While yoga is a wonderful tool to use with all children, it is especially helpful for children that have special needs such as those with Sensory Integration issues, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) (including Asperger Syndrome), Attention Deficit Hyper-activity Disorder (ADHD/ ADD), Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Spina Bifida and other learning disabilities and delays.
Yoga and yogic techniques are widely used by occupational, physical and speech therapists as well as special educators and recommended by pediatricians. Yoga specifically addresses the needs of the special child, including :
- Physical practice of the exercises increases basic motor skills, muscle tone and flexibility
- Coordination of the exercises increases basic motor and cognitive skills
- Activation of the relaxation response helps reduce hyperactivity, anxiety
- Intentional movement helps improve concentration and self-control
- Purposeful breathing activiates the relaxation response which leads to less anxiety and greater attention to task
- Fully-accessable and fully-paticapatory increases self-esteem as all children get to take part in the activity
Each child is different and may requires specific treatment or care plans tailored to their needs, however, the benefits of yoga are so broad and so strong that it is helpful for the full range of disabilities. This is not to suggest that yoga is a panacea nor a replacement for other therapies. It is, however, a wonderful supplement to traditional approaches.
In general yoga for children with developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and Spina Bifida, will benefit from the physical exercise which increases muscle tone and increases flexibility which increases basic motor, cognitive and communication skills. For these children, even small improvements in the range of motion due to increased strength, flexibility or ability to hold a position can result in huge lifestyle improvements.
Children with learning disabilities, such as autism, ADHD and ADD, will benefit from the intentional movement and relaxation response activiation which helps reduce hyperactivity, balance emotions, improves concentration, coordination, and self-control. With lessened anxiety, these children will see a decrease in distractibility, greater attention to task and an increase in social interaction, including eye-to-eye contact.
Improvement is infectious. Raise the quality of life and a better ability to control the reactions to their environment will undoubtedly result in an increase in the child’s self-esteem and confidence.
Incorportating yoga and yogic techniques for the child with special needs is simple and can be done almost anywhere. What’s more, benefits can be obtained in as short a time as one minute! Start with a single exercise and add more as the situation warrants.