf, who donates her time and property.
She said every student reacts differently, but in general she sees them relax and gain confidence around the animals.
"We use the animals to help these children do everyday normal tasks — learn how to love, learn how to take care of things, learn how to do chores, follow instructions and just have fun," she said.
'Fantastic to watch'
Wolf said some non-verbal students have become more verbal when riding the horses.
"When they're riding, they start speaking," she said. "It's fantastic to watch the development."
Sixteen-year-old Luc McQuaid is one of about a dozen children with autism who enjoy the program.
"I like to play with the horses, play with the dogs, and hang out with Alisha," he said.
He said spending time with the animals makes him feel good.
'Come out of his shell'
Wolf said Luc has been coming to Wolf Manor for three years and it has been great to watch him grow.
"Luc's really come out of his shell. He started coming here and he wouldn't stay for 20 minutes," she said. Now, Luc spends five or six hours once a week on the farm.
"He will come out here in the snow and rain, he loves the animals," she said.
Wolf has enjoyed training and riding her own horses for years, and for the past three years has run summer camps for school-aged children.
She recently took some specialized courses to upgrade her skills to work with those with autism.
The Autism Society of P.E.I. refers families to her.
"I see the need in the community," she said.
Wolf said hers is not a recognized therapy program, but rather, "it's a place where they can just be themselves."
And, she has a personal connection to autism — her husband, Geoffrey Wolf, was diagnosed with Asperger's as an adult.
"Asperger's is part of the autism spectrum, and he didn't have the assistance growing up and he always felt different," she explained. "He has encouraged me to help as many kids as I can."
Wolf said she is busy but hopes to find a way to expand the program and help even more children.
"I would love to do more," she said.