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Kid Companions- Chewelry: Jun 15, 2010

June 15, 2010

Yoga Helping Autistic Children

“Yoga helps autistic kids deal with stress. School board runs classes to help autistic children learn techniques to regulate their moods.” No, this is not in California this is our own Nova Scotia South Shore Regional School Board and those are the words of Beverly Ware on June 5th, 2010 in The Chronicle Herald.

The board’s autism consultant, Catherine Rahey, explained that Yoga helps autistic kids get in touch with their bodies, become aware of their emotions and their feelings, and provides them with the ability to cope when they start to feel anxious, upset or stressed.

Rahey says the aim of the yoga program is to help autistic children learn to cope and connect with each other. Learning to self-regulate will benefit these children at home, at school and out in the public.

“Yoga is a way of helping kids become self-aware," said yoga instructor Jenny Kierstead. “The whole program is geared around helping kids identify when their mood is escalating and to offer yoga poses or breathing techniques that help them cope with that escalating mood.”

Many autistic kids are visual learners, therefore, besides watching their yoga instructor doing the exercises, they have a power point presentation showing each pose. Furthermore, colored printouts of each pose and what they mean are placed near each mat.

Another impressive point about this program is the fact that the School Board provides iPods to the Special Needs students so they can watch a video of their instructor doing the poses at anytime. Parents attend the yoga classes also and they receive the poses and information about them ahead of time. This great activity that starts in the school, can then be continued and worked on together at home with young and older members of their family.

"Only in Canada?" you say.
 No, very good results for autistic children where attained through a yoga-based treatment called Integrated Movement Therapy (IMT) in the Seattle, Washington. IMT was created by Molly Kenny, a speech-language pathologist and an Ashtanga Yoga instructor. Kenny is convinced that by combining touch or movement with verbal exercises, her young participants generally experienced more spontaneous speech and improved mood.

Kenny says:“By merging the principles of yoga with conventional behavioral, mental, and verbal therapies, IMT encourages a child's physical, emotional, and social growth.”

Before Kenny’s class moves on to the next activity, she asks them to sit quietly and calm their bodies. By learning that self-calming techniques can be an adjunct to activity, autistic children discover that being asked to quiet down doesn't always have to be punitive.

Many “yoga for autistic children” classes include massage, music, dance, rhymes and stories which also allow teachers and parents to connect with the child. Music provokes engagement and interest and the acts of drumming, singing and movement stimulates the emotional center of the brain.

It is so great to learn that our school systems are providing the needed services and support that many parents of special needs children have advocated for for many years.

 Has an autistic child you know benefitted from yoga?

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