The Long Ride Home: The Extraordinary Journey of Healing That Changed a Child’s Life, by Rupert Isaacson; eBook 2015 Edition; an Extended Review with < My Thoughts > by Sara Luker
2% Tantrums like tsunamis, like storm fronts moving in from nowhere, erupting even in sleep. No language. My son floating away from me, absent, not there. So tantalizingly affectionate one moment and so lost the next.
1% The shaman Ghoste once told me, “Rowan will become gradually less autistic until his ninth year. Then, if you follow instructions, his autism will get less and less, and gradually disappear. But the stuff that’s been driving you crazy, the incontinence, the tantrums, these things will end now. From today.”
I tried to take this in, found I couldn’t. So I just kept listening.
“But to make this happen,” he said, “You must make another healing journey to see a good shaman. It doesn’t have to be me, or in Mongolia even, but a good shaman, somewhere; the Bushmen you know in Africa. But one good healing journey a year for the next three years to make the healing complete…” I nodded, not knowing what to think… three more journeys.
2% I did notice one thing: my son became better outdoors. He tantrummed less, seemed happier, more ‘present’. So we spent hours and hours exploring the little trails in the woods behind our house in the Texas countryside.
< My Thoughts > “I did notice one thing: my son became better outdoors.”
Lock, et al. (2016) quotes a parent in this study who describes the ease of outdoor atmosphere where everyone has time to enjoy activities in a natural setting with other ASD parents from all backgrounds. Parents liked having the support of trained staff, a sense of community and the nonthreatening experiences which they say they would never attempt on their own.
Orsmond et al. (2004) talks of a study which shows similar results, including the parents saying they wouldn’t attempt taking their child to recreational activities without a well-trained support staff. In addition this group of parents felt that although they provided simple outdoor activities with siblings, such as walking to visit neighbors and extended family, it wasn’t enough.
But this ‘shared outdoor enjoyment’ gave them an opportunity to meet peers and to develop relationships with other families, it was even more important than an ‘integrated’ school setting.
11% By May, Rowan had started refusing to go to the toilet and his tantrums were coming back, stronger and stronger, like a rising tide. No longer something one could ignore or explain away by tiredness or grumpy moods.
He was slipping. The hard-won – so very hard-won – gains he’d made in Mongolia were steadily evaporating. Yet I had faith. Ghoste had told us we’d have to make three more journeys to complete, to confirm the healing.
And here we were, good pilgrims, making the first of those three journeys. We spent half a day getting the logistics together, putting through calls - no mean feat. So many strands of my old journalism life coming together.
23% At first glance, these straggly Bushman settlements appear to be farmer or herder villages. And then we were there. “Let’s meet your boy,” said Kunta simply, once the introductions had been made.
24% “Scrub, this is the shaman. His name is Kunta.” Rowan looked at him doubtfully. “He asks if he can lay hands on him, to get an idea of what is going on,” said Megan, my friend and interpreter. I scooped Rowan up in my arms, he letting out a kind of grumpy burp. “Noooo thank you! Urgh! Arrrgh!” Rowan twisted in my arms.
Both she and her husband laid their gentle but rough-skinned palms on Rowan’s temples, his head. His wails rose to a shriek. He twisted in my arms as if he’d been burned. I let go immediately and he rushed back to his game and the children.
“He says he’ll need the help of another healer to do this.” “How far?” “On foot, two days. Maybe three. And the paths are full of elephant. In your vehicle, a few hours. He can show us the way.”
I looked skeptically at Rowan. Would he be up for a long journey through the thorn scrub to meet a man who might not be there?
27% “Time to see the shamans” Rowan said. Africa itself comes alive in the night. Little by little, brief phrases of song became longer, becoming more complex, before fading out again. The song swelled like a wave. Rowan sat up in my arms, looked around at the faces in the firelight. “Bushmen!” he sighed and nestled back into my lap.
28% The song lapped around us like a warm and gentle sea. When the healers finally entered the dance, it happened softly, without warning, without theatre of ceremony. The rhythm was complex. The dance beautiful to watch. Mesmerizing. Hypnotic.
Here among the Bushmen, despite the fact that this was clearly a hard healing, the feeling was blissful. All the suffering was being done by the professionals on our behalf. And I was grateful to sit here and just let the healing come, even with the healers shrieking, screaming, and occasionally scolding unseen figures in the spirit world, was oddly restful.
Somewhere between one shooting star and the first sinister whoops of hunting hyenas, it was done. There was no need for words. As the villagers dispersed to their beds, I took Rowan and Kristin and we crawled into our tent.
35% Since we left Namibia, Rowan was back to using the toilet once more. The tantrums, after the last mega-eruption had gone into abeyance.
We were back home, standing in the front field with Betsy saddled and ready for us to go on our daily ride together. “Ride Betsy by myself!” Today Rowan wanted to ride by himself right away. He’d never asked for this before. “Okay,” I said nervously, casting an eye around the small pasture.
It had been like this since we’d got back from Africa. Adventurous, trying new things. He was just more ‘awake’ somehow.
< My Thoughts > “…He was just more ‘awake’ somehow.”
Ekman & Hiltunen (2015) suggest that people with ASD have difficulties with ‘theory of mind’ (ToM). The concept that other people have thoughts, ideas, or opinions which differ from the ones they are having. Neither do many with ASD have the empathetic abilities of feeling ‘sorry’ for someone.
But, during their real-world outdoor experience, the participants increasingly began understanding another’s perspective. They started predicting and looking for signs of how others were communicating their needs. Also, they noticed less avoidance and anxiety behavior. Because of this, observers felt that there was an improvement in the child’s over all cognitive functioning. In other word, they seemed more ‘aware’ somehow. Smiles.
NOTE: Learn more about Theory of Mind (ToM) and Cognitive functioning, towards the end of #4B Programs, Therapies, & Interventions (CBT); Blog or Page listed on Navigation Menu, HOME Page.
38% With the sheer numbers of kids being diagnosed with each passing year, a lot parents were finding themselves in the same boat as us, bumping their noses against the limitations of the orthodox approaches and looking for alternatives.
< My Thoughts > “…looking for alternatives.”
Anderson & Meints (2016) let us know that Equine-assisted activities and therapies are increasing in popularity for treatment of ASD symptoms. Therapeutic Riding (TR) is designed for the purpose of contributing positively to the cognitive, physical, emotional, and social well-being of individuals with special needs. In teaching riding skills, TR emphasizes – attention, control, focus, and sensory management; as well as nonverbal and verbal communication.
The participants did ‘horsemanship activities’ in groups with a set routine for each activity. Such as, horse grooming, ‘mucking’ out stalls, feeding & watering horses. They learned to use tools such as a broom & shovel, bucket & pitchfork; using wheelbarrows while moving feed & hay.
They also had relaxation times, were involved in lessons like tacking-up, leading horses to the arena, learning to mount, dismount, and untack. They spent the most time doing those tasks which they seemed to enjoy the most.
This real-life outdoor activity proved beneficial to enabling participants to gain a better social understanding. It allowed them to become more self-aware and improve communication and body language. They also learned to gain the trust of the horses, which demonstrated learning ‘theory of mind’ (ToM) in a real-life setting.
39% We had just shown the Horse Boy movie at a small private cinema in Soho, a private screening for family and close friends so that they could have a preview before it came out on TV. I waited for my uncle’s reaction. A London Oncologist, he was against what he regarded as any form of pseudoscience.
Horses and shamanism? Surely he would think it was all bullshit. “Go ahead,” I said. “Do your worst! I’m ready.”
“Actually, I think this is interesting,” he said. “You’re putting something out there that says autism isn’t the end of the world.”
I began to dig around and found that there was surprising overlap between Western doctors, and shamanism healing. I even heard that Johns Hopkins Hospital had a faith healer on the children’s ward there.
< My Thoughts > “…shamanism healing.”
According to Winkelman (2009), the origins of ‘shamanisms’ takes us across the time and space of spiritual healing practices; both in a biological and social evolutionary way.
He goes on to say that shaman healers and mediums are associated with hunter-gather societies and derived from the need to interact with spirits on behalf of the social community.
Winkelman believes that participating in these ancient rituals in an altered state of consciousness (ASC) can induce healings and reduce aggression, producing a sense on ‘oneness’ with the universe.
Shamans have evolved a form of hypnotic capacities which allow a connection between the unconscious and the conscious mind. Participating in these ceremonies, in human adaption and survival has assisted humanity in its evolution out of the ancient past, into the present, and on to the future existence.
39% The Horse Boy book and film were going to be released in Australia late that summer, rather winter there. It occurred to me that this might be a good place to seek Rowan’s next healing. So I started looking up tribal clinics. One name kept popping up – a man called Harold, from the Daintree Rainforest.
43% In next to no time, off we flew from the UK and into – for us – truly uncharted territory.
47% “I don’t want Rowan to stop being autistic. Not at all; in fact I’m seeing so many gifts in his autism now that I honestly wouldn’t exchange his autism for normality. I just want him to be as effective and happy and successful as he can be.” Here in Australia there were sacred waterfalls and ancestral grave sites, all over the vast primordial forest from which healers drew their power.
48% So next morning, as directed, we drove back to Mossman Gorge, this time driving on to the Aboriginal village.
49% Harold was waiting in the palm-thatch hut when, much, much later, we came down at last from the river pools. (Again, Harold performed his ritual on the second day.) As he flicked something that looked like slightly bloody mucus into a cup, Kristin asked, “What was that?” “Like I said,” Harold replied, “there’s some things I can tell you and some things that I can’t.” “Come back one more time tomorrow,” he said, “and that should about do it.”
50% “I feel better in my head. I feel happy.” Rowan had never said anything like that before. So that was that. The second healing done, we took our leave of Harold – “The young feller’ll be doing better now, you’ll see” – and headed out once more, south down the long coast road.
57% We still had one healing left to do, to complete Ghoste’s charge to us of making three more healing journeys after leaving Mongolia. We had fulfilled his instructions to the letter so far, and I wasn’t about to give up. I had already been planning this third, final healing journey, had it in hand. And the best thing about it was that we would not even have to leave the country to do it.
The final healing was set. Would it work? Would Rowan become conversational at last? Or again, was I just chasing butterflies here?
58% Off to the right towering above the desert city of Albuquerque was Sandia Peak. West of there, you are in Indian Country. It was so strange to be taking this, the final healing journey Ghoste had told us to do. No planes, no border crossings, no leaving one world and entering another. But an American road trip, just getting in the family sedan, and heading west.
64% Through canyons, under rocky red mountains forested with pine… to Blue Horse’s house. Rattlesnake and coyote country, Indian country too. A little wooden house, sitting by itself there in the Great American Desert. We had arrived.
67% Was this the final ritual Ghoste had prescribed for us on that mountain top three years before, going to work? Into the sweat lodge Kristin and I went. It was hot, dark. We entered. Blue Horse chanted in the language of his people. Not knowing the replies, we sat and sweated and tried to keep our breathing rhythmic.
68% I heard my own voice singing. The same song I had sung in the sweat lodge with the Bushmen years before, when Rowan had just been diagnosed. Our song. The song that expressed how much I loved him. And then it was time to ago. “Come back at dawn,” said Blue Horse. “We will do a blessing with corn pollen, and healing will be complete.” The final part of the final healing – would it really be so?
69% In silence, they led us to the canyon’s edge. We stood in a line, shoulder to shoulder in the dark. Then without warning, the first rays of the orange sun came peeking above the eastern hills. Blue Horse began to chant.
‘Back! Back to the car! Go back home!’ and Rowan twisted away. The final ceremony of the final healing, and he wanted to leave. ‘Okay,’ I said. I never wanted to force him. My heart was in my mouth. ‘It’s okay; you don’t have to do this. No problem.’ And then, all of a sudden, he stopped ‘Back,’ he said, in a different, surer voice. ‘Go back to the shaman.’
As the great orb of the sun rose at last in splendor over the eastern horizon, the final part of the healing, the end of the quest of three long years – four if you counted Mongolia – was done. We had carried out the directives given Ghoste by the Lords of the Mountain, the Lords of the Forest, to the very letter. Diligent pilgrims, we had done as we were bid. And now the quest was done.
< My Thoughts > “Native American shaman…”
Terhune-Young (2003) tells us about her study of a Native American shaman and healer, Fawn Journeyhawk, of Mandan, Shawnee and Euro-American decent. Over the course of a year, Terhune-Young interviewed Journeyhawk at her home in northern Nevada. She shares that Journeyhawk’s healing and diagnostic methods are rooted in her paternal grandmother’s Indian medicine ways.
As part of her training, Journeyhawk was sent into the wilderness for a full year to develop her medicine powers in seclusion, and forbidden outside contact. In a dream, a spirit told her to go south into the desert. “He told me there were things I must know there” she says. “That I should live with the powers of this desert to help me prepare for the future changes.”
Journeyhawk describes ‘shamans’ as an ‘endangered’ species, soon to be extinct in the contemporary world. In her story of hope for the future, she speaks of healing her own wounds, raising her consciousness, and using her spiritual resources in the healing of others. She still works diligently to preserve the teaching and healing practices of her ancient people.
It came down to a six-stage process – a pretty simple one, at that. Set up in the right environment. No bad sensory triggers. No loud machinery. The work with the kids should be done outside as much as possible, in nature, letting the children run and play. All this before the horses came.
The family was also the key. Siblings needed to be there: they knew their autistic brother or sister better than anyone, and could act as consultants for us. At the same time we could address the non-autistic siblings’ needs: give riding lessons, play football, or do martial arts.
72% Now, at New Trails, the siblings found their own wishes being fulfilled precisely because of, rather than in spite of, their brother or sister’s autism. The family dynamic changed, their relationship to the autism itself changed. And the parents could finally relax, be in a place where everyone understood, no one judged. And for their kids there was no whiff of therapy, just fun – but fun with structure, a purpose.
So that was the human environment. The right environment, and everything that contributed to it, was therefore the most important factor: the foundation upon which everything else sat.
Learn more about Rupert Isaacson’s New Trails, in Elgin, TX on their website for Equine Therapy: The Horse Boy Method on https://ntls.co/equine-therapy
REFERENCES used in < My Thoughts > are:
Anderson, S., Meints, K. (2016). Brief Report: The Effects of Equine-Assisted Activities on the Social Functioning Children & Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder; Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders; V46, p3344-3352.
Ekman, E., & Hiltunen, A. (2015). Modified CBT using visualization for ASD anxiety & avoidance behavior; Scandinavian Journal of Psychology; V56, p 641-648.
Lock, R., Hendricks, C., Bradley, L., Layton, C. (2010). Using Family Leisure Activities to Support Families Living With Autism Spectrum Disorder; Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education & Development; V.49:2, p 163-180.