Autism and ADHD now have a powerful ally in the forces of Yoga. Find out how Yoga can help a child on this spectrum.
A few years back I worked for a short span of time with children between the ages of four and six. All of them have Autism diagnoses, and some also have ADHD. Any time I think I’m having a stressful day, I am quickly humbled when I think of how yoga for special needs kids has helped them, since they are in an almost constant state of stress or anxiety.
Initially it was quite difficult to convince the families and myself as to how yoga could help make a difference. As I did a little more research, I realized just how beneficial yoga can be for children with special needs.
Research shows that yoga increases focus and concentration, reduces stress and anxiety, increases balance and coordination, promotes self-confidence, improves sleep, and enhances imagination and creativity. Children with Autism and/or ADHD struggle in each of those areas. Teaching them yoga and meditation makes perfect sense.
I recommended that people practicing yoga with an ADHD child should keep them close by and give them needed attention.
Their yoga practice should include a lot of movement and energy, as well. “I try to keep in mind that this child might need more action, more activity than other children do.”
Visual cues also help. “Let’s say we’re going to do tree pose,”I’ll hold up a stick figure of what the tree pose looks like.”
Ways to teach Yoga for Special Needs Kids
The yoga that adults practice isn’t exactly the same as yoga for children. If you want to use yoga to reduce anxiety in a child, you’ll need to follow a few modifications that make the practice more effective.
- Coming up with fun, creative names for postures
- Making each pose part of a story
- Challenging siblings to compete
- Rewarding children for following through
Breathing or Pranayama
Breathing exercises can help the child learn to calm herself and may reduce mood swings, temper tantrums and emotional instability. Breathing exercises can be used on their own, or as a part of a yoga practice, interspersed with more active poses.
Breathing and meditation should be used for shorter periods of time (“Sitting still even for ten to 20 seconds can be a lot for a kid”) and may be done through activities such as eating or walking or allowing them to experience something that they enjoy . These exercises encourage mindfulness.
Parents should consider taking a class along with their child, both as a bonding experience and to learn the same relaxation techniques to help him cope and function well.
I have always allowed myself to follow my heart-felt intuition and allowed kids to guide and inspire me, as I tune into their needs and their energy. Together we create and shape the class .
Lastly Yoga may not eliminate an anxiety disorder, but it has helped many people learn how to live with uncomfortable feelings instead of panicking.
So don’t give up; it takes a lot of patience but it is all worth the effort.