A Counselor’s Thoughts: Autism Awareness

As a former school counselor, LFY teacher Jess Belanger has a unique perspective to share with us. She will be contributing a monthly article to our conversation, offering information to help parents and teacher support their kids. Click Here to learn more about Jess and all of our LFY teachers.

At long last, the sun is shining and the snow is gone!  As we bid farewell to the cold month of March and happily welcome what we hope to be a month filled with birds chirping and warmer weather, lets turn our attention to an important topic that is near and dear to many.  April is Autism Awareness month.  Throughout the world, many cities are participating in this international movement to spread awareness about autism through fundraising and community events.  Today, on what is known as World Autism Awareness Day, we explore exactly how this disorder can affect the children in our lives and from a health and wellness perspective, how we can maximize our impact on their development.

While approximately 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism, many more remain undiagnosed and may be missing out on key therapeutic interventions.  As yoga teachers, we may not be aware of the students in our classes that are on the autism spectrum – diagnosed or undiagnosed – and it is important to be vigilant of some key areas where children may be struggling.  According to Autism Speaks, Autism Spectrum Disorder can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention, and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances.  Some children may exhibit mild signs, while others might be more profound.  

Within yoga classes for children, how can we be sure that we are reaching all of our students?  In each class, it is imperative to teach in a manner that is conducive for each student to thrive in.  Below are some ideas and practices to consider when planning your next class.

Create a safe, non-threatening space.  Children greatly benefit from learning in a place where they are free from judgment and encouraged to explore, play, and even fail. 

Foster a cohesive group environment, yet don’t force your students to participate in the group.  While some may quickly take to working with others, some students work better on an individual basis.  Provide each child with options and encourage them to join in if and when they are ready.  

When possible, help create a sense of calm among your class by eliminating any loud sounds, bright lights, or strong smells.  These factors can sometimes be distractions and may deter the student from fully focusing.

Maintain consistency within your class.  Whether this means seating the students in the same place every week or beginning each class with the same routine, providing children with stability will give them a better sense of control.

Teachable Tip:

As a yoga teacher, your focus is not on a student’s diagnosis, but rather on delivering a quality class to each child and finding the best way possible to reach each individual student.  Every child is different and it may take some time to connect with all of the students in your class.  If you are having great difficulty connecting with a child, perhaps touching base with a school counselor would not only aid your teaching, but also help improve your impact on the child’s experience.

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