In the yoga community, children with special needs are described differently. All children are recognized as special with some children having additional needs that require unique approaches to interaction, communication, and learning. It’s a “Zen-sational” way of viewing a child who is on the Autism Spectrum, lives with ADHD, or is developing differently due to behavioral, emotional, or sensorimotor challenges. This is exactly the perspective you should look for in anyone who offers to teach yoga to any child, but especially someone with additional needs. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits yoga can bring to children and, more importantly, the preferred qualities and qualifications of a yoga teacher or yoga program for children with additional, special needs.
There are many ways in which yoga can benefit all children and these benefits are particularly helpful to children with additional needs. Benefits can and will vary based on each child’s unique needs, the special challenges they live with, and how long they participate in a yoga program. In general, the benefits of yoga for children include:
A yoga teacher must be able to see the child who is right before them and begin with that child where they are in that moment. What does that mean? Very simply, that the teacher has a class structure but is able to let go of a preconceived plan to move with the rhythm and energy of the children as they are at that time in class. It also means that the teacher has let go of any expectations for where a child should be, what they are supposed to do, or how some book says they need to execute a yoga pose. A teacher who can truly be present for a child right where they are and as they are will be able to help that child gradually achieve a sense of fulfillment and self-efficacy in yoga. It then becomes possible to carry that sense of “I can do it” or “I did it” from the yoga mat and into other areas of the child’s life.
This is a bit similar to the question of sending a child to a regular public school or day care center versus a facility that is specifically designed for their needs. Yes, children with additional needs can participate in a class with more able bodied and typically developing peers. A typical yoga class with young children (age 3-9) moves quickly and can be very high energy. This can feel overwhelming to a child who has low body awareness or whose additional needs limit their ability to imitate movement. Consequently, when a child with additional needs is placed in a typical yoga class, that class will require two teachers: A teacher who leads the class as a whole and a teacher/parent/aide who stays with the child who has additional needs. The second person along side the child ensures that the child receives the attention and care necessary to benefit from the class.
On the other hand, a special-child yoga class may be more appropriate for children who are highly sensitive, who function better in a smaller group, or whose physical limitations require more hands-on help from an experienced teacher. Often, someone who has had in-depth training with children who have additional needs would teach these classes.
At a minimum, the person who teaches yoga for children with special or additional needs has completed a 200 hour Yoga Alliance approved teacher training and has had educational or practical/life experience with differently-abled children. Ideally, you would want the instructor to have obtained CEUs or certification in teaching yoga for children. For instructors who are teaching classes specifically and only for special children, they should have some advanced training or education that qualifies them for such a role. You may sometimes find occupational therapists or physical therapists teaching these classes after they’ve attended relevant yoga training. The most important step you can take before signing up for a class is to ask questions about a teacher’s experience and certification, to observe a class and see the range of children who are being taught, and to trust your own intuition about whether or not a class or a teacher is a good fit for your child.
“Yoga Generates Huge Benefits for Children with Autism.” Posted by YogaInternational.com https://yogainternational.com/article/view/yoga-generates-huge-benefits-for-children-with-autism
ChicagoTribune.com “Yoga offers benefits for people with special needs” posted 14 March 2012. http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/health/ct-x-yoga-for-special-needs-0314-20120314-story.html
“Say Yes to Yoga for Kids with ADHD” https://www.additudemag.com/yoga-for-kids-with-adhd/
“6 Benefits of Yoga for Kids with Autism” https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/creating-inner-peace-the-benefits-of-yoga-for-children-with-autism-spectrum-disorder/
“Therapeutic Effects of Yoga for Children: A Systematic Review of the Literature.” Pediatric Physical Therapy: Spring 2008 - Volume 20 - Issue 1 - pp 66-80, doi: 10.1097/PEP.0b013e31815f1208. http://journals.lww.com/pedpt/Abstract/2008/01910/Therapeutic_Effects_of_Yoga_for_Children__A.10.aspx