Tips for Working with Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Working with kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders is my passion & area of expertise as a Speech-Language Pathologist. I have had several folks contact me recently via Facebook and e-mail asking for a few tips.

The most important thing when working with kids, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorders or any other special needs, is to get info about the kids and get to know them as individuals. I have been a SLP for 22 years and have worked with hundreds of kids with ASD ranging from infants (pre-diagnosis) to 21 years of age….. and the saying is definitely true “when you have met one person with Autism, you have met ONE person with Autism”. Every child is a unique individual….. like each of us is a unique individual. But there are also some general things that are helpful to know if you are considering working with kids with ASD so here are a few general tips:

* use visual supports (see several posts:

* have a predictable routine.

* be mindful of the sensory issues of each individual child (many are easily overstimulated by smells, lights, extra props, music, noises, etc…). Be mindful of this when picking yoga mats to use. Avoid ones with a strong odor, over-stimulating colors and/or distracting designs or patterns. Kids with ASD can take things very literally so if you have a yoga mat with a certain animal or pose on it they may think that is the only pose they can do on that mat. Non-toxic, eco-friendly yoga mats in solid, calming shades of blues & greens are my typical recommendation. There is actually some research about kids with special needs reactions to certain colors and many individuals with ASD were drawn to blues & greens and I have found this to be true in my personal practice as well.

* be aware that many individuals with ASD have difficulty making and maintaining eye contact. Many teens and adults with ASD have described eye contact as an overwhelming and sometimes painful sensory experience. Many have also described that eye contact can be so overwhelming that to look and listen at the same time is too much sensory information. In my work as a SLP, I have found it helpful to teach kids how to “approximate” eye contact by periodically looking at something in the facial region (ex: eyebrows, nose, chin, rim of eye glasses) of the conversational partner as a way to be socially engaging while still respecting their own sensory needs. I have seen way too many kids with ASD in my career where direct, unatural eye contact was overemphasized and the results are not usually good.

* don’t be too quick to judge whether or not a child with ASD is “enjoying” yoga or any other activity….. I have seen many kids initially be resistant or ambivalent to yoga and other activities end up loving it when given the opportunity to experience it on their own terms & at their own pace.

* be mindful of group dynamics & group size… many kids with ASD are overwhelmed in large groups.

* be mindful of the sensory aspects of the poses and breathing activities. Kids with ASD often have very significant Sensory Processing problems and can be very sensitive to poses that require balance or inversion. In general, poses that provide “flexion” tend to be calming, poses that provide “extension” tend to be alerting & energizing and poses that use both sides of the body and/or cross midline tend to promote focusing.

* many kids with ASD have “high interest” areas….. with some kids these make good theme choices to get them interested.

* many kids with ASD have poor motor planning skills and auditory processing problems so you may need to modify/simplify poses and use very simple instructions (one step at a time). You may need to wait a few seconds to allow the child to process verbal information. It is also helpful to provide a consistent cue before giving instructions and pairing verbal instructions with simple sign language/gestures and visual supports.

* always ask the child’s permission before touching or offering help with a pose & get info ahead of time about how that child reacts to touch. As a general rule of thumb more of them tolerate deep/firm pressure better than light touch…. but this can vary greatly from child to child.

Here is a link to a presentation I did at the Oklahoma Autism Conference: It includes links to lots of great resources, video clips and research articles.

And a post I did about inclusion:

There are lots of great folks out there doing adapted yoga for kids with ASD. Here are links to a few of my faves:


Bodylogique:, blog: Check out the interview Barbara did last April: She also did a webinar “Yoga for Children with Autism” earlier this month with Donna Freeman at Yoga In My School (available for purchase:


ZensationalKids:  is a licensed occupational therapist, a Registered Yoga Teacher and is a trainer with Radiant Child Yoga. She co-teaches their specialty course “Yoga for Differently-Abled Children: Working With ADHD, Autism and Sensory Processing Issues”. 


S.T.O.P. and Relax:


A great post on the Spirit of Autism blog:


A great book isYoga Therapy for Every Special Child – Meeting Needs in a Natural Setting” by Nancy Williams. It’s a “must-have” for anyone doing adapted or therapeutic yoga. Nancy is a Speech-Language Pathologist &  Registered Yoga Teacher.

Hope this helps!

You can also reach me at if you ever want to chat via e-mail 🙂

Angela Moorad, MS, CCC-SLP, IAYT, RCYP-2

Speech-Language Pathologist

Founder of OMazing Kids, LLC – inclusive wellness activities for kids of all abilities

Radiant Child Yoga Certified – Levels 1 & 2






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Using Visual Supports in Yoga Groups for Kids & Teens – being inclusive of learning styles

Looking for ways to include kids & teens with different learning styles in your yoga groups? Want to use positive ways to support participation and reduce problematic behaviors? Then you might want to consider using “visual supports”.

Many of the kids I work with in OMazing Kids Yoga have difficulty understanding & following verbal instructions. This can be due to a difference in learning style (visual vs. auditory learner), difficulty maintaining attention (ex: ADD/ADHD), difficulty tuning out extra sensory input to be able to attend (ex: Sensory Processing Disorders), focusing in too much on an area of high interest to the point that the child has difficulty attending to other information (ex: Autism Spectrum Disorders), specific learning disabilities, etc…

Regardless of “why” the child is having difficulty understanding & following instructions, this will make it difficult for them to participate in a meaningful way in activities, including a kids yoga class.

Adding “visual supports” (ex: pictures of the poses, pictures to depict the sequence of activities that will occur in the group, pictures to show the “steps” within an activity, showing “first ____ / then _______”, etc…) can make a BIG difference for many kids.

Here are a few examples of visual supports I created to use in OMazing Kids Yoga:

Some kids do well with a “Social Story” describing the expected behavior and how that makes other feel:

Some kids do well with a left-to-right schedule showing what will happen in the group (other kids do better with a top-to-bottom type schedule):

(this file is saved out on Boardmaker Share at:

Some kids need extra visual cues to help them understand concepts:

(Note: These are just a few examples of the many different visual supports I use. Every child is unique so I often modify things or make new visual supports to meet those unique needs. Some kids do better with photos, black & white symbols or just words.)

Looking for PDF printable versions of some visual supports?  Here are a few: yoga breathing visual support (flower and candle), Social Story “Good Behavior in Yoga Group” with picture symbols, Peace Tree – guided visualization.

 How Do I Make These Visual Supports?  I use a combination of Boardmaker, MS Word, MS Paint, Google Images and the “snipping tool” in Windows 7. Boardmaker is a software program commonly used by Special Education teachers, Speech-Language Pathologists and other therapists to make communication boards, educational materials & visual supports for kids with special needs. Mayer Johnson offers a 30-day free trial of the program ( and free online trainings on how to use it (

More About Visual Supports

Visual supports help many children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other special needs understand their world better.

Just as many adults need calendars, to-do lists, shopping lists and planners to remind them of their activities for the day, many children need visual schedules and other visual supports.

Visual supports enhance understanding of what is going to happen and clarify expectations during that specific time period or activity.

In addition, visual supports often help the child move from one activity to the next with less frustration and reduced behavioral outbursts because the symbols turn the unknown into something the child understands.

The consistency provided by a visual support is crucial in establishing an atmosphere of trust and
security. Visual supports can also provide motivation for the child to work through a less preferred activity knowing a preferred/reinforcing activity is coming soon.

The type of symbols used, number of activities and amount of time shown on a visual schedule depend on the individual child’s needs.

If you want even more info about “visual supports”, check out these websites: 

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Angela Moorad, MS, CCC-SLP, IAYT, RCYP-2
Speech-Language Pathologist
Founder of OMazing Kids Yoga, LLC – inclusive yoga for kids & teens of all abilities in Norman, Oklahoma
Radiant Child Yoga Certified – Levels 1 & 2