Adaptive yoga for children with special needs is a fabulous resource for parents, aides, teachers, physical therapists, OTs and more. Yoga is available to everyone and is easy to adapt to meet individual needs and requirements. It is a powerful form of physical and mental self exploration with tremendous benefits.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you develop and engage in yoga classes for those with special needs such as autism, ADHD, cerebral palsy, FASD, Down syndrome and more.
- Focus on Fun: Approach yoga with a sense or curiosity and play. It's fun to move your body, see what you can do, explore the world. The benefits of yoga are profound but children will lose interest if its not fun and joyful.
- Engage with child friendly themes: Build yoga sessions around topics that interest children. Maybe its superheros or princesses, the jungle or a trip to The Pet Store. Yoga can also be used to reinforce classroom themes and provide a kineasthetic learning modality. This allows children to improve their health while increasing their understanding of the themselves and their world. See Dinosaur Yoga, Shape Yoga and Bug Yoga.
- Provide challenges & repetition: Challenges are important to help children grow & push themselves. For many children with special needs standing on one foot (Tree Pose, Dancer Pose) is challenging. However as they practice this skill (repeating often) they become better at it until soon they have no problem. This works for all skills including relaxation and breathing exercises. The first time you may only be able to engage the students for a few moments. However, as you persist, repeating often, the children will gain valuable physical, emotional and mental skills.
- Encourage with positive feedback: Focus on what the children are doing right and reinforce it . i.e.: "I love your downdog."You're really good at sitting quietly and listening.? Wow, you're great at balancing on one foot."What wonderful yogis you all are."Thank you for your happy participation in class today.With children its so important to focus on the good and not worry too much about what is incorrect form, as long as it is not hurting themselves or others.
- Teach breathing & relaxation: In our hectic world it is vital to know how to calm, center and soothe. Yoga is a valuable mind-body tool which will help alleviate anxiety and stress.
- Keep yoga sessions short & ability appropriate: For many children their attention span maxes out at 5 minutes, often less for younger ones and those with special needs. This means lots of different activities to engage interest. Yoga is ideal because there are so many poses, each one an activity in and of itself. Keeping little ones engaged for 20-30 minutes is possible but you do have to be creative, energetic and focus on fun.
- Use and visuals: Visuals, such as flash cards, stuffed animals, books, plastic figurines, etc., help students stay on task, provide visual support, and kids love the opportunity to pick from the bag/card deck to see what pose is coming next. They also provide opportunity for turn taking and reinforcement of appropriate social behavior.
About Donna Freeman
Donna Freeman is a teacher, author, and expert on yoga for kids and teens. Located in St Albert, Alberta, Canada, she's been teaching yoga to kids and teens in school and home settings since 2002. Donna is also the founder of Yoga in My School, an excellent resource for everything about kids yoga.
Below is a book list that is a good start for parents to read and educate themselves about yoga and its benefits for children with special needs.
Yoga For the Special Child by Sonia Sumar (Special Yoga
Yoga Calm for Children, Educating Heart, Mind and
Body by Lynea Gillen and Jim Gillen (Three Pebble
Yoga For Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
by Dion Betts and Stacey Betts (Jessica Kingsley
Integrated Yoga, Yoga with a Sensory Integrative Approach
by Nicole Cuomo (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007)
Hatha Yoga Illustrated by Martin Kirk, Brooke Boon,
and Diniel DiTuro (Human Kinetics, 2006)
Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew by
Ellen Nothohm (Future Horizons, 2005)
The Out-of -Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz (The
Berkley Publishing Group, 1998)