yoga for people living with autism spectrum disorder

Introduction to Autism Spectrum Disorder:

 Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors (learn more at Autism Speaks). Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify around 1 in 68 American children living on the autism spectrum.

While people living with autism spectrum disorder have some similarities, it is important to remember that if you know one person with autism spectrum disorder you know one person with autism spectrum disorder.  Celebrating neurodiversity means recognizing and respecting individuals individually.  

What is Neurodiversity?

Celebrating neurodiversity means: 

  • Recognizing and respecting individuals individually.  
  • Facilitating an accepting environment for children with Autism and other disabilities to interact with peers
  • Creating opportunities for typically developing children to develop compassion, learn about disabilities, form friendships, and become role models.

How can Autism Spectrum Disorder symptoms be alleviated by yoga and deep breathing?

Deep Breathing:
  • Lowers cortisol levels to decrease stress and anxiety
  • Improves self-regulation 
  • Promotes breath control necessary for language development

  • Provides sensory integration
  • Promotes development of balance, motor coordination, and brain-body connection
  • Calms sensory nervous system
  • Promotes improved attention span and ability to focus

The following continuum of instruction from hands-on to independent may help 

students who need their yoga asana practice delivered with:

hands-on adjustments from aide or instructor to move into postures and out of posturesminimal hands-on prompts and adjustments needed to be and feel safepostures mirrored, no verbal cuesa video / screen or other devisepostures mirrored, verbal cues and intentionally 
quiet environment
with postures mirrored,verbal cues as needed - regular yoga class or practice 

(e.g., explain how lowering cortisol levels associated with autism-related anxiety/sensory discomfort can be alleviated by the serotonin boosting effects of certain asanas and breathing strategies, etc)

The article from SF works great here explaining why we need to practice yoga with our friends living with ASD.

Other resources still needed:

-include graphics and descriptions of basic Hatha Asanas and adapt with visual supports (thank you Mark Stephens for these great resources).

PECS social stories, videos, etc.

-explain the benefits of each Asana in regards to co-morbid issues related to autism

such as: 

speech apraxia (teaching kids how to blow bubbles or blow on pinwheels to increase breath control is not only a yoga practice, but also an oral motor activity that helps language development); 

gastrointestinal issues related to food sensitivities (certain asanas help to relieve gas/bloating/stomach pain);

fine motor difficulties can be addressed by incorporating movements involving the fingers/hands/manual dexterity (such as pinching stones between the index finger and thumb while in lotus, etc)

…and so on…

-discuss the importance of how routine-based yoga flow can: 

increase attention span, 

distract the mind from overwhelming sensory stimuli, etc

-include a section on importance of alkaline and plant-based diets in managing symptoms of autism

Thank you for all the help Dr. Hayman @ Neuroflex Yoga - 

According to people practicing yoga experience the following benefits:
  • Reduction of pain
  • Reduction of aggression
  • Reduction of obsessive and self-stimulatory behaviors
  • Reduction of anxiety
  • More control in regulating anxiety and emotions
  • The joy of sharing class with others and making new friends

When someone with ASD can feel more calm and comfortable in his body, with less pain and anxiety, it is easier for him to control his behavior, learn new skills and enjoy social interactions.

Because people with autism have such different sensory experiences, their bodies often get stuck in a ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response. The fight, flight or freeze response moves blood from the digestive organs to the skeletal muscles. Digestion is disrupted, heart rate speeds up and breathing becomes shallower. These physical reactions often lead to the emotional state of anxiety.

Yoga helps a student’s body to get out of the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response, and to feel more relaxed and less anxious. When the body is no longer in the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response, blood returns to the core and the body can do its work of breathing and digestion. Specific yoga poses stimulate the gastro-intestinal tract for better digestion and elimination.

Yoga also facilitates deeper inhaling and exhaling, which calm the nervous system. It builds core strength, which supports deeper respiration and, in the long run, will create a much healthier body. Only when the individual feels more calm and comfortable in his body, can he really work on behavior.

At its core, yoga is meant to deepen spiritual awareness. Many of us who work with people on the autism spectrum believe that our students have untapped spiritual gifts. Yoga is an opportunity for our students to explore their spiritual experience and share it with others.

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