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What the Family of an Autistic Child Should Know About Practicing Yoga

by Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer 

 

This is the second article in a two-part series, detailing how a consistent yoga practice is beneficial for relieving challenges associated with chronic, terminal or developmental conditions. 

 

Whether in the context of home, school or community, those responsible for the care and support of an autistic child are faced with a unique fusion of challenges and rewards. The Center for Disease Control estimates that one in 68 children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the United States alone. These children express difficulty with social interaction, verbal communication, sensory reception and emotional integration.  

Because of this tendency to struggle with a basic grasp on developmental cues, therapeutic techniques are often used to teach an autistic child the fundamentals of speech, behavior and fine motor skills. Yoga is one such mode that can successfully address socio-emotional interventions, while reducing compulsive, anxious, aggressive or self-stimulatory habits. Liana Bryant, director of Rosemary Court Yoga in downtown Sarasota, elaborates on how this ancient holistic modality could offer supplemental benefits to the growth of children with autism.     

“A yoga class itself provides a supportive social environment. Students closely watch the instructor and replicate the poses with their own bodies which also engages the students’ attention spans. Yoga improves focus and concentration, promotes a sense of calm, and decreases frustration or anxiety through mindful breathing and relaxing postures. In addition, yoga enhances body awareness, strength, balance and coordination, both through movement and directional cues. All of these assets encourage a positive attitude, conduct, mood and self-esteem,” she explains.    

This gentle, soothing practice is a secure and non-threatening outlet for autistic children to access their range of emotions constructively within appropriate, controlled and reassuring parameters. Yoga as a coping mechanism can also normalize their hyperactive amounts of energy or intensity since ASD obstructs the brain’s neuro-processes, often causing erratic responses to external stimuli. In fact, research published in The American Journal of Occupational Therapy suggests that autistic children who practice yoga over a consistent 16-week duration are more prone to regulate their own mental, emotional and physical reactions. 

For the parent or caregiver of a child with ASD, there are certain yoga classes to be aware of, customized to the unique specifications that autism presents. Bryant clarifies, “A therapeutic yoga sequence, designed with special needs in mind, would be the most beneficial starting point. Rosemary Court Yoga coordinates both private and group sessions for various special needs. For instance, right now, a ‘Mom and Baby’ class is on our weekly schedule, and older kids’ classes can be privately arranged through an email request.”       

Perhaps the most worthwhile aspect of yoga as an adjunct for autism intervention is watching those children discover a healthy sense of self. Learning to execute complicated poses and listen to their innate mind-body-spirit connection empowers them to feel accomplished, successful and validated––often for the first time. 

 

Liana Bryant is an E-RYT-500 certified instructor through the Yoga Alliance and the director of Rosemary Court Yoga, located at 810 Central Avenue, Sarasota. To view the entire class schedule, visit RosemaryCourt.com/classes. For more information, call 941-952-5280 or email RosemaryCourt@yahoo.com 

 

Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer is the Managing Editor of Natural Awakenings Sarasota–Manatee. She also works as a freelance writer, blogger and social media marketer based in Southwest Florida. Her personal blog HealthBeAHippie.Wordpress.com features practical tips for embracing an active, nutritious and empowered lifestyle.   

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