Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) will benefit from yoga since it addresses both the physical and emotional symptoms of the disorder.
The typical gross motor delay, low muscle tone and impaired coordination of ASD often result in low self-esteem and lack of confidence which can extend to other areas of life. Yoga is an appropriate and enjoyable physical program which improves strength and tone in the muscles, develops balance, and increases body awareness. Even fine motor skills will be improved as yoga emphasizes being in tune with the entire body, hands and fingers, feet and toes.
Children with ASD may also suffer from sensory issues including sensitivity to light, noise, taste, texture, or smell. Furthermore, they may repeat movements that seem uncontrollable (stim behaviours). Yoga can help with these symptoms by soothing the nervous system and allowing pent-up energy to be released from the body in a non-competitive, peaceful manner.
The breathing techniques and guided visualization exercises also assist by reducing stress, teaching coping techniques, and providing a sense of calm and acceptance. Once a child has learned some of these exercises they can use them anytime, anywhere.
When teaching yoga, take things slowly, introducing poses incrementally as comfort levels allow. Work on basic poses (Mountain, Tree, Cat, Warrior, etc.) and breathing exercises. Build one pose at a time, gradually adding more options.
To create visual stimulation and connections, line up stuffed animals or pictures of animals at the front of the room. Follow the line of animals, doing the pose for each in turn, creating an effective pattern. A similar exercise is to place the stuffed animals or pictures in a pile and have them picked at random, doing the corresponding pose each time.
Music is also a powerful tool for children with ASD because it provokes engagement and interest. Drumming, chanting, singing and moving to music are effective ways to engage individuals and helps to stimulate the emotional center of the brain.
By Donna Freeman of Yoga in My School