Investing in the Community

Wilderwood is very fortunate to have been selected as one of the 2021 Facebook Community Action Grant recipients! The Facebook Los Lunas Data Center is geographically close to us and is, like Wilderwood, demonstrating its commitment to the community — investing in the people who live and work here. Recognizing the important of community involvement is a priority of Wilderwood, and we are so grateful to have our program recognized and supported by a member of our local community.

The Facebook Community Action Grant that Wilderwood received will sponsor a number of courses for our program participants to take that will help them on their journey to greater life and work satisfaction and accomplishment. We are very grateful for the support of Facebook in this venture!

And then, as if that wasn’t enough, today we received this delightful and thoughtful package in the mail!

A thoughtful and commemorative memento from Facebook!

Gardens, Tractors, and Phenomenology

It may be an odd combination, and possibly where else but Wilderwood would it work? In our third week of the semester, participants are learning about aspects of phenomenology along with working (and learning about) a tractor and their own raised garden.

Desmond has been particularly interested in the goings-on in the Raised Gardens and can be seen below offering “assistance” (just as he did during the Pilot when he and Viv got into the gardens and sampled the carrots that were growing there).

Wilderwood’s First Week

Our first week is done! Here are some pictures taken during Prep time.

Beautiful Ode, looking angelic!
The Three Bays … waiting for lunch.
Viv’s new friend (and our photographer for the day!)
The chickens demonstrating the hard work they do at Wilderwood.
Manure management and dueling poop scooping!
Project of the Day, and taking time to talk with Rae.

At Long Last

Today, we picked eight of the first spring daffodils for the six participants and two Teaching Assistants who will be starting Wilderwood’s program tomorrow.

Nearly four years in the making, it seems fitting that these lovely flowers are in bloom just in time for our program’s official opening.

The amazing support for Wilderwood continues, also. This month, we received a grant for the Arena Sand Project, as well as two very generous donations to support our program. Though COVID has not permitted us the grand opening we may have otherwise wanted, we are excited to be getting underway at last.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed and supported and cheered us on so far. We are so grateful to every one of you!

Unicorns Are Real …

… and so can be your support of autistic people in New Mexico!

Please support autistic people in New Mexico by joining us in signing the linked petition below. Each signature helps raise awareness of the need for autistic people to be authentically and meaningfully involved in programs, community projects, political decision making, education, and other activities that impact them.

Too often, autistic people are overlooked and left out of the development of autistic programs. Please speak up and sign — then share — the petition! Join the autistic community in strengthening our collective voice.

Ode, our Unicorn.

Interview Day

Really enjoyed Interview Day for Wilderwood’s 2021 intake today. Although we couldn’t meet our upcoming participants in person, we were able to talk via Zoom. Clearly, from these screenshots, it was a very happy day! — even Connie got in on the act!

We are so excited to be welcoming our participants and are eager to get started!

Wilderwood is for …

One question that we are sometimes asked is “who is Wilderwood for?” Perhaps the best answer to this question comes from the participants who have been part of Wilderwood’s program. And so, here are some of their responses to this question

Q: Who do you think Wilderwood’s program is best suited for?

  • Autistic adults
  • Someone who struggles with communication at work
  • Someone looking to make a change
  • Self-discovery
  • Motivated to want to change and take a new route
  • Looking to find a bridge between “A” and “B” (or autistic and neurotypical worlds) but don’t know or are unsure how to achieve that
  • Not necessarily someone who wants a work/career change or direction, but who wants to change aspects of his or her life

So there you have it. If you, or someone you know, has been contemplating any of the above — and you (or someone you know) is autistic, Wilderwood might be the place to go.


It is exciting to see the product of hard work and lots of early mornings/late nights in real, tangible form. Below are the covers of the textbooks that have just been completed for Semesters 1 and 2 of Wilderwood’s curriculum. Semester 3 (the final textbook in the series) is still in the “hard work, early mornings, late nights” phase).

When we set out nearly four years ago to develop Wilderwood’s curriculum, it was because we recognized that existing programs — as good as many of them are for their contexts and goals — did not reflect what we wanted to see in our curriculum; did not reflect the outcomes we knew were important for the participants in our program.

And, most importantly, we wanted authentic autistic voices driving the content and goals of the curriculum.

Months (years) and hundreds of work hours later, we can see and tangibly touch the essence of the program in our hands. It’s an amazing moment. The next stage is to see that same essence come to life in the hands of our participants.

On Therapy and Rescue

Wilderwood Equine Therapy and Rescue.

There’s a lot to that name. And, we’d like to take a moment to unpack it.

Wilderwood (waɪldərwʊd) comes from the name of our location, on Wildwood Lane. It is, therefore, pronounced wild-er-wood (not will-der-wood) as in a “wood that is wilder,” moreso than just ordinarily wild. It’s a play on words that captures not only a lighter side of us, one that enjoys word play and linguistic variance, but also reflects the deep love we have for this peaceful sanctuary we call our home.

Then there is the concept of Therapy and Rescue. What sort of therapy do we do? And what do we rescue? Of course, the word “equine” is prominent and our work naturally involves the magnificent horse. And yes, we do rescue horses – or, at least at this writing, one horse. Odie’s rescue story is outlined in other places, so we won’t repeat it here. What we will say is that whatever horse comes to Wilderwood is with us for life, and so our turnover is not very high.

We also see the word “rescue” as applying to people, too. All of us, no matter who we are, at some point in our lives will need some kind of help. For the very fortunate among us, this help may end after the helplessness of infancy. For many, the need for support is intermittent and fleeting, and yet for others it may last throughout a lifetime.

The precise support each of us needs depends on life events, circumstance, our personal history, physical and mental aptitude, ideals, beliefs, and hopes.  Because of this, we believe that the best and most potent predictor of successful therapy is the degree of connection between the recipient’s needs and what a particular therapist can provide.

The needs of those who seek therapy is a mosaic – though it could also be seen as a frenetic maelstrom – that has been cultivated by and culminates in lived experiences tempered by individual personality and different (dis)abilities.  Who is best to help with those needs? Who has the credentials, licensure, and qualifications? Perhaps the question is better posed to the recipient of the therapy who, faced with an array of choices, can weigh his or her needs with an educated understanding of what is being offered.

That brings us to the concept of “therapy.” This word is mired in a lot of ideological and cognitive weight. Put another way, there’s a lot of talk about “therapy” and who, what, and how is credentialed, licensed, qualified, or honored to provide it. In relation to equine therapy, there are those who claim it properly resides in the world of occupational, speech/language, or physical therapists, along with equine specialists, therapists, or teachers, medical practitioners such as psychologists, psychiatrists, and osteopaths, and other medical or mental health providers such as social workers, counselors, and clinicians.

We would say there’s a group that’s often left out of this list, and that is the horses themselves.

The truth is, it belongs to all of us. Those who perform therapy and enact a positive change in the recipient of that therapy, is by nature providing therapeutic benefit. The question becomes one of a person finding the best possible therapeutic environment for what he or she needs.

At Wilderwood, we have chosen to develop our therapeutic practices to best meet the needs of autistic adults and the horses we love. The qualifications of those who have developed the curriculum is grounded in multi-disciplinary theory and practice, including the fields of cognitive linguistics (itself a multi-disciplinary field blending psychology, philosophy, and linguistics); osteopathic medicine (particularly the biopsychosocial component of osteopathy); education (both andragogy and pedagogy); equine training and riding; psychology; philosophy; and – critically – autistic adults themselves.

Like any therapeutic intervention, our program is not for everyone. Despite our multi-disciplinary approach and the fact that Wilderwood is potentially open to anyone who wishes to apply, the recipient we have in mind is quite specific and focused: the two-thirds of autistic adults without intellectual disability who have been unheard and unassisted for years. This is their time and their place. The blending of philosophies of mind and body, along with the combined years of experience with teaching, medical, and equine practice has resulted in a program uniquely cast to offer therapy and rescue to those who wish to seek it from us.

Rebecca Evanko, B.A., M.A., Ph.D
Mark Evanko, B.Sc., D.O

For those who are interested in the theory behind the development of Wilderwood’s program, here is a list of some of the theorists and practitioners who have informed our work.

Tony AttwoodMichel FoucaultMichael Polanyi
Mikhail BakhtinPaulo FreireDiane Ravitch
Trudy BantaSigmund FreudMonty Roberts
Roland BarthesHenry GirouxEdward Said
Stephen BrookfieldEdmund HusserlRoger Simon
Noam ChomskyRoss JacobsEdward Soja
Catherine CromptonCarl JungA.T. Still
Jacques DerridaTania MarshallLev Vygotsky
John DeweyJean PiagetSharon Wilsie