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MAKING A MARK: Mom of child with autism launches horse therapy center

Dr. Megan McGavern took a chance on an uncommon treatment for her son with autism. It turned out to be the missing piece to his puzzle.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Dr. Megan McGavern is an internal medicine physician at Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News. But more importantly, she says, she's Cole's mom. The 10-year-old was diagnosed with autism at age 4.

"I kept thinking that I was going to be able to fix the problem, like oh, through this therapy or that therapy," said Dr. McGavern. "Or I was constantly trying things, and I was devastated."

Dr. McGavern said she finally found a book on different methods that not only changed her outlook, but the plan to help her son. "I found 'The Horse Boy' book. And it was the last one I read, to be honest," said Dr. McGavern. The book details the Horse Boy Method and Movement Method-- possible treatments for neuropsychiatric conditions like autism. The methods focus on creating a no-pressure environment through nature, movement, and following a child's interest.

"We got a horse, probably about six months later... And things just really started to change. [Cole] started saying so much more on the horse," said Dr. McGavern. "He said almost nothing for years... He says 3, 400, sometimes even more words in an hour on the horse."

Last fall, after seeing Cole’s progress, Dr. McGavern launched C.H.A.T.S.-- a nonprofit horse and sensory therapy center in Yorktown.

"C.H.A.T.S. stands for 'Cole's Horse Autism Therapy Station'", said Dr. McGavern. "We do things that are highly sensory seeking that we know really helps stimulate and keeps the autistic child interested and happy."

It's all part of a big mission for more kids like Cole to enjoy the little things.

"He used to not be able to tolerate sand," said Dr. McGavern. "So, we took him and... He was running on the beach, he was playing in the sand, he was sitting in it, he was drawing in it... I don't know how big or small that sounds to you or someone else, but for us that was, like, life changing."

C.H.A.T.S. is holding events this weekend featuring Rupert Isaacson--the creator of the Horse Boy and Movement methods--and his son Rowan, who has autism. Friday, June 4, there's a documentary screening at Tabb High School in Yorktown from 6-9 p.m. Saturday, June 5, a Horse Boy Method demo is happening from 1-4 p.m. at C.H.A.T.S., 100 Old Pond Road in Yorktown. You’re invited to both events to learn more about autism and the possible treatment methods.

For more information, visit https://www.chats757.com/. You can also check out the nonprofit's Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/coleshorsetherapy/.