Yoga for Autism

  • The YEAS Program

    Vanessa Kahlon, Yoga Instructor and Director of Kahlon Family Services

    During my 13 of years of experience with teaching children with autism, I have found they greatly benefit from a regular yoga practice.  Yoga helps quiet the mind and minimize distractions, thus promoting focus and mindfulness. Children are able to use breathing techniques to self-regulate when they are feeling anxious.  Children’s social skills are improved through the practice of imitation skills, team work, increased body awareness, and sensitivity toward others. Yoga is especially beneficial to the child’s self esteem, because it is non-competitive and fun!

    A recent article in Yoga Journal cited that yoga can help reduce stress levels by balancing the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. Yoga combines physical activity with self-awareness and promotes a mind-body connection that many children with a diagnosis of ASD lack. The ability to concentrate emerges from restraining mental distractions in a process neurologists call “neural inhibition”. This helps with “quieting the mind of its compulsions.”

    Research suggests that lowering levels of hormone neurotransmitters — dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine — creates a feeling of calm. Yoga has been shown to improve oxygen levels and increase lung capacity due to the learning of deep breathing techniques; this results in more oxygen to the brain which has numerous benefits.  A combination of these factors seem to indicate why yoga can help children with attention problems control their impulsivity and hyperactivity. Yoga can also help to lessen the need to fidget and help release the pent up energy in these children that tends to be disruptive.

    The benefits of Yoga for children with ASD include:

    Relaxation and de-stressing

    Yoga helps diminish anxiety through breathing exercises, visualization, and increased awareness of the mind body connection.

    Focus

    Yoga helps in quieting the mind, decreases fidgeting and impulsiveness, as it improves oxygen supply to the brain and the rest of the body.

    Body Awareness

    Particular yoga poses help with various beneficial outcomes. For example, balance is impacted by the Tree pose since the child is on one leg. Body awareness is necessary for the Downward Dog pose, which requires specific feet and hand placement. Some children crave movement and sensory/motor stimulus. Yoga poses such as the warrior pose help channel these impulses in a positive way.

    Motor Skills

    Yoga helps increase the child’s range of motion, stretch his muscles, and lubricate his joints, all of which can increase his flexibility over time. Many postures require you to place your hands on the floor and support at least part of your body weight, helping to build upper body strength. Standing postures that engage the arms also help build strength and endurance as the arms work against the force of gravity. Sun Salutations that include Plank, Chaturanga, Downward Dog, and Upward Dog will also help build strength.

    Social Skills

    Being able to follow a yoga instructor’s lead through imitation is a stepping stone to build social skills. Using imitation is a good strategy when not understanding what is required in a social situation. This is particularly important for the child who is nonverbal. Most importantly, Yoga can help promote a sense of understanding and sensitivity to the needs of others.

    YEAS, Yoga Education for Autism Spectrum, brings a truly unique, individualized, and fun approach to teaching body awareness, self-regulation, and social skills to all children, including those with the greatest learning and communication challenges. This is a 10 hour integrated yoga and behavioral intervention training that welcomes parents, teachers, and other relevant professionals dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals on the autism spectrum.

    Upon the completion of the training, participants receive the YEAS certification and access to 1:1 consultation. Additionally, a detailed manual is provided that enables them to implement the specialized curriculum in a variety of settings including home, school, and the community. This training is offered in a flexible manner and is tailored to the individual needs of the participants.

     

    Founder Vanessa Kahlon holds a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology and is a Registered Yoga Instructor. She has been working with individuals on the autism spectrum for the past 13 years. She has been designing and supervising Applied Behavioral Analysis programs for children on the autism spectrum, as well as facilitating social skills groups using yoga in both school and community settings. In addition, she has trained teachers, parents, yoga instructors and other professionals working with children on the specturm, in implementing the YEAS Program . For more information, look up www.kahlonfamilyservices.com

    Yoga Being Used for ASD Children in Other Cities

    Improvements for autistic children where attained through a yoga-based treatment called Integrated Movement Therapy (IMT) in the Seattle, Washington. IMT was created by Molly Kenny, a speech-language pathologist and an Ashtanga Yoga instructor. Kenny combines touch or movement with verbal exercises to encourage more spontaneous speech.

    Kenny merges the principles of yoga with conventional behavioral and verbal therapies to foster a child’s physical, emotional, and social growth.

    Tanya Sugarman is a drama teacher at the Lincoln School in Evanston, Illinois and a longtime yoga practitioner. She teaches yoga to a small group of autistic children in her drama class. The children in her group have a host of sensory needs that are difficult for others to understand. They are always in motion, engaged in inappropriate movements and tend to be self absorbed. Tanya incorporates yoga into her sessions to help her students with self regulation and focus.

    Miriam Behar is a school-based pediatric occupational therapist and a certified Classic Hatha Yoga Instructor at the School of Complete Yoga in Chester, New Jersey. She implements a school based yoga program for ASD children that works on balancing the nervous system, improving sensory processing, enhancing their sense of personal space, better transitioning, and building interactive relationships.

    In Nova Scotia, Canada, the Regional School Board runs classes to help autistic children learn techniques to regulate their moods.  The board’s autism consultant, Catherine Rahey, uses Yoga techniques to help autistic kids get in touch with their bodies, become aware of their emotions and their feelings, and provide them with the ability to cope when they start to feel anxious, upset or stressed.

     

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