You've got to love a woman who is willing to do anything to help her child, including washing out her vagina with vodka and being whipped by shaman. Oh, and then there's that bit about being kicked by a horse. As seen in the documentary The Horse Boy, Kristin Neff, who lives in Austin, did that and much more in order to help her autistic son, Rowan.
Traditional therapies had done little to improve Rowan's condition, which included inconsolable tantrums and incontinence. When her husband Rupert Isaacson decided to travel to Mongolia to find a tribe that had both a shamanic tradition and a horse culture, (Rowan had previously responded well to horse therapy), Neff was skeptical.
Neff isn't quite the horse enthusiast that her husband and son are, so the idea of spending a month on horseback, trekking through wilderness, was a bit of a sell but she eventually agreed. In 2007, the family, along with a film crew, took off for Mongolia where Isaacson had arranged for several shaman to treat his son.
Isaacson spoke with Hair Balls and admits that his wife was a good sport about it all. "She was quite reasonably concerned that that [the trip] would add to the general family stress level, which was already high. However by the time we were actually ready to go...by then she had seen the cumulative positive effects of all this [horse] riding with Rowan and that the other therapies we were trying just weren't yielding results that were that radical.
"In terms of being a sport, she was extraordinary. Although she did joke that for her it was win-win. If it all went tits up, she could say 'I told you so,' forever. And if it worked, that would be great," he says.
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The film, based on a book by Isaacson, shows Rowan's treatments with the various shamans. (One insisted on treating Neff and Isaacson as well -- that's where that vodka douche and whipping came in.) The effects on Rowan were almost immediately. He began to play with other children, something he had never done before. After his treatment with a shaman named Ghost, his tantrums and incontinence disappeared almost overnight.
Ghost had told Neff and Isaacson that Rowan would continue to improve over the next few years and Isaacson is happy to report that he has. He has learned to ride a horse by himself and interacts with other people on a level they had previously thought was impossible. "It's been extraordinary. The other Kristin was making a pretzel for him and he said, 'Put it in the microwave, if you put it in the toaster oven it might get over cooked," says Isaacson.
Isaacson admits that he can't prove Rowan's improvement is due to the shaman treatments he received in Mongolia, but he believes that the treatments had an impact. "There's a difference between healing and cure. Healing is the [elimination] of negative symptoms to the point that a condition is no longer a dysfunction. Rowan is still autistic, of course, he isn't cured. But today he's doing things today that he's never been able to do before. I don't really understand it, but I'm thrilled at the results."
The Horse Boy is currently being screened at the Angelika Theater. For more information about the movie, visit www.horseboymovie.com.