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    Yoga and Autism Part I

    Yoga and Autism

    I’ve been a teacher for the past 15 years and have worked with a lot of different types of children. I’m still always amazed by yoga’s seemingly endless benefits, especially when working with children at-risk, children with special needs, and kids with autism. Autism Spectrum Disorder is nothing new, and we’re finding that it’s more common than we thought before. Some people say 1 in 68 children have autism, while others say more. After talking with my co-workers, friends, and other compadres we all agree that yoga’s benefits are worth sharing. So, here’s a shout-out to all those who want to know how yoga can help a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder. By the way, as you will notice, these benefits can also empower the child in all of us.

    1. Routines: I teach yoga on a regular basis to children. We go through the same poses, while adding new ones when appropriate. Yoga is orderly and consistent. This element of order is very important for a child. It speaks highly of continuity, which is preferred by children and most of us. We like routines and need them in our lives. It keeps our brain calm, so that we can observe things better and deeper. You can still add variety, such as small variations in Sun Salutation (a sequence of 8 poses that are done for 4-5 times). For example, we say our Sun Salutation poem using different voices. This was a technique that my yoga instructor taught me and the kids adore-though they often times pick the same voice (squeaky voice).


    1. Sensory Input: As we know it, yoga is very sensory oriented. Yoga provides a nice balance of sensory integration. Children with autism often suffer from a highly sensitive nervous system and are easily over stimulated by bright lights, new textures, loud noises, strong tastes and smells. Yoga is usually done in calm settings with dim lights, organic materials, and soft music. Either that, or it’s outside in an environment conducive to yoga. The other thing that is often done in yoga is talking about and recognizing how our senses play an important role in our lives-whether they trigger memories, make us feel happy, or trigger something else such as being irritating. The yoga poses help release nervous energy and the breathing helps the children calm their bodies and minds.


    1. Fine and Gross Motor Skills: Yoga helps develop both types of motor skills. Yoga helps children with balance, stability, and focus. It provides lots of opportunities to work on coordination and body awareness. Yoga also strengthens and tones the muscles of the body, thus making a more sound and secure body to work with.


    1. Confidence and Social Skills: Whenever we have a yoga class, we always start off by asking the children a question, which gives them an opportunity to share their thoughts and/or feelings. For example, we may ask the kids: “What is something that makes you happy.” Not only does this give the children lots of opportunities to speak in front of others and build their self-confidence, but it also helps with social skills…such as taking turns, listening to our friends, and sharing. Children also feel confident when they learn challenging poses such as Eagle Pose or Crow Pose. Yoga fosters an environment where everyone works together as a team. Partner poses also help children gain confidence with their peers.


    It seems that every day we’re trying to understand our children more and more, and rightfully so. The better we understand their needs, the happier they are and the happier we are. When we meet their needs, it teaches everyone about empathy. And that is something that we can use more of these days!