Yoga May Benefit Those With Autism
recent study suggests yoga may be effective in improving classroom
behaviors among children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Autism is a
developmental disability arising due to neurological disorder that appears
between infancy and the age of three. In a recent report for 2008 (the most recent
surveillance year available), the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 1 in 88 children
have an ASD. This marks a 23 percent increase in autism since the last report
was published in 2009. Increasing awareness of ASD and its prevalence has
underlined the need for strategies to facilitate adaptation and modification of
challenging behaviors among children with ASD.
Autism has no known cure. However, many of the more
challenging behaviors associated with it—physical aggression, self-injury,
tantrums, and non-compliance, among others—can be hard to cope with for educators and family. Yet these behaviors serve
a key function for the child; thus, treatment strategies must meet the need the
problem behavior meets, replacing socially-problematic behaviors with acceptable
ones that serve the same underlying purpose.
may improve autism through several pathways. Kids with autism often feel
disconnected with or uncomfortable with their physical bodies, and
uncomfortable with eye contact. Yoga practice allows them to inhabit their
bodies in a low-key setting, attenuating discomfort they may normally feel in a
social context. Advocates of yoga for autism suggest the simple instructions
taught in yoga classes may facilitate skills including eye contact and
imitation, while the environment fosters improved communication. Finally,
yoga’s potential to improve symptoms of anxiety, common among those with ASD, merits further investigation.
Researchers Koenig, Buckley-Reen, and Garg of New York
University randomly assigned children to a daily, 16-week yoga program or a
standard morning routine (no intervention). The yoga program was Get Ready to Learn, a
standardized program used across the country. Researchers
measured challenging behaviors with both standardized measures and coded observations before and after the intervention. Their results
suggest that teacher ratings of yoga group students’ maladaptive behavior significantly improved after yoga participation compared to control group participants.
While these results are promising, as usual with preliminary
research, we cannot attribute causality. There was no “active” control group; thus, participants undergoing their normal morning routine were not a
good comparison for the yoga group. Had the study assigned the control group
to, say, physical exercise or other “active” program, and the yoga improved
better still (or similarly), then we would have cause for excitement!
These results follow on a 2011 study by Rosenblatt
et al. of Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center, who found a multimodal
yoga, dance, and music therapy program based on relaxation response theory to
significantly improve some behavioral and core features of autism. This study,
however, lacked a control group, so is even less rigorous than the one cited
above. At any rate, this is a good first step, and provides a foundation for
future research to build on.
know of anyone with autism who has tried or benefited from yoga?