I remember when I was a student in my Physician Assistant studies program we had to take a course called “Stress Management“. At the time I thought that it was a complete waste of my time but attendance was mandatory. We were taught deep breathing, stretching, muscle tension/relaxation and visualization techniques, wherein we pictured ourselves in a serene setting and worked to release the physical stress in our bodies. Even though I scoffed at it then, I still remember those techniques and use them periodically to this day.
Anxiety is a significant issue for children with Autism, at least it is with Mike who often works himself up when faced with a new place, a new group, or new set of circumstances he is not accustomed to. He has taken biofeedback before, which helped tremendously, and has learned a few different coping skills, especially those related to school; social stories only help to a certain degree. Mike has learned some basic yoga in gym class, is able to sit in a lotus position and say “Ohmmm”, and we often remind him to ‘take a deep breath’ when we sense that anxiety creeping up.
One aspect that is not fully explored in this article is the possibility of using yoga to become more physically fit and in tune with how each child’s body moves. Many children on the Spectrum receiving occupational therapy services would likely benefit from similar yoga instruction as part of their regimen. -Ed
The intervention program, “Get Ready to Learn,” (GRTL) uses yoga and breathing techniques to calm children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder. The program has five steps that are done for 17 minutes each day. According to NYU researcher Kristie Koenig, this program can lower the levels of aggression, social withdrawal and anxiety in children with ASD.
“We found that teachers’ ratings of students who participated in the daily yoga routine showed improved behavior compared with teachers’ ratings of students who did not. Our aim in this research was to examine the effectiveness of an occupational therapy yoga intervention,” said Koenig, assistant professor of occupational therapy at NYU.
Currently, there is no cure for autism. However, studies suggest that certain intervention programs may help improve a child’s development. Interventions are most efficient when started early, before age 3.
Another study published last year in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine had also said that movement-based therapy including yoga and dance can help treat some behavioral problems associated with autism.
“Children with Autism often exhibit characteristics of ‘fight-or-flight’ response. They are in a constant state of stress and struggle with staying calm, trying to concentrate, communicating clearly, or even controlling their movements,” said Anne Buckley-Reen occupational therapist and yoga instructor.
The present study was published in The American Journal of Occupational Therapy.