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Yoga: Therapy for Children with ASD

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The number of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has increased in recent years. This has subsequently led to an interest in alternative medicine to treat ASD. One of these new forms of treatment is yoga, which occupational therapists recently started using to improve the behavior of children with ASD. Yoga focuses on the connection between mind and body, and can be especially beneficial in the classroom setting where behavior may be problematic. Jennie Ehleringer, a Registered Yoga Teacher with a Masters in Education, found that yoga can improve children’s “behavioral and academic functioning, such as their attention, concentration or focusing ability impulse control, strength, motor coordination, and social skills” (as cited in Koenig, et al.).

In their study, occupational therapists Kristie Koenig, Anne Buckley-Reen, and Satvika Garg created the Get Ready to Learn (GRTL) classroom yoga program, which “uses yoga postures and breathing and relaxation exercises with elementary school students with ASD and challenging and maladaptive behavior.” Yoga PictureThe study consisted of 48 elementary school children between the ages of five and twelve who had been diagnosed with ASD. A DVD was created for classes to use every morning for approximately fifteen to twenty minutes every school day for sixteen weeks. The same DVD was used every morning for consistency and familiarity.

Researchers used the Aberrant Behavior Checklist (ABC) to assess the children’s behavior before and after participating in the GRTL program. The ABC assesses children based on five categories, which include irritability/agitation/crying, lethargy/social withdrawal, stereotypical behavior, hyperactivity/noncompliance, and inappropriate speech. After the sixteen-week program, participants improved significantly in irritability/agitation/crying, lethargy/social withdrawal, and hyperactivity/noncompliance.

Many children with ASD face challenges when it comes to regulating their behavior in the classroom. Not only is this problematic for the student, but it can also be challenging for the child’s teacher and peers. Yoga is effective in providing children with the skills to manage their behavior and stay focused during class. In conjunction with occupational therapy, yoga can lead to a happier, healthier school experience.

As awareness about autism grows and we learn more about the condition, more funding and support to provide resources for accurately diagnosing will follow. Families with children struggling with autism and other self-regulatory difficulties will find a knowledgeable and helpful staff at Kid’s Work. Keep checking the Kid’s Work blog for information on events to learn yoga with adults and children. If you would like to attend a yoga session, feel free to contact Dr. Stephanie Foster by emailing stephanie@kidswork.biz.

This article was written by Emily Santich. She is a third year kinesiology student at Cal Poly. She recently volunteered during the Kid’s Work Summer Playgroup sessions. She enjoys being outdoors either backpacking, running, hiking, or playing field hockey. Her goal is to pursue either Occupational Therapy or Physical Therapy,  perhaps even specializing in pediatrics.

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