October 25, 2016

Yoga as a complimentary treatment for autism is growing in popularity. A new book by South Florida yoga teacher Louise Goldberg provides techniques for teaching yoga poses to children with special needs. Titled Yoga Therapy for Children with Autism and Special Needs”, published by W.W. Norton and company, this book offers ways to present poses and structure a class for children with autism and other special needs. The author has taught yoga to children with autism for the past three years in an elementary school setting, and has also taught workshops for Florida teachers. Among the techniques presented in the book, the author recommends starting and ending a yoga class the same way each time. Use dim lights, soft music, and a soft tone of voice, and show the children pictures to teach the poses. Teachers and parents at the elementary school where Goldberg teaches report observing the calming effect yoga has on the students who take her classes.

Research has been conducted on yoga as a complementary treatment for autism. A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy examined the effectiveness of the Get Ready to Learn classroom yoga program on children with autism spectrum disorders. One group of children participated in the morning classroom yoga program and one group participated in a standard morning classroom routine. The study lasted 16 weeks and challenging behaviors were assessed with standardized measurements and behavior coding both before and after the study period.

The results showed that students participating in the yoga program showed significant decreases in challenging behaviors as measured with the Aberrant Behavior Checklist than students participating in the standard morning routine. The authors concluded that use of a daily classroom yoga program has a significant effect on classroom behaviors in children with autism.

Another study, published in 2011 in the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine, looked at the effect that yoga has on relaxation responses in children with autism. Twenty four children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders participated in an 8 week multimodal yoga, dance and music therapy program. The effects of the program on relaxation response was measured the Behavioral Assessment System for Children, Second Edition (BASC-2) and the Aberrant Behavior Checklist. The researchers found significant changes on the results of the BASC-2, especially for the children age 5-12.

The use of yoga poses and daily yoga sessions to help calm and relax children with autism is increasing. To find out if yoga is being utilized in a child’s school, a parent may contact the school and talk to the child’s regular classroom teacher or special education teacher. If yoga is not utilized in a child’s school, a parent may contact local yoga instructors to find out if classes for children with autism are offered. In addition, parents and teachers who are interested in teaching yoga to children with autism may take courses specifically designed for this purpose. Books on yoga for children with autism, including Louise Goldberg’s book mentioned above, are available for purchase on Amazon.

About the author 

Janet Meydam

Janet Meydam holds a B.S. degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and an M.S. degree in Occupational Therapy from Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She has worked in healthcare and education settings for 25 years and writes extensively about people who have disabilities.

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