| Aug 02, 2007


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Feature Article - August 2, 2007

Llama therapy for autisticSydenham boy

by Jeff Green

Etienne Dupuis lives in Sydenham and attends St. Patrick’s Catholic School. Etienne has Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Etienne’s father, and number one advocate, Claude Dupuis, says that he first identified that Etienne was autistic when Etienne was 18 months old.

Since then, the Dupuis family has worked tirelessly on therapies and supports for Etienne.

“If I had let him sit in front of the TV when he was three, and just let him go to school as normal, he would have made no progress. Even now, if I let him sit in front of the TV for more than 45 minutes, he goes back into his own bubble,” Claude Dupuis said.

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In addition to advocating through the school system and to government agencies, Claude Dupuis has tried some unusual therapies for Etienne, including what he calls horseback riding and boiler room therapy.

Earlier this summer, Etienne began visiting with Susan Wipfli from Harrowsmith, helping with Susan’s llamas.

Sunlark Llamas, the Wipflis’ farm, is known to thousands of people in Frontenac County, even if most of them don’t know who owns it. Anyone who drives Highway 38 on even a semi-regular basis is bound to notice the llamas that spend much of their time in a field on the east side of the road just north of the Yarker turn off.

The Wipflis have always loved animals, and when they purchased their farmstead in the early ‘90s, they raised a variety of different animals, eventually focussing on llamas.

Llamas are among the oldest domesticated breeds in the world, according to information provided by the Ontario Camelids Association. Historically, they have served as beasts of burden, also providing native herdsman with meat, fibre for clothing, hide for shelter, manure pellets for fuel and offerings to their gods.

They have evolved in our culture into companion animals, and their fibre is highly prized. Susan Wipfli collects the fibre from her small herd, but the companionship aspect of the llamas is what gave Susan the idea that it would be worthwhile to introduce Etienne to them.

Susan and Claude have known each other for many years, and as the summer came on this year they decided to see if bringing Etienne to the farm a couple of mornings a week to help train llamas would work.

And it has.

Etienne comes to the farm on Monday and Thursday mornings, weather permitting, and spends time grooming and leading a couple of Llamas through the pathways and some obstacles.

Etienne has been able to communicate with the llamas, and they are happy to follow his lead, whether that means backing up and turning or jumping over obstacles. The llamas gain another human companion, and Etienne is able to keep active during the summer.

It has been four years since an article on Etienne appeared in the Frontenac News, and seeing him with the llamas it is clear how much progress he has made. Although he is somewhat withdrawn, Etienne speaks clearly, can communicate well, and engages in conversation. Four years ago, he was totally unable to engage with strangers.

According to Claude Dupuis, Etienne is not someone who will be able to outgrow his autism.

“He has a PDD, a pervasive developmental disorder,” and he will require interventions throughout his live,” Claude said. “I’m glad Susan came forward with this llama therapy; it’s been really great for Etienne”.

Etienne will be entering Grade 6 in the fall.

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