WAA spotlights UW–Madison student using horses, mobile apps to help children with autism develop motor skills

The Wisconsin Alumni Association (WAA) spotlighted the work of UW–Madison’s Benazir Meera, a Conway Adapted Fitness Fellow and PhD candidate in the School of Education’s Department of Kinesiology, who is using her experience as an athlete and expertise in adapted fitness interventions to create opportunities for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to find freedom, confidence, and joy in movement.

Benazir Meera with horse

Meera’s research explores the development of “scalable and sustainable e-health interventions” that prolong the benefits of in-person, adapted fitness programs. She began working with mobile apps as adapted fitness interventions through the Fit Families program led by UW–Madison Associate Professor Luis Columna, which provides families with resources to develop and strengthen fundamental motor skills in children with ASD.

Today, Meera is using horseback riding to work with children and support their active movement, while also developing a mobile app that extends the physical exercises of riding beyond the in-person sessions.

“When a child is on the horse, they’re continuously trying to keep up their posture [and] keep up their balance with the rhythmic equine movements, and these are getting carried over to their motor skills or motor functions,” Meera says. 

“We want to be able to give them more games and activities that they can practice at home and in community settings that are a reflection of what they do during the horseback riding sessions.”

According to the WAA story, Meera first witnessed the transformative power of animal-assisted intervention as an undergraduate while volunteering with therapeutic horseback-riding sessions for children with cerebral palsy.

“I couldn’t believe the kind of improvement they had overall in terms of motor skills, communication, socializing. … It was profound,” she says. “That stuck in my head. I could not just let that go. I was trying to find ways to get that back into my research somehow.”

Read the full story at uwalumni.com.

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