For quite some time, I’ve been fascinated by the potential of yoga for children with autism. In fact, there’s a small but growing body of research that supports this view, showing yoga’s positive effect on children with autism.
For example, a pilot study in 2011 on relaxation response-based yoga improves functioning in children with autism.
Likewise, in 2012, a study published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy found yoga helped improve school performance in children with autism. In this 16-week study, the children were divided into two groups. One group participated in the yoga program, while the other group participated in a standard classroom routine. Challenging behaviours were assessed both before and after the study period.
Researchers found that the yoga program “reduces irritability, lethargy, social withdrawal, hyperactivity, and noncompliance in children with autism spectrum disorders.” They concluded that by incorporating yoga into the school day you “can maximize academic engagement and optimize classroom time.”
Personally, I think it’s obvious to see the connection. To see how the general benefits of yoga would transfer positively to a child with autism. Think about the yoga space which is characterised by dim lights and calming music. No surprise that this suits children with autism, who are often overwhelmed by to too much sensory input. Now think about how yoga is taught. Postures are shown by the teacher, and imitated by the students. This means even non-verbal children can participate and benefit as they imitate the movements. Equally important is that yoga provides the means for the children to take part in a group setting, practice their social skills and make new friends!
In addition, in contrast to the school environment, or therapy session, or even the family environment where kids are challenged, the yoga mat gives them a time and space just to be. It’s a time to focus on their breathing, emotions and themselves. No pressure to perform. Just the space to re-centre and have some bonding time with mum.
My personal yoga journey started when I was travelling across Asia and found myself in Bali, where I took up the practice. And while I was open minded about what yoga could do for me, I think only my fellow yogis will understand what I mean when I say it changed my life.
Of course, the main purpose of yoga is to learn how to breathe, increase body awareness and become comfortable in your body. Flexibility and better motor functioning are simply the physical side effects of a regular practice.
But on top of this yoga decreases your anxiety in everyday life, increases self-esteem and helps regulate emotions. It gives you more positive control over your mind and thought. So, working as a child therapist, it made sense for me to combine yoga with my work experience and become a yoga teacher for children with special needs. And now I’m fully qualified to share something that truly helped me on a personal level with the kids I work with – along with their superhero mums and dads.
As such, I am very excited to add this service to ABAlink’s already outstanding work in 2017 and look forward to sharing something very special with all of you!