As nearly everyone can attest today, feeling stress is a part of life that is unavoidable. However, while we manage our stress easily through different activities, those who are on the autism spectrum disorder 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 individuals 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 and when specialized towards a specific demographic students can first handedly feel their bodies and minds evolving.
Understanding the Human Body
The autonomic nervous systemregulates 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 the 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 may be no immediate threat.
In other words, the parasympathetic nervous system, the one that produces a calm, relaxed state is under active. By stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system we can restore balance within. With the balance restored, we naturally slow down our pace of life and gain control over our physical and emotional states.
We can get our parasympathetic nervous system working in many ways! However, due to the national increase in popularity I will focus on how yoga can specifically help our bodies adjust from a state of tense ‘fight or flight’ mode, to a calm and relaxed feeling.
So, How do ASD and Yoga Connect?
Children and adults who are diagnosed to be 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 with or without these symptoms to an activity such as yoga can help alleviate the social stresses they face in their day-to-day lives. Yoga helps the body relax, easing tension, ultimately aiding in 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 will begin to be able to identify moments where they feel their body begin to tense in social situations, and rather than behaving
Yoga is kinesthetic and tactile, offering immediate rewards. Different poses may provide relief from constant over-stimulation 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 calmer state in daily life. Only when a student feels more calm and comfortable in his or her own body, 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, your child and you 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