Autism is a lifelong developmental disability; it affects how a person relates to their environment and their interaction with others. Autism was once considered rare but now it is the largest disability group in Australia with 1 in 63 Australian school children being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These figures are replicated in most developed countries and there are around 52 million known cases of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) worldwide.Autism is a spectrum condition i.e. no two individuals have the same symptoms. All autistic people share certain difficulties, but being autistic will affect them in different ways. Some will have a learning disability, or mental health condition or other conditions. Recent media reports claimed that divorce rates among parents of autistic children were around 80%, but a Complementary and Alternative Medicine research study by Hartley et al in 2010 showed that this was wildly exaggerated; the rates are in fact similar for all groups.
Yoga a valuable adjunct for treating autism
Yoga and Meditation are popular in many schools as it improves:
- body awareness
- relaxation skills
In 2012, Complementary and Alternative Medicine study by Koenig et al in 2012 studied the benefits of daily classroom yoga interventions on key classroom behaviours among children with ASD. The children were divided into 2 groups:
Group 1 – Students participated in the Get Ready to Learn (GRTL) classroom yoga program yoga program daily for 16 weeks
Group 2 – Participated in a standard morning classroom routine for 16 weeks (control group)
The Complementary and Alternative Medicine study concluded that, “use of daily classroom wide yoga interventions has a significant impact on key classroom behaviours among children with ASD”.
Other Yogic techniques that can assist with ASD
There are many yoga and meditation techniques that can help children with autism such as:
This is a cooling breath (deep breathing inhaled over curled tongue) exercise from traditional yoga that promotes inner calmness and tranquility.
So Hum Meditation
A popular traditional yoga and meditation exercise is the ‘So- Hum Meditation’. This meditation uses the breath and the repetition of a mantra to quiet the mind and relax the body. Traditional yoga and meditation techniques such as the So Hum meditation will decrease autonomic arousal or reactivity, promote cognition, reduce neuronal loss, all of which increase brain plasticity, and learning.
Nature is an intrinsic part of yoga and meditation, it helps individuals connect with nature. Outdoor nature activities are valuable opportunities for valuable social interaction, physical activity, and relaxation which will assist all children. This also will help children with autism to raise awareness about nature and benefit from sensory experiences of sounds, smell, and touch of plants etc.
Yoga Nidra is an ancient yoga and meditation technique. It provides a state of deep relaxation that quietens the mind, slows breathing, and releases physical tension in the body. A Complementary and Alternative Medicine study by Rani et al in 2012 on Yoga Nidra has been shown to help with mild to moderate anxiety symptoms in patients with menstrual disorder.
The importance of Group activities
Group activities address the lack of social skills and peer-to-peer interventions. Yoga and meditation in groups will also promote ‘group consciousness’ and values like compassion. These controlled group activities and role modelling are useful tools in helping children with autism. However, to facilitate these programs it is essential that the facilitator has skills to deal with ASD children. These skills include specific communication skills, knowledge of visual supports, ability to support receptive and expressive language skills, facilitation of social interactions and development, positive behaviour support and more.
Yoga for ASD families
As you read through this article you can see how yoga and meditation can be incorporated into any Complementary and Alternative Medicine program for ASD children. Furthermore, yoga and meditation can also help parents deal with coping with the stress of coping with autism.