by Lisa DiFalco
Autism and autism spectrum disorders can be challenging for affected individuals and their families. However, children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities create an opportunity for service providers to think differently and find ways to embrace everyone within their practice, helping children, teens and adults with autism, Asperger’s and other special needs. Brian Aubin is that type of wellness provider, offering customized yoga instruction focused on the specific needs of those with autism and special needs. He is also different from the average yoga instructor in another way.
Aubin has a personal connection to autism. Although now a yoga instructor on a mission, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s, a “mild form” of autism, at the relatively old age of 17. He was spurred by the benefits he felt when he started to practice yoga in 2013, and he began to train as a yoga teacher. He has dedicated his life to providing yoga to an underserved population and offers classes throughout Long Island.
How Yoga Benefits the Autistic
Autistic children can present with mild to more severe symptoms. However, the study “Efficacy of the ‘Get Ready to Learn’ Yoga Program Among Children with Autism
Spectrum Disorders” and research like it have shown that even children that cannot verbalize can perform yoga poses and understand yoga instruction. According to the study, the yoga program “reduces irritability, lethargy, social withdrawal, hyperactivity and noncompliance in children with autism spectrum disorders.” Children that use yoga are calmer and find it easier to handle sensory overload and distress. Yoga is a tool empowering the child to self-regulate emotions and achieve calm in an overstimulating world.
There are many groups that can benefit from yoga, including those with high-functioning autism, classic autism, pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger’s syndrome and other special needs. Beyond the sense of peace and reduction of stress for participants, those with autism or special needs can experience improved hand-eye coordination and balance, increased muscle tone, decreased levels of aggression and self-harming behaviors, reduced levels of anxiety, improved digestion and smoother social interactions.
How to Prepare for This Specialized Yoga Class
There are only a few adaptations for parents and caregivers that would like their child with autism or special needs to try yoga. As with many activities for children with special needs, a parent or aide must be present with the child. Children should wear comfortable clothing and parents do not need to bring additional equipment. Mats, blocks, blankets and bolsters are provided by Aubin during his classes. To encourage relaxation, he will turn off the lights during instruction. Lights are known to be potentially overstimulating for those on the spectrum. Poses may be modified for certain individuals as needed. Aubin offers a gentle and therapeutic form of yoga in his program to calm the body and mind and reduce stress.
Parents of participants in yoga sessions note some obvious changes, already reflected in research on the topic. Children with autism and special needs that practice yoga regularly demonstrate reduced anxiety and aggression, as well as a lessening of obsessive behaviors and self-stimulatory behaviors. Aides that are present have never seen the students sit for so long. Some of the non-verbal students that participate in yoga classes at the Developmental Disability Institute have begun saying om and shanti.
Aubin’s yoga classes are offered throughout Long Island at Yoga Darshana, in West Babylon; Pixie Dust, in Bay Shore; and other locations listed on BrianAubinYoga.com/my-schedule.
Lisa DiFalco is a health and wellness writer based on Long Island and owner of the copywriting service Copybridge.net.