April is National Autism Awareness Month, and yoga is proving to have many benefits for children on the autism spectrum. For instance, a recent study found that elementary school kids with autism spectrum disorder who participated in a daily yoga program had reduced aggressive behavior, social withdrawal, and hyperactivity.
Autism is a developmental disorder that typically appears in the first three years of life; whether mild or severe, autism spectrum disorders nevertheless interfere with a child’s ability to communicate and understand social cues. This causes anxiety, obsessive behavior, and difficulty managing emotions.
Children with autism who practice yoga begin to feel more calm and comfortable in their bodies. As a result, they experience less anxiety and it becomes easier for them to control their behavior and emotions.
As well as some of the benefits typically associated with yoga such as improved strength, concentration, and flexibility, there are 3 additional benefits for kids with autism.
- Reduced anxiety
- Less obsessive and aggressive behavior
- More control in regulating emotions.
Children with autism are visually oriented, so colorful pictures depicting how to do yoga poses can be very helpful. The capability to understand ones actions and imitate those actions are directly correlated to the development of social-communication skills.
The following three yoga poses focus on breath and movement. Breathing in and out through the nose while practicing yoga helps to calm the nervous system and also enhances self-regulation. The Inhale pose encourages children to utilize this deep breathing technique. “One of the most important parts/of any yoga pose/Is remembering to breathe deeply/By inhaling through the nose.”
Besides focusing on the breath, yoga also encourages movement which improves motor planning, balance, coordination, strength, and flexibility. The Flamingo pose is a great yoga posture for children with autism to practice. It takes a lot of effort to balance on one leg, and once this pose is mastered a sense of self-confidence exudes from children. This feeling of self-assurance flows into other areas of their lives as well.
Another fun pose for children on the autism spectrum to try is Dog pose. This posture stretches the hamstrings, calves, and arches while it opens the shoulders and chest, and also tones the abdominal muscles. Kids can even bark like dogs while holding this posture.
In sum, yoga can help to decrease anxiety, improve concentration, and regulate self-control; it also helps children with autism gain new motor, communication, and social skills. The end result is an overall improvement in their quality of life.
Written by Teresa Anne Power, an internationally recognized children’s yoga expert and best-selling author of the award-winning books The ABCs of Yoga for Kids and The ABCs of Yoga for Kids: A Guide for Parents and Teachers. She is also the founder of Kids’ Yoga Day.
Illustrations by Kathleen Rietz