Did you know yoga is not only therapeutic but also educational for children with special needs?
Research has shown that, for children with autism, regular yoga practice can help improve imitation skills, eye contact, sitting tolerance, non-verbal communication, and receptive skills to verbal commands related to spatial relationships (e.g., following directions for where to place or find things). Research has also shown that yoga can help children and adolescents on the spectrum reduce stress, increase attending and concentration skills, increase compliance behaviors, decrease hyperactivity, and learn to self-regulate (calm themselves) rather than always relying on other people or props to help them regulate. These are HUGE benefits!
All of of these skills are directly related to the ability to participate in and learn from the educational environment. We as OTs work so hard to help children more fully participate in and benefit from their learning environment so, keeping that in mind, why wouldn’t we want to encourage special education teachers to incorporate yoga into their students’ daily routine?
You can imagine how excited I was when Future Horizons, Inc. offered to send me a free copy of the Yoga for Children with Special Needs DVD in order to learn from it and review it here on Mama OT…they are the leading provider of resources related to autism, Asperger’s, and sensory processing disorder! I am a huge advocate of using yoga for children with special needs in occupational therapy and I use it all the time in my school-based and clinic-based sessions, so I simply had to feature this DVD as Mama OT’s product of the month! (Even though I received this DVD for free, all opinions are my own.)
Yoga for Children with Special Needs is a DVD that includes a yoga routine led by a yoga instructor who is accompanied by an occupational therapist. Throughout the routine, the OT provides suggestions for how to facilitate or modify poses presented by the instructor in order to help the child be successful. She also comments on why some specific poses are beneficial (such as promoting digestion, etc.), which I found to be very interesting. Some of the yoga poses are very similar to exercises you may find in other therapy programs such as Rhythmic Movement Training for reflex integration, which is what makes them all the more therapeutic and effective.
I love how the yoga poses have been (more than likely) chosen specifically for their therapeutic benefit for children with special needs. For example, several poses teach children to discriminate between the left and right sides of the body. This is something that can be very difficult for children with autism, sensory processing disorder, and learning disabilities. When children don’t know the difference between their left and right sides, it can make learning to read and write letters very difficult! You never thought yoga could help kids learn to write, did you?
Throughout the rest of the 23-minute yoga routine, the kiddos are shown how to complete yoga poses that facilitate a ton of therapeutic movements, positions, and skills. They are reminded to breathe slowly and deeply (something many children with special needs must be explicitly taught in order to help them focus in their learning environment) as they engage in poses to help them develop core strength and stability, upper body and hand strength, leg strength, balance, flexibility, body awareness, left-right discrimination, motor planning, direction following, vocabulary, relaxation, sensory organization, and more. All of these skills are necessary for school success!
In addition to the yoga routine, this DVD also includes a section called “Organization of Behavior”. In this section, the OT sits with a group of elementary-aged children and shows them how to perform specific strategies that will help them calm and organize their bodies. The strategies in this section would be perfect for a general education setting where there may not be the flexibility to set aside time specifically for sensorimotor (aka- yoga) activities during the school day.
The last therapeutic section of this DVD is called “Dance with Jen” and it includes a short sequence of coordinated moves that would be perfect for the preschool setting. I can imagine kiddos giggling as they learn them and then, once they master them, they could then perform them to any type of kids’ music that has a beat. A great addition to this DVD and to any preschool classroom!
Yoga truly is an amazing resource for those who work with school-aged students because it prepares kids’ bodies, brains, and overall sensory systems to more effectively and accurately engage in their learning environment.
Overall, I think this DVD could be a wonderful resource for those who work with children (including parents, teachers, OTs, PTs, SLPs, Psych, and more) and it is well worth its purchase price. I think it could be a really effective tool for OTs to use as part of a teacher or therapist inservice (therapeutic for both the teachers and the kids). It could also be used at home as part of a before-school warm-up, after-school transition to get ready for homework, or for general use when regulation or relaxation is needed. Whether the actual DVD could be used in the classroom depends on what age/type of kids are in the class and what the goal is.
I imagine it may be tricky for special education preschoolers (or even gen ed preschoolers) to pay attention to and follow the DVD, but the moves in the video routine could easily be performed and demonstrated by the teacher or classroom aides so that they can be done at an individualized pace without having to fret over technology (because there’s ALWAYS some sort of issue with technology in the classroom, right?). You could even make visuals for each move as part of an icon board or book so that the same routine can be performed each time, even on days that you don’t have access to the DVD or to the person who regularly leads it.
Don’t you want this DVD right now?
Well, good news. Future Horizons has set up a special deal where you can order Yoga for Children with Special Needs from their website and save 15% by entering the code MAMAOT at checkout. Not only that, but you can use this very same code on your purchase of any other Future Horizons titles, products, or conferences! Plus, using this code allows me to earn a small commission as the result of your purchase. Everybody wins. Click here to be taken to the Yoga for Children with Special Needs DVD or simply visit http://fhautism.com and then search for this or other products.
As you make your purchase, be sure to enter the code MAMAOT at checkout in order to activate your 15% discount…it’s that easy!
I really hope you’ll look more into this DVD and into using yoga for children with special needs in general. It truly is a fantastic therapeutic resource for children with a wide range of special needs…and even those with no label at all.
*Please be sure to follow all health and safety guidelines presented at the beginning of this DVD. Do not attempt to perform yoga if doing so would compromise your, your child’s, or another person’s safety. Consult with your child’s physician or occupational/physical therapist prior to beginning a yoga program in order to determine whether it is safe and appropriate for them.