Can Practicing Yoga Really Benefit Children With Autism?

July 12, 2017

No matter how dedicated you are as a parent, having an autistic child can be a difficult experience. However, at the same time, it can also be a lot more interesting than raising a ‘regular’ child.

Special children have special needs, and sometimes, those needs require parents and guardians to explore exciting new parenting methods for dealing with autism. But before we get to that, let’s first take a closer look at what being autistic actually means.

Autism is a Double-Edged Dagger

Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD is an umbrella term that covers several symptoms, developmental disorders, and different levels of disability that translate into a variety of effects.

This includes problems related to social interaction and communication, unusually repetitive behavior, limited interest in both people and activities, and in certain cases, special skills related to unusual mental development.

While autism should not be underestimated as a disorder, it would also be foolish to ignore its inherent advantages.

Some autistic people have been known to have exceptional memory, better performance in nonverbal intelligence tests (including mathematics), a better understanding and application of both visual and auditory creativity, and an unusual ability to retain focus – as compared to people who are not autistic.

Fortunately, these advantages have not gone unnoticed in the medical world.

Some experts even say that doctors should stop treating autism as a handicap and instead focus on developing the many advantages attached to the disorder. And while most experts still regard autism as a handicap, there’s no doubt that focusing on skills development as a mode of treatment can be highly beneficial for both autistic adults and children.

For instance…

Yoga is an Alternative and Multi-Faceted Treatment for Autism

Yoga: it’s more than just a way for millennials to develop beach-ready physiques. In recent years, yoga has been gaining popularity as a way to help autistic kids cope with the disorder, and it’s not hard to see why.

While it’s true that modern yoga is mostly an appropriation of the physical aspect of a discipline that is inherently spiritual, there are some very real physical and mental benefits that can come with consistent yoga practice, especially for kids with autism.

Yoga Improves Both Motor and Social Skills

Perhaps the most obvious benefit that yoga can impart is how it develops a wide range of motor skills.

The modern discipline of yoga is focused on executing poses that require both physical and mental effort. This entails learning proper breathing, balancing the body, and retaining mental focus.

Through consistent practice, the amateur yogi will eventually get better at executing the different poses, followed by the development of the yogi’s overall balance, muscle tone, stability, coordination, awareness, breathing, and focus. All of this can be very advantageous for an autistic child with delayed motor development.

Underdeveloped motor skills can lead to awkward movement and poor coordination, which can lead not just to poor athleticism, but also to being ostracized for ‘not moving or acting like regular children’. But by practicing a skill that improves balance, self-awareness, and coordination, the autistically awkward can, in time, carry themselves with a more stable gait and a confidence that can make social interaction a lot easier.

In addition, practicing yoga is an inherently social activity that relies more on physical rather than verbal interaction. And for autistic children who have trouble expressing themselves verbally, learning yoga in groups can be a great way to ease them into regular social interaction.

Yoga Teaches Self-Awareness and Self-Control

In this era of overflowing information, competitive cutthroat careers, and intense social expectations, many adults have found solace in the stress-melting effects of consistent yoga practice.

This is because yoga also develops self-awareness and self-control. By properly performing breathing exercises and executing poses in the proper form, the student yogi learns to be in control of the body as well as be aware of its strengths and limitations.

Apart from being a good way for adults to deal with stress after work, yoga also offers a drug-free way for autistic children to cope with anxiety and escalating emotions. There are even some ‘Yoga for Autism’ classes that teach poses and breathing techniques aimed at helping autistic kids to control and process their many anxieties.

In addition, yoga classes can also provide children with a safe space that’s free from hyper-stimulation. For hypersensitive autistics, the gentle atmosphere of a yoga class can be a welcome respite from the all too loud and bright stimuli of the real world.

Yoga’s gentle softness, along with its practice of breathing and postures, allows for a safe and controlled release of the nervous/anxious energies that tend to plague children with autism.

Yoga is Good for Both You and Your Child

If you’re considering enrolling your child in yoga classes as a way to help her or him cope with autism, make the most out of the experience by learning yoga yourself.

Of course, your child can still benefit from yoga if you’re not included in the practice, but why waste an opportunity to bond with your child and develop skills that you’ll both be able to use for the rest of your lives? Once you and your child get good enough at yoga, you can even correct each other’s posture and breathing while practicing by yourselves at home.

Through side-by-side practice, not only will you be bonding with your child, you’ll also be able to share an experience from which you can glean a better understanding of what goes on inside the mind of someone with autism. This not only makes you a better parent, it also makes you a more understanding human being.

Additionally, once your child becomes open to taking yoga classes, it may open the door to trying out new activities that test/develop their auditory and visual creativity, motor and social skills, and even mathematical ability. By finding ways to develop her/his inherent strengths, it can become significantly easier for a child to cope with the many difficulties of being autistic as well as grow up to become a stable, healthy, and capable adult.

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