"Look Mum, no hands!" : the effects of increasing opportunities for choice-making and independence for children with disabilities when using a Riding for the Disabled programme : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Psychology at Massey University
Many non-disabled people take for granted their ability to choose when they receive help from others. Those with disabilities are often denied this choice, having minimal control over their lives. Increasing literature and research advocate that children with disabilities should be allowed choice-opportunities, as this is an essential component of becoming self-determined. Increasing access to choice has many benefits, including increasing enjoyment, confidence, assertiveness, motivation, and performance. Furthermore, it has been shown to decrease challenging and undesirable behaviour. The current project investigated the effects of providing choice to children with disabilities while participating in riding sessions at the Riding for the Disabled. Furthermore, it investigated whether the children could become more independent when completing riding related tasks. The mastery of two routines (mounting and dismounting) was analysed. All participants improved in their mastery of routines, and thus their independence increased. The hypothesis that with the provision of choice and increase in independence, the children would express higher levels of enjoyment was supported. Those who see providing choice as a deleterious concept fear that children with disabilities will make poor decisions. The project investigated the effect of choice opportunities on the level of risk that the children engaged in when performing riding activities. It was found that the children did not expose themselves to any unnecessary risk despite the increase in control they experienced while riding. An alternating treatment design was used for eight single-case studies. Dependent variables measured were expressions of enjoyment, inattention, undesirable behaviour, level of risk, mastery of routines, number of prompts needed, and incidents of crying.