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: https://omazingkidsllc.com/?s=visual+supports).
* 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: https://omazingkidsllc.com/2011/11/20/omazing-kids-yoga-therapeutic-yoga-for-kids-and-teens-with-autism-handouts-links-for-presentation-at-the-oklahoma-autism-conference-11-19-11/. It includes links to lots of great resources, video clips and research articles.
And a post I did about inclusion: https://omazingkidsllc.com/2012/01/16/universal-design-for-inclusive-kids-yoga-inclusion-is-belonging/
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: http://www.bodylogique.com/, http://www.facebook.com/BodyLogique, blog: http://bodylogique.blogspot.com/. Check out the interview Barbara did last April: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/yoga-in-my-school/2011/04/06/yoga-for-autism-with-barbara-gini. She also did a webinar “Yoga for Children with Autism” earlier this month with Donna Freeman at Yoga In My School (available for purchase: http://yogainmyschool.com/store/webinars/).
ZensationalKids: http://zensationalkids.com/, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Zensational-Kids-LLC/201943263172877. Allison 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: http://www.stopandrelax.net/, http://www.facebook.com/stopandrelax.net
A great post on the Spirit of Autism blog: http://spiritofautism.org/2011/11/10/7-benefits-of-yoga-for-autism/
A great book is “Yoga 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. http://yogatherapy4children.com/index.html, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Yoga-Therapy-4-Every-Special-Child/151568364912636.
Hope this helps!
You can also reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you ever want to chat via e-mail 🙂
Angela Moorad, MS, CCC-SLP, IAYT, RCYP-2
Founder of OMazing Kids, LLC – inclusive wellness activities for kids of all abilities
Radiant Child Yoga Certified – Levels 1 & 2
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