CAMBY, Ind. -- April is National Autism Awareness Month and the latest numbers from CDC show about 1 in 68 kids have autism.
Here in central Indiana, some of those kids are benefiting from therapy, but it’s not the type of treatment you may think.
Horseshoes of Hope is a nonprofit in Camby that uses horse therapy to enhance the lives of anyone who has a disability, chronic illness or any other condition.
When it comes helping people with autism, some families say this form of therapy is life-changing.
Controlling a strong, 1,000-pound animal can be intimidating at first, but the connection between people like Lucas Lehman and a horse like Joe is even more powerful.
"It is something I've never seen, it’s like they talk to each other," said Lucas' mom, Sonja Lehman.
"He’s autistic. If we go out in public and he’s in an area he doesn’t know, it can stress him and he might start yelling, and that’s really diminished over the years," Lehman said.
Lehman says equine therapy at Horseshoes of Hope has made a world of difference for Lucas.
"The mental, emotional development that happens and the confidence -- that’s what really helps Lucas in his development and his ability to go out in the community and interact appropriately and have a good quality of life," Lehman said.
Improving the quality of life is the goal for anyone who comes to the riding arena.
"We’ve seen children on the autism spectrum who have never spoken a word in their life and after three lessons they started talking to their horse. It’s so empowering and confidence building and validating for that rider," said Horseshoes of Hope founder John Lambert.
For other riders like Seth Pickett, his mom says the benefits have translated from the stables to the classroom.
"He’s high functioning Asperger's. His confidence is much better, he just recently accomplished something at his school which took him to the state’s spelling bee," said Seth's mom, Julie Pickett.
Horseshoes of Hope serves people from many different backgrounds, with about 35 to 40 riders every week. Lambert says helping veterans and their families is a big part of what they do. They also help stroke victims, people with brain injuries, cerebral palsy, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis -- the list goes on.
The entire program is run by volunteers, who are certified by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship. This kind of therapy is not covered by insurance, so donations and volunteers are always welcome.
For more information on ways to help, click here.