On 2 April every year, World Autism Awareness Day is observed to recognise and celebrate
persons with autism. The World Autism Awareness Day this year will be observed amidst a
global coronavirus outbreak.
Autism is a lifelong neurological condition that is mainly characterised by unique social
interactions, non-standard ways of learning, keen interests in specific subjects, inclination to
routines, challenges in typical communications and particular ways of processing sensory
Autism is a life-long condition and many people see it is an important part of their identity.
However, there are a number of strategies and behaviour programmes that help to enable
learning and development which people with autism may find helpful.
If your child has autism, it’s also good idea to find out as much as you can about autism.
The NHS recommends a number of interventions that can help your child’s development,
- communication skills – such as using pictures, sign language or both to help
- communicate as speech and language skills can be significantly delayed social interaction skills – play-based strategies, comic strips and some computer-based
interventions can help
- imaginative play skills – such as encouraging pretend play
- learning skills – such as pre-learning skills to help concentration, reading, writing and
How can Yoga help?
Common challenges children with ASD face are difficulty with expressive and receptive
communication, sensory integration deficits and social/emotional challenges (understanding
and recognizing facial expressions, social cues and their emotions as well as emotions of
others). Children with ASD can exhibit a broad range in these areas, some having more
difficulty in one or more areas than another. Many children ASD may also experience
heightened levels of anxiety.
Benefits typically associated with yoga such as increased strength, balance, coordination
and flexibility, social-emotional skills, language and communication, body awareness, self-
regulation, focus and concentration and a reduction in anxiety, impulsive, obsessive,
aggressive and self-stimulatory behaviours have all been noted.
At YogaBugs we use stories to engage children into yoga, they act out the story through
yoga. For children with ASD, we make these stories using real-life scenarios rather than too
much imagination, so children can relate to the story, take part, enjoy and benefit from the
1.Increased social communication skills
The ability to understand one’s actions and imitate those actions are directly correlated to
the development of social-communication skills. When practicing yoga poses and breathing
strategies, children learn the poses and breathing through imitating the actions and
behaviours of the adult. This also supports children’s ability to sustain joint attention,
something that can be a challenge for children with ASD. Visualization, guided imagery and
repetition of vocabulary with the use of visual aids and images can also support
development of language and vocabulary.
2. Awareness of emotions and expressions
Not only can the practice of yoga bring more awareness to social cues such as facial
expressions, actions and social behaviours but it can also bring more awareness to
children’s emotions and how they are feeling. Because children with ASD often have
difficulty with expressive and receptive communication, they may act out their emotions in
unexpected or inappropriate ways.
Breathing strategies can be taught to children with ASD in order to release difficult or
uncomfortable emotions such as anger, frustration or anxiety in more healthy and
constructive manners. Providing an outlet for children with ASD to express their emotions
gives them the message that it’s OK to feel these emotions and when expressed
constructively can support them in feeling better emotionally.
3. Reduce Anxiety
Many children with ASD experience heightened levels of anxiety. This can significantly affect
their sleep, mood, behaviour and health. Due to difficulty with communication, sensory
integration deficits and a variety of other challenges, children with ASD can be in a constant
state of anxiousness. This state of anxiousness if often referred to as the fight/flight mode.
When children are in the fight/flight mode, cognition and communication goes down and they
tend to move into chest breathing or hyperventilation, which can exacerbate their anxiety.
Specific breathing strategies can be taught to support children with ASD in reducing anxiety
and soothing their nervous systems. The practice of mindful breathing, guided imagery and
poses that calm the nervous system can support these children in developing coping skills,
self-regulation skills and more effective responses to stress, both emotionally and physically.
Calming their nervous systems and releasing tension in their minds and bodies supports
better sleep, digestion, mood, behaviour and overall health and well-being.
4. Reducing challenging behaviours
Because of the many difficulties’ children with ASD face in areas of language and
communication, expression of emotions, sustaining attention and sensory integration, they
may display challenging behaviours. Many children with ASD experience sensory integration
difficulties. Sensory integration refers to how we use and process external stimuli from the
environment around us as well as internal stimuli within our own bodies.
Difficulty with self-regulation affects children’s mood, behaviour, energy level and response
to environmental stimuli. Specific poses and breathing strategies can be taught to children
with ASD that provided proprioceptive and vestibular input from the two “hidden” sensory
systems in order to support sensory integration and self-regulation. Development of self-
regulation skills can improve children’s impulsive, aggressive and acting out behaviours
5. Increased body awareness
Many children with ASD may have limited body awareness. By teaching and identifying body
parts through yoga and movement of the body, children can develop a greater sense of body
awareness. Poses that provide proprioceptive and vestibular input also support body
awareness. Directional concepts taught in yoga such as up and down and left and right are
also helpful concepts in developing a greater sense of body awareness.
6. Positive sense of self
Along with the many benefits listed above, the practice of yoga can also support children
with ASD in developing self-confidence and self-esteem. Balancing poses and standing
poses in particular are exciting and powerful poses for children with ASD to practice.
Whether it’s a standing, balancing or seated pose, any pose can be modified to support the
ability of the child in order to build up the child’s self-esteem and help the child feel
For more information about YogaBugs and working with children with SEN, please click here