Yoga & Autism
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine (NCCIM) which is part of the National Institute of Health (NIH) considers #yoga a complementary health approach. This means that they don't feel yoga is part of mainstream practice, but it can be used together with conventional medicine. Eden has such a love and appreciation for yoga and its ability to heal that we've created a yoga space within our primary care practice.
The NCCIM defines yoga as a mind and body practice with origins in ancient Indian philosophy typically combining physical postures, breathing techniques, and #meditation or relaxation. A study published in 2012 shows that yoga is one of the top four most popular mind and body practices utilized by adults, and from 2002 to 2012, the number of adults practicing yoga easily doubled.
I've written about yoga's benefits and how it is really amazing for all bodies, no matter your shape or ability. I've also shared that it can alter your brain in ways that allow you to optimize your health (maybe this was shared in our exclusive group for members). Research regarding yoga's effectiveness as an intervention for trauma and mental health challenges is growing, including its benefit for children. As a mother of a few children with autism, I can't help but consider the advantages this practice may offer these individuals.
The diagnostic criteria for autism includes limitations in sensory process which may limit their occupational performance or even their social connection. Interestingly, thirty-six different yoga programs have been implemented within 940 different schools across the United States to assist the therapists working with students who have autism. While these programs differed in their approach, they all offered physical postures, breathing exercises, techniques for promoting relaxation and mindfulness activities. Researchers have found these programs lead to a reduction in maladaptive behaviors, including lethargy, irritability, noncompliance, inappropriate speech, and social withdrawal for those students receiving yoga intervention. Yoga-based programs can be effective with this population and can improve their daily learning and participation in the special education classroom.
Get Ready to Learn
There is quite a bit of evidence to support the GRTL yoga program. It was created by an occupational therapist and certified yoga instructor, focusing on postures, relaxation techniques, and breathing experiences for elementary school-aged children. It's popularity has grown across the US, Canada, and England.
Studies have found that students with autism utilizing this yoga program in school find it a very positive experience. They found it to be calming, helping them feel in control, and helped them focus. The students also shared they were able to recall the kinesthetic movements and breathing techniques while at home for which they were quite grateful.
This is important because many children with autism do have difficulty with physical movements, especially coordination and proprioception. Performing yoga barefoot improves sensory response and many physical poses are intentional for improving balance. My own son has significant challenge with his vestibular and proprioception, so he struggles to tie his shoes or do jumping jacks for example. He also struggles with many textures, such as walking barefoot on grass. Yoga works to improve each of these and with continued practice, additional brain networks are established which can repattern or change the neuroplasticity of our brains.
Our practice hosts a yoga for kids class every other Saturday. Book online. Our littles are loving it!
Milton, L. E. (2019). Yoga and autism: Student's perspective on the get ready to learn yoga program. The Open Journal of Occupational Therapy, 7(4), 1-10.