The Surprising Benefits of Yoga for Autistic Children
Nov 17,2022 | IUGA-Stephen
The benefits of yoga don't stop at increasing or improving body strength and flexibility. In America, for example, this sport is also used as supportive therapy for children with autism.
Founder and teacher of YogAutism, Scott Anderson, said that yoga for autism not only makes children calmer. Yoga for autism also reduces pain, anxiety, aggressiveness, and obsessive behavior. Another bonus, the benefits of yoga for people with autism is that it makes them easier to socialize because emotions are also more controlled.
Yoga vs Child Anxiety
It is important to know that people with autism have very different sensory experiences from other children. Therefore, the sensory response often makes the child's body stuck in 3 F states: fight (fight or attack), flight (run away from the problem), or freeze (stay still).
These three states then divert blood from the digestive organs to the striated muscles. As a result, the digestive system becomes disrupted, the heart rate increases and breathing becomes shallow/short. These effects then trigger anxiety in children with autism.
The Importance of Visualization
So how do practice yoga for children with autism? Teachers of yoga for autism agree that the visualization factor in practice is very important.
Therefore, Louise Goldberg, author of Yoga Therapy for Children with Autism and Special Needs, designed the Stop and Relax program, which uses more than 50 cue cards. With these cards, the child is able to visualize and mimic the poses to be practiced.
Louise says, "Some children may not be able to communicate using our everyday language. However, they can see the images on the cards and respond. Others remain difficult to relate to even when they can talk or move. They are not yet able to switch easily, for example from activity A to B. But by looking at visual images, somehow these children find it easier to imitate the movements requested."
Yoga Challenges for Autism
The problem is, not all parents or teachers are comfortable with the term 'yoga'. Some shallow-minded people think of yoga as a religious sport. In fact, yoga programs are suitable for all children and ages because they involve only movements, poses, and breathing exercises.
Even so, Louise was willing to adapt so she changed yoga to Creative Relaxation. Of course, in practice, none of the Sanskrit terms are used. The prayer pose for example was replaced with Tree Pose, while Viparita Shalabhasana was modified to Superman Pose. The action of mumbling is also replaced with daily chanting.
Louise also believes that yoga is suitable for autistic people and other 'normal' children. Therefore, it would be a shame if this practice is not done just because some people object to the term.
Benefits of Yoga for Children
According to Dr. Judy Willis in her book How Children Learn Best, children need to take a break every 15 minutes. If the learning time is longer than that, the results will not be optimal and will instead frustrate the child and the teacher. Therefore, do a particular pose for 1 minute while sitting or standing, before continuing the teaching-learning process again.
An analysis of Get Ready to Learn (one of the yoga programs for autism) also found that the benefits of regular yoga before school have a significant impact on children's behavior. As mentioned earlier, children become calm, less sensitive or hyperactive, and more sociable. It can also reduce the risk of bullying in children.
So if the benefits of yoga for children, especially those with autism, are so great then there's no reason not to try it!