In my life, I have had the pleasure of spending time with both adults and children where Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder is part of their lives. I’ve been amazed how their mind can become entranced with watching the snow fall to taking apart (and putting together) a calculator. I’ve also seen their distress when the world becomes overwhelming.
Autism Speaks beautifully described how an autistic individual may be experiencing a trip to the grocery store:
“My hearing may be hyperacute. Dozens of people jabber at once. The loudspeaker booms today’s special. Music blares from the sound system. Registers beep and cough, a coffee grinder chugs. The meat cutter screeches, babies wail, carts creak, the fluorescent lighting hums. My brain can’t filter all the input and I’m in overload… And there’s so much hitting my eyes! The fluorescent light is not only too bright, it flickers. The space seems to be moving; the pulsating light bounces off everything and distorts what I am seeing. There are too many items for me to be able to focus (my brain may compensate with tunnel vision), swirling fans on the ceiling, so many bodies in constant motion. All this affects how I feel just standing there, and now I can’t even tell where my body is in space. “
Yoga is one tool (among many) which seems to be able to help individuals who are on the Autism Spectrum self regulate.
At Arizona Power Yoga, Pam Adler sees the direct benefit of involving a yoga practice in the lives of three ASD youths. Each week Adler integrates story telling with breath and movement to bring yoga into the youths’ lives. As part of the practice, Adler also interweaves social skills to enhance the positive interactions in this small group environment. The class is specifically designed with the needs of the youth in mind, adapting both the poses and practice on a continual basis.
Yogautism is another program which was specifically designed with the needs of ASD clientele in mind. This program is created around a “Recipe of 5” exercises that focus on breathing and grounding. In this setting, the individuals have one and one interaction with a certified yoga instructor. In addition, there is a supervisor that both oversees the Yoga teachers and is there to respond to any questions from either caregivers or clients.
Some of the benefits that yoga can offer are:
- Reduction of anxiety (moving away from the flight or fight mode)
- Help to self-regulate emotions/anxious feelings
- Increased social interactions
- Improvement in Digestion
- Develops motor skills
- Improves sensory integration
It is still fairly difficult to find a studio that offers a class strictly for ASD clientele. However; the benefits can be experienced in a standard class. Before choosing a class, take the time to speak with the instructor. Some questions to ask are:
- What is the average class size? (smaller is better)
- What is the noise level (classroom chatter, music, instructor speaking, instruments)?
- What is the pace of the class (frequent, quick changes could be disruptive)
- Is there any incense or other scents used in the room?
- Is a structured routine followed (predictability)?
- Is the instructor comfortable with possible interruptions (leaving and returning to class, verbal expressions)?
Yin, yoga nidra and slower hatha classes are great introductory classes. These classes will focus on the postures, encourage breath work and build both motor and emotional competence. Choose both the class and the instructor that you feel will best fit the individual’s needs. Try to arrive early to your first class, this will allow you to meet with the instructor and have the additional time to become accustomed to the new environment. And remember to enjoy the experience, whether you stay for 3 minutes or for the entire class.