So often I receive a look of surprise from parents when I tell them “Your child would really love a Yoga class!” I know this look well. This is a look of dismay, a look that says, “My child can barely sit still! He barely follows my directions! I’m not sure she will be successful at Yoga!” As a Behavior Therapist and Certified Kids Yoga Teacher working with children with autism, I completely understand these concerns. All these crazy expectations of what Yoga should be like and look like is enough to scare anyone. But that’s the thing about Yoga, there are no expectations. In fact, the only thing I expect from a kid’s Yoga class, is to expect the unexpected. That’s what makes it fun!
There’s a saying I’ve heard more than once, “When you’ve met a kid with autism, you’ve met one kid with autism”. This should really be a mantra when teaching a kids Yoga class! What one child likes, another might despise. I take this into account every minute of a class, as the goal is to build their confidence, learn about how their bodies move, and ways to relax on an individual level. The benefits of Yoga are abundant; the benefits of Yoga for children with autism are tenfold. Sensory input and tolerance, social skills, following directions, turn taking, sharing, imitation skills, small and gross motor skills, coping and relaxation skills, self-care…the list goes on, and on, and on!
So what might a kid’s Yoga class look like for a child with autism? Besides being absolutely beautiful, you can look for an array of activities! Each class is, of course, going to be different. This is something I’ve experienced as I’ve gone through my own journey of teaching. The first day I taught a kid’s Yoga class, it resembled something along the lines of organized chaos, the kids not knowing what to expect, I not knowing what to expect. The key was simply going with the flow, no matter what that meant, letting it happen as it was happening (insert a few deep breaths here). I was amazed at the participation of the kids, their eagerness, their ability, their excitement to be doing Yoga! My admiration for them and their Yoga practice only grew as class sessions went on. These children with autism, some not even able to speak, were mastering tree poses, excited for downward dogs, and ready for relaxation at the end of the class. The first time I had a group of kids rest for five minutes in our relaxation pose, I remember thinking “There are ten kids with autism all resting at the same time on their Yoga mats… Yoga is a miracle!”
Anyways, back to what you can look for in a kid’s Yoga class. Of course you’ll see lots of Yoga, in the shape of Yoga poses, kid’s meditation, relaxation, and lots of breathing. There will be lots of dancing, singing, songs, jumping, laughing, rolling, and movement. There will be props to keep attention and excitement- this could be musical instruments, stuffed animals, dress-up gear, and more. There will be structure so the kids know what to expect and to transition more easily. There will be opportunities for them to share their experiences in Yoga, or whatever else they feel the need to share. All of this is incorporated into a kid’s Yoga class to make it suited for them and their individual needs.
So, can your child with autism really do Yoga? Your child can do Yoga and so much more. I love having the opportunity to share with children something that I love so much. It’s so important to give our kids opportunities that they may otherwise not receive and find unique ways for them to receive them. The gift of a Yoga practice should be available to all children, especially those with fewer outlets of expression, relaxation, and relationship building. Our jobs are to make significant, lasting changes in the lives of children, and to give them a little peace along the way.