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April 27, 2015
Autism is on the rise worldwide and with more and more children diagnosed each year, this is unlikely to change anytime soon. As such, treatments that lead to a higher quality of life are sorely needed.
Individuals with autism or an autism spectrum disorder have a very hard time understanding and communicating with other people. Their inability to feel connected to the world and people around them leads to a sense of profound loneliness because though they may lack the ability to connect with others, the need is still very much there. Many people mistakenly believe that people with autism are uninterested in cultivating relationships, making it even harder for those with autism to maintain deep friendships. All humans need to feel connected to other people, and those with autism are no exception.
The physical symptoms of autism vary from person to person, but most experience difficulties in fine movements and motor skills. As a result of having an abnormal gait and movement pattern, those with autism often have an unusual pattern of muscular development that may lead to strain and discomfort as well.
Yoga may be used to address the physical, mental and emotional needs of those with autism. At its core, autism is essentially a fundamental discomfort with and lack of connection to the physical form and world. Yoga turns the obstacle of the body into a bridge for profound personal development and connection.
Yoga sessions for those with autism are best performed one-on-one, though small classes of highly functioning individuals is a possibility as well. The yoga poses should be heavily modified to accommodate the physical abilities and limitations of the individual.
The biggest challenge will be at the beginning, because those with autism place a high value on sameness because the new and novel is often seen as threatening. This initial period is worth getting through because once yoga has become a part of the autistic person's experience, they will start to enjoy and even take comfort in their yoga therapy.
Everything must be taken at a slow and careful pace, with the yoga practice built up in an incremental manner. Similar poses may be batched together in order to appeal to an autistic person's desire for sameness and continuity.
Those with autism won't naturally look to their instructor for cues as to which pose should be done next, but the solution to this is simply to focus more on objects than interpersonal communication. Having a set of flashcards with the poses printed on them is a great way of communicating the physical goal with a tangible object. Teachers may lay out the cards and allow the student to choose which pose they would like to attempt. Through the object, both individuals are united in one common physical goal, and this unity leads to a sense of connection between the instructor and the student.
People with autism enjoy yoga because it appeals to the way they see the world. For someone with autism, they can clearly visualize themselves becoming objects like a tree or mountain, and this really brings them further into the practice. Instructors should take advantage of the symbolism of yoga poses and emphasize the resemblance of each pose to an object that the person with autism will relate to.
The physical toning of the yoga poses will do much to relieve strain and tension in the muscles, and the act of successfully completing a yoga class gives autistic individuals a much needed sense of accomplishment. Over time, a personal bond will be created between the instructor and the student which will help to ease the loneliness many with autism feel. By gaining mastery of the body, one becomes more comfortable in their own skin, and this is wonderful for those with autism.
Yoga is a beneficial practice for those with autism or autism spectrum disorders, and it is well worth the initial effort to make it a habit. The gift of yoga practice is something that an autistic individual will benefit from for the rest of their lives.
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