If you saw the 2009 documentary The Horse Boy, about Rowan, the autistic boy who is helped somewhat by horseback riding and by Mongolian shamans, there is more to the story. (There is also a book, The Horse Boy: A Memoir of Healing, published in 2010.)
Before it was released as a DVD, the local university sponsored a showing of The Horse Boy. I called my friend Hal, whose autistic son is now about nine, and asked him if he was interested in seeing it. This boy too enjoys riding horses and donkeys, which he is able to do at home and on trail rides into the Sangre de Cristo Range.
Hal writes eloquently about life with an autistic son, but my suggestion hit a wall. I brought it up again — same reaction. So I shut up. I am not the one with the autistic son, he is. Maybe he does not like the idea of magic. Maybe a trip to Mongolia just seems impossible.
Meanwhile, Rowan’s father, Rupert Isaacson, a widely traveled man whose parents came from southern Africa, was himself born in London and now lives with his family in Texas, has kept on taking his son to shamanic healers in Africa and on the Navajo reservation in Arizona.
This is not without controversy. As he writes in the Daily Mail,
So many people thought we were mad, deluded. One friend said: ‘All those shamans. It’s like you’re going to some spiritual supermarket!’
The publication of The Horse Boy was met with a torrent of hate mail accusing us of giving false hope, of abandoning established methods. (In fact, we had continued to follow the orthodox treatments).
But there was one group that did support us: parents. Much of the motivation for telling the story had been my own despair at Rowan’s diagnosis.
If, back then, there had been some story of hope, of autism as an adventure rather than a catastrophe, I would have taken heart sooner, despaired less, and most likely found solutions more quickly.
And the only things that had worked for Rowan in any positive way were the horse riding and the shamans.
The Isaacsons have set up their own therapeutic system, the Horse Boy Method: “We let the children use the horses like a couch, to allow all the physical and emotional discomfort to fall away, and the intellect come to the fore.” I think my friend Hal has developed something similar on his own, although his son goes to special-education classes too.