As nearly everyone can attest, stress is an unavoidable part of life. While we manage our stress through different activities, those who are on the autism spectrum often have trouble channeling the stress and anxiety that arises in their daily life. Individuals with autism typically show delayed or abnormal development in language, social skills, and behavior. Because autism is a spectrum disorder individual may share symptoms but demonstrate them to different degrees.
Activities for kids with autism is important to help them actively learn different skills. Yoga benefits are endless when specialized for autistic students so they can feel their bodies and minds evolving.
Understanding the Human Body
The autonomic nervous system regulates many bodily systems without conscious direction. I will discuss two of its three branches, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
When the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, it puts us on high alert, also known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. The sympathetic nervous system is important to human survival because it enables us to respond quickly when there is a threat.
On the other hand, when the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated, it produces a feeling of relaxation and calm in the mind and body.
The two systems work together: as one becomes more active the other becomes less active. But they can get out of balance. Many individuals live in a constant state of high alert, or their sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, even though there is no immediate threat.
An overactive sympathetic nervous system means the parasympathetic nervous system–the one producing a calm, relaxed state–is under active. By stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, we can restore balance . We can naturally slow down our pace of life and gain control over our physical and emotional states.
Luckily, we can get our parasympathetic nervous system working in many ways! Yoga is a great way to help our bodies adjust from a state of tense ‘fight or flight’ mode to a calm and relaxed feeling.
How do ASD and Yoga Connect?
Children and adults diagnosed on the ASD spectrum have different sensory experiences than other people. Their bodies often get stuck in the ‘fight or flight’ mode. This involuntary bodily response leads to physical reactions such as increased heart rate and shallower breathing, leaving the body in an emotional state of anxiety.
Introducing children to yoga can help alleviate the social stresses they face in their day-to-day lives. Yoga helps the body relax, ease tension, and ultimately reduces the amount of anxiety one feels. When the sympathetic nervous system is no longer in control, the individual can gain control of how their body reacts in certain situations.
Students with ASD often struggle with social interactions. Through their yoga practice, students begin to identify moments when their bodies begin to tense in social situations.
Yoga is kinesthetic and tactile, offering immediate rewards. Different poses may provide relief from constant overstimulation to the nervous system. Yoga for autism reduce physical pain, aggression, anxiety, and stress while gaining control of their emotional state.
By focusing on deeper inhaling and exhaling, the nervous system can be calmed, translating into a greater sense of peace. Only when a student feels calmer and in control can they really begin to work on their behavior.
A 6-year-old with autism proclaims, “I like yoga because it makes my body feel safe”. With the correct guidance and support, you and your child can experience the benefits of yoga with ASD.
Betts, Dion E., and Stacey W. Betts. Yoga for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, A Step-by- Step Guide for Parents and Caregivers. London: Jessica Kingsley, 2006. Print.
Ehleringer, Jennie. “Yoga Therapy in Practice: Yoga for Children on the Autism Spectrum. “International Journal of Yoga Therapy 1.20 (2010). http://resources.metapress.com/pdf-preview.axd?code=eu176u2721423510&size=largest
Rowan, Elizabeth. “7 Benefits of Yoga for Kids with Autism.” MindBodyGreen. 11 Jan. 2012.Web. 29 Dec.29 2014. http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-3817/7-Benefits-of-Yoga-for-Kids-with-Autism