yoga for special kids

Yoga as a Teaching Opportunity for Special Needs Kids

"Awareness simply means to acknowledge that Autism exists; Acceptance is to acknowledge its value."

It’s been years, and I still remember the first day my client and I walked into the yoga studio with our yoga mats, workout clothes and water bottle in tow. I have been to yoga many times on my own but had not experienced yoga for kids with special needs, so this was an exciting new experience for me. We entered the yoga studio, saw about seven other children of all ages sitting on their mats, and decided to take a spot towards the side of the studio where we had a little extra room.

My client at the time was an adorable and incredibly smart child who had been diagnosed with Autism at a young age. She had an IEP, shadow aide, dietician and ABA home therapy a few days a week– a lifestyle that is common for many families living with Autism and other special needs. And, a lifestyle that brings many stressors and many joys for families touched by this different ability.

As a way to integrate sensory into her daily schedule, we started doing outings to the yoga studio. I was amazed at progress – she was a natural for the poses. A few key points I noticed along the journey in having yoga with her:

  • If a child is prone to hyperactivity or easily distracted, yoga is incredible at helping calm, redirect attention and build focus in children with Autism or other special needs
  • Research supports an increase in fine and gross motor skills by doing yoga 4-5 days a week. Things like balancing while laying down on a yoga ball, and certain poses such as tree pose help build dexterity and mobility for children who may have low muscle tone or issues with their core
  • Research supports an increase in socialization for children who engage in a group yoga session 4-5 days a week with children their age. Circles of communication, reciprocity, and engagement and initiation are key socialization skills that can be targeted before yoga class begins, and afterwards
  • Yoga may help teach patience, adaptability and may reduce impulsivity seen in ASD or ADHD. By engaging in yoga a couple times a week, children who are higher-energy or dual-diagnosed with ADD or ADHD may benefit in reduced impulsivity or agitated behavior commonly seen in these disorders. Yoga teaches focused breathing which is key for helping calm and redirect energy.

It should be noted that yoga therapy for ASD is still in its infancy and there is a mixed bag of academic literature as evidence of its utility. Individual results may vary based on child’s functioning level, how often they attend yoga, and consistency in implementation of behavior goals. Speak to your ABA clinical team and child’s pediatrician to see if they are a good fit for adding yoga into their home sessions or weekly outings.

Your friends at,

The Autism Analyst

 

References

Gulati, K., et al. (2018). Effect of yoga therapy on the symptoms of sensory processing disorder in autistic

individuals. Yoga Mimamsa, 50 (2), 60-61.

Hourston, S., et al. (2017). Autism and mind-body therapies: A systematic review. The Journal 

of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 23 (5), 331-339

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