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Autism and Effects of Yoga

In this article, we are discussing the effect of yoga on Autism. It is seen that autism is on the rise, now 1.47% of the children are suffering from Autism according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).  Guardians, parents, teachers and various professionals are facing challenges of supporting children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) at home, school, neighbor, and society. Along with this, there are some adults as well suffering from Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Average problems of the children with ASD are

  • Hitch, delay, and difficulty with expressive and receptive communication. They lack communication skills and have problem to understand the information.
  • Sensory integration deficits, socially unadapt and emotional challenges. It is difficult to understand and recognize their emotions, facial expressions and social cues. They too have a challenge to understand emotions of others. Children with ASD show a wide boundary in such problems, some may have more difficulty in one or more sectors than another. Many children with ASD sometimes also feel increased anxiety.

Nowadays, yoga has become an important tool for helping children with ASD.  Though there are limited researches on yoga and its effects on children with autism, the research have informed that yoga has a significant advantage to children with ASD.

Yoga naturally provides increased coordination, flexibility, strength, and balance. The children with autism who practice yoga regularly is found to have increased self-regulation, body awareness, social-emotional skills, language and communication, focus and concentration. Besides, they are found to have lowered down in anxiety level, obsessive, impulsive, aggressive and self-stimulatory behaviors. Some of the effects of yoga on autism are listed below:

Minimized Anxiety

One of the symptoms of ASD is increased levels of anxiety which affect their mood, behavior, health and sleep. One effect of yoga on Autism is it minimized anxiety. Sensory integration deficits, discomfort with communication and other different challenges etc make them constant anxious.  This state of anxiousness is also called as the fight/flight mode. This mode makes chest breathing or hyperventilation, cognition and communication goes down which whets anxiety level.  Specified pranayama (breathing) practice helps to reduce anxiety and soothing their mind. Similarly the practice of conscious breathing, and yoga asanas (poses) pacify their mood and aids in self-regulation skills, developing coping skills, and better management of stress. When tension is released, nervous system is calmed, naturally one finds better mood, activities, sleep, digestion and complete health.

Better Social-Communication Aptitude

The International Journal of Yoga Therapy has published a result of improvement in imitation skills on children.  The study alluded that yoga increases better imitation ability, cognitive art and social-communicative activities in children with ASD. Children become more active and exhibit increased skills in eye contact, sitting stability, non-verbal, receptive communication skills and communication. The aptitude to understand ones actions and response those actions help to enhance social-communication relation.  When practicing yoga asanas and pranayama through imitating the actions and behaviors of the teacher. This also helps children ability to sustain joint attention, and socialization.  

Improved Consciousness and Expression of Emotions

Along with improved awareness to social cues like facial expressions, actions and social behaviors, yoga also brings more awareness to children’s emotions and the type they feel. Pranayama (breathing styles) can be taught to children with ASD for removing uncomfortable emotions like anger, stress, frustration, and tension in healthier and more constructive ways. When the children with ASD get chance to express their emotions, they will understand that it’s OK to feel these emotions and can get more support in better feeling when manifested constructively.

Positive feelings and emotions of Self

Regular practice of yoga helps children with ASD in enhancing self-confidence and self-respect. Standing asanas and balancing asanas are further more exciting and effective poses for them. Yet, standing, balancing and seated asana, every asana can be modified to aid the aptitude of the child which helps to strengthen the child’s self-regard and self-esteem. This supports children to decrease negative emotions and feelings.

Decrease in Abnormal and Challenging Behaviors

Another effect of yoga on Autism is it decrease an abnormal and challenging behavior.  American Journal of Occupational Therapy published a study regarding yoga and improving behavior. The study kept the record of evaluation of challenging behaviors before and after the yoga interposition which revealed noticeable impact on behaviors among children with ASD.

The improvement of behaviors in the children with autism was found who practiced yoga conformably over a 16-week period (Koenig, Buckley-Reen & Garg, 2012). A harmonious combination of asana and pranayama can not only reduce anxiety but can provide better impacts on mood and behavior, self-regulation and coping skills. There are many cases that children with ASD experience sensory integration problems.

Sensory integration means the way to use and process external stimuli from the environment around us along with internal stimuli within our own bodies and mind. “Self-regulation refers the ability to self-manage, to master one’s activity level and state of consciousness, also emotional, mental or physical responses to various sensations” (Smith and Gouze 2004).

Specified asanas and pranayama helps he children with ASD provided proprioceptive and vestibular input from the two “hidden” sensory systems for helping sensory unity and self-regulation. Children can improve impulsive, aggressive and acting out behaviors significantly with the upliftment of self-regulation skills.

Improved Body-Mind Consciousness

Among many effects of yoga on Autism, it improves the body- mind consciousness. Many children with ASD have less than average body awareness. By understanding and identifying various parts of your body through different movements and static position of yoga, children can increase sense of body consciousness and awareness.

Useful Tips for Yoga Teaching to Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Yoga can help children in their daily activities at home, school, and community, different program setting to maintain self-awareness, effective communication as well as decreasing negative feelings and frustration. Children feel calm, relaxed, learn practical aspects of behavior when the adult practice yoga with the child.

  • Child learns what to expect if the yoga schedule is created with pictures of asana. It also maintains consistency
  • There should be ideal choice for asana and pranayama in the beginning so that they can experience success and make them to practice consistently and diligently until they become perfect.
  • Children need freedom to choose preferred poses in order to feel a sense of involvement and control. Children require simple and playful yoga asana and pranayama using different visuals, games, motivations, repetition and fun.
  • Include “yoga breaks” every day to enhance strength, flexibility, movement, stretching and breathing. It should be done properly throughout the day. It helps for reset, focus and concentration. Specific asanas that cross the midline enhance balance left and right brain. This balance on brain builds new neuro-pathways in the brain and improves learning, movement and coordination.