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This York County nonprofit has a unique way to help kids on the autism spectrum

The alternative therapy organization helps neurodivergent children make memories and enjoy the little pleasures in life.

YORKTOWN, Va. — All month long, 13News Now is highlighting important non-profits in Hampton Roads ahead of the area’s annual day of giving: Give Local 757.  

One of those organizations is C.H.A.T.S., or Cole's Horse Autism Therapy Station.

Dr. Megan McGavern is an internal medicine physician at Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News. But she says that more importantly, 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 also the plan to help her son. 

"I found 'The Horse Boy' book. And it was the last one I read, to be honest," she said.

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," she said. "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.

"We do things that are highly sensory seeking that we know really helps stimulate and keeps the autistic child interested and happy," said Dr. McGavern. 

It's all part of an effort to help more kids like Cole make memories and enjoy the little pleasures in life.

"He used to not be able to tolerate sand," she said. "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. 

On Friday, June 4, there's a documentary screening at Tabb High School in Yorktown from 6-9 p.m. Then on 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/.

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